5 book recommendations to help drive accessibility adoption and strategy
These books helped us help our coaching crews, and they may help you and yours
Deque offers a unique accessibility coaching service. We embed coaches in the software development lifecycle (SDLC) across whole teams as well as side-by-side with specific roles. Coaches support teams in incorporating accessibility practices into their design/build/test processes. A coach’s responsibilities include one-on-one role-based learning, identifying and developing skill gaps, and guiding team members in their accessibility transformations. In late 2021, we formed a Deque coaching book club in an effort to develop new tactics that we can use to help our client teams get unstuck.
The book club chooses themes that expand on specific challenges encountered by our coaches. Past topics have included Agile principles, listening and questioning, change, inclusive design, disability studies, and success stories. Future ones plan to cover accountability, getting and receiving feedback, inclusive speaking, and more. This is a domain rich in subject matters–coaching draws on varied skill sets–so the possibilities seem inexhaustible.
Coaching skills are helpful in many roles and have become a popular topic for managers. Even if you do not identify as a coach now, you can start to take on the servant-leader mindset of coaching, which can assist the collaborative needs of your team. Along with practicing asking better questions, reading books devoted to coaching topics can move you a considerable way down that path.
“Information is endlessly available to us; where shall wisdom be found?” renowned literary critic Harold Bloom asked. His answer was in the act of reading well. Here are five titles that our club enjoyed that you and your team may benefit from too.
Agile Accessibility Handbook by Dylan Barrell (2020)
This slim eBook from Deque’s own Chief Technology Officer is an essential read for a product sponsor, product owner, or development team member looking to build experiences with accessibility in mind. Most Deque staff read the handbook when joining the company, but we made it a club selection as well due to its foundational message. In the book, Barrell calls for establishing accessibility coaches within your Agile software team until they become self-sufficient, along with creating a central accessibility team and an accessibility policy. These practices are the basis for our coaching program. Top takeaways include:
- Accessibility is only scalable, affordable, and sustainable when it is fully integrated into all aspects of the software ideation and development process
- Include accessibility in Agile sprint retrospectives and sprint planning to foster discussion
Change Management: The Essentials by Lena Ross (2020)
Ross is an Australian change consultant and also the author of Hacking for Agile Change. This title is directed at professionals considering change management as a career, but that will not detract from the lessons for those acting as change practitioners inside their own companies. For accessibility specialists, or teams learning accessibility, introducing an initiative as complex as digital accessibility means you are undertaking a major change event. In the book, Ross urged us to think about these key points:
- To land a change initiative successfully, create an environment in which the people being asked to change feel empowered to continually improve their business
- A change champion network can promote an understanding of the change and minimize disruption
Read more from Deque about change management for accessibility :
- Change Management for Accessibility: Part 1
- Change Management for Accessibility: Lewin’s Three-Stage Model
- Change Management for Accessibility: Plan Do Check Act (PDCA) Model
- Change Management for Accessibility: ADKAR Model
The Coaching Habit: Say Less, Ask More & Change the Way You Lead Forever by Michael Bungay Stanier (2016)
Michael Bungay Stanier (or MBS, as the cheerful coach-author is known) has written a small yet dense–and fun–look at the best questions to ask when in coaching mode (his framework offers seven essential questions). Like many coaching books, The Coaching Habit is aimed at leaders, and applies most strongly when pure coaching (rather than teaching) is appropriate, so recognize where this stance fits your work and calibrate to fit. A few highlights:
- Offer less advice and more probing questions so that the coachee states their own options and comes to their own conclusions
- Silence is an opportunity to create new learnings and insights
Mismatch: How Inclusion Shapes Design by Kat Holmes (2018)
We expanded into design ideas with this recent classic by Holmes, known for her leadership with Salesforce and formerly Microsoft and Google. In the interest of moving accessibility further left, coaches support UX/UI designers as well as developers and testers. We are always on the lookout for messages to share with design professionals. This book delivers several important concepts you can leverage in your organization, not only with designers but with leaders. Some key takeaways:
- Mismatch occurs when there’s a difference between the purpose of a design and the reality of who can use it
- Question the “we’ve always done it this way” approach to break the habit of exclusion
Coaching Agile Teams: A Companion for ScrumMasters, Agile Coaches, and Project Managers in Transition by Lyssa Adkins (2010)
Adkins has long been highly-regarded in Agile circles. This book is one of the “bibles” explaining the role and the importance of an Agile coach. We unlocked the best parts of this book when we replaced the term “Agile coach” with “accessibility coach.” Many likened it to a textbook, and that can be seen as good or bad. Some of the best points Adkins makes include:
- A coach acts as a facilitator, a teacher, a mentor, a problem solver, and a collaboration conductor
- A coach must master self while simultaneously helping teams discover their potential
How coaching supports a difficult change
Are you aiming to transform your organization to create products with accessibility in mind? A coach can help, especially when an organization has a top-down accessibility mandate and an empowered accessibility champion. As Barrell wrote, “At the end of the day, becoming accessible involves change in large parts of the organization; this change will not happen if it is not motivated, measured, and managed.” Heck, engaging a coach signals your commitment.
We recognize how hard it can be to incorporate an entirely new practice into your job duties. We are in your camp and want to create every possible opportunity for you to succeed in your accessibility transformation. Think of an accessibility coach as a co-pilot on your accessibility journey. Like our role-specific instructor-led training (ILT), our coaching works with each role in a product front-end team. Therefore, in our book club, we often talk about overcoming resistance to adopting a change, or the fear, uncertainty, and doubt that come with any change initiative. Encouragingly, Ross writes, “We are more change resilient than we think.”
Coaches are dedicated to meeting team members where they are, knowing that each person is unique, while simultaneously recognizing the organization’s desire for velocity. With our reading, we learn how to offer psychological safety in our coaching conversations and how to cultivate good accessibility habits. We are devoted to ways to help each role optimize processes with both relevant and actionable techniques. We discuss ways to describe, teach, and measure accessibility that help people grow from where they are to where they want to be.
Our aim is to be better listeners who ask better questions that lead to teams understanding and eventually owning accessibility. Why? Product crews must demonstrate that they can operate proficiently without a coach, since our engagements eventually end and coaches must leave our crews. If we can inspire team members to arrive at their own solutions, we have succeeded.
Getting the most out of your reading
The main objective of our book club is to become better, well-rounded coaches. Even if your team does not yet have an accessibility coach, you can get started by reading these five books, and more. (Let us know in the comments which books have helped the most!). By investing your time to understand how to help your organization change, your chances to succeed as an accessibility champion go up significantly. You’ll also learn timeless lessons that live well beyond the latest tech trends.