Mountain with accessibility at the top, the first step up is accessibility training

Creating an Enterprise Accessibility Powerhouse: How Training and Expertise Are Foundational

Is accessibility easy, or is it hard? If you listen to people talk about accessibility, you’ll hear some say accessibility is no big deal: just add alt text and text labels, and maybe throw in a few more things, and that’s good enough. Don’t worry about spending too much time learning the details. It’s easy.

You’ll hear other people say that accessibility is hard. That it’s too much work above and beyond what they’re already doing. They may even say the extra work isn’t worth it and they don’t want to spend the time learning how to do it. They fear it will add a huge amount of extra time to their development efforts.

So, who is right? Well, some things in accessibility are easy, and some things are hard, but both of the attitudes mentioned above are likely to lead to failure, because they reveal a lack of understanding about what it takes to actually achieve accessibility. We can do better than that.

Before we dive into what you will need to build your very own enterprise accessibility powerhouse, let’s establish a few principles first.

Principle 1: Accessibility is a Forever Goal

There will never be a time when the need for accessibility goes away. We will always have disabilities among us, especially if we include temporary disabilities, such as injuries, and situational disabilities, such as not having hands available when carrying objects, or being in a loud area where hearing is difficult. Permanent disabilities, such as blindness, deafness, or paralysis, will also always be with us.

The need to design for diverse abilities will never go away. If an organization is to succeed at accessibility, it must commit to a sustainable, long-term approach with no end date. Accessibility must be integrated into the standard processes of the organization. All designs must take accessibility into account–similar to the way all designs must take security, search engine optimization, and privacy into account.

The commitment to accessibility must be complete, from the top to the bottom of the organization.

Principle 2: Accessibility is a Design Choice

In terms of what’s conceptually possible–ignoring legal requirements for the moment–buildings can be designed with or without elevators. Most residential homes are designed without them. Nearly all commercial buildings are designed with them. Textbooks can be distributed in print-only format, or they can also be made available in screen reader-friendly digital formats. Online videos can be released with or without captions.

Any environment–whether physical, virtual, or sensory–can be designed with accessibility in mind… or not. It’s a decision. A human needs to make the decision to be inclusive or to be exclusive. A lack of decision towards the former usually will lead to the latter.

It’s possible to make nearly any kind of environment accessible. Some environments are easier for accessibility than others, but there is almost no such thing as an environment that cannot be made accessible. Accessibility design failures are usually failures of the imagination, not a limitation on what is actually possible.

Principle 3: Automated Accessibility Tools Alone are Insufficient

Automated accessibility tools like axe DevTools, and axe Monitor, or even manual tools such as axe Auditor can be immensely helpful. Yes, you should absolutely use them, but they won’t do the entire job for you.

Automated tools speed up the process of identifying many kinds of accessibility issues and provide reliable metrics of compliance with standards, but the tools can’t find everything. Axe rules can currently find about 57% of accessibility issues (or around 80% if you add in Deque’s Intelligent Guided Testing capabilities). This percentage will grow as the tools improve, but the tools can never reach 100% through automated testing only. Some accessibility issues will always require human judgment.

Even with the subset of issues that automated tools can find, someone needs to intelligently address the issues the tools find. As useful as it is to have automated tools generate a list of accessibility issues, the list is useless if people lack the expertise or direction to fix the issues correctly.

Some accessibility issues are easy to understand and fix. Others require deeper accessibility knowledge. Fixing things incorrectly runs the risk of not actually fixing the real problem, and can actually create new problems in the process.

It’s also worth pointing out that automated tools test content, not design ideas. Furthermore, it’s important to note that the biggest impact on users lies in the overall design decisions that are made, rather than in bits of specific code or parts of an application. This means that automated tools are really a second line of defense, after teams, hopefully, make good design decisions first.

To summarize these three principles: in order to succeed, an enterprise must:

  1. Commit to accessibility over the long haul
  2. Understand that design decisions make or break accessibility
  3. Have access to people who can skillfully identify and fix accessibility issues.

Accessibility Takes a Skilled Team

Not everyone in an organization needs to be equally skilled when it comes to accessibility, and not everyone needs to know the same things either! Here’s a quick synopsis of valuable areas of focus per role.

  • Executives need to commit to accessibility as an outcome–in terms of budget and personnel–and include accessibility among the metrics they analyze on a regular basis.
  • Accessibility Program Managers need to understand how to avoid legal liabilities, how to recruit and retain accessibility talent, and how to manage accessibility across the product lifespan, with a particular emphasis on addressing accessibility as early in the process as possible.
  • Recruiters need to include accessibility skills as a requirement in their job postings, listing IAAP certification as a desired credential, favoring candidates with an accessibility track record, as well as making a point to hire people with disabilities.
  • Accessibility technical leaders need to be true accessibility experts, with deep knowledge of guidelines, success criteria, technical methods, testing techniques, tools, assistive technologies, and other accessibility-related topics.
  • Designers need to think broadly about diverse abilities, account for some of the extremes when it comes to the breadth of human experiences, and take into account accessibility needs and principles with every new idea.
  • Developers need to know how to interpret accessibility requirements presented by designers, as well as accessibility issues presented by QA testers. Developers must know how to use tools and assistive technologies to test their own work before committing it to the code base. They must also know where to look up answers to accessibility questions. (As a side note, Deque University courses can be used as a fantastic searchable accessibility reference library, not just as once-and-done courses.)
  • QA Testers need to have accessibility criteria built into their checklists and need to be skillful in the use of automated testing tools and assistive technologies in order to identify accessibility issues. Being able to clearly communicate issues to the developers greatly contributes to the success of the accessibility efforts.
  • Everyone else in an organization should have at least some basic awareness of the need for accessibility, but most people do NOT need to become accessibility experts. At a minimum, people should know enough to avoid glaring accessibility flaws in email communications, documents, or digital content. They must also know who to turn to within the organization for help with accessibility questions or concerns.

Align Your Metrics and Rewards with Your Accessibility Goals

Two time-honored approaches to getting results with just about any type of goal are to focus on:

  1. Metrics (or measurements) and
  2. Rewards (or incentives)

You won’t know if you succeed at your goals unless you measure your results against your definition of success, and you are unlikely to get people to work on your goals unless you give them some sort of incentive for doing so.

In terms of accessibility training metrics, an organization should institute a combination of measurements targeting things like:

  • Specific timeframes (e.g. quarters, year)
  • Individual products or projects
  • Company-wide scorecards
  • Individual employee accessibility skill levels or achievements (e.g. as evidenced by IAAP certification, scores on Deque graded exams, or other metrics)
  • Team accessibility accomplishments

In terms of rewards, at the most basic level, if accessibility is written into job descriptions, then the incentive for employees is to show that they are performing their duties as assigned.

Beyond that, you might consider providing bonuses, raises, or other career advancement opportunities to those who perform well in accessibility. This can include rewarding employees for things like:

Note that all of the above activities qualify for IAAP continuing education credits for people who have become IAAP certified, which is another individual incentive to remind your team members about.

Leveraging Deque Training and Education Opportunities

Here are some of the ways that our customers use Deque’s accessibility training services  to contribute to the accessibility capacity-building in their organization:

Deque University Online Courses

Deque University has self-paced courses organized by topic (e.g. web, documents, mobile, customer service, accessibility program management, etc.).

Within Deque University:

  • Program managers can track course completion of employees, with reports available through an admin dashboard
  • Users can search content across all courses, making it easy to look up answers to specific questions; the courses can act as a reference library
  • Users can take self-check quizzes within courses
  • Users can leverage checklists to extend and support their knowledge
  • Users can take graded exams, which is a new beta feature offered upon request. This feature provides a quick way to test people before or after taking our courses, to either let them “test out of” the requirement to take the courses, or to prove they learned something afterward.

Instructor-Led Accessibility Training

Each training lesson is blended with an interactive mix of lectures and hands-on learning activities and focused breakout sessions. Our instructor-led training services come in multiple formats:

  • Virtual or in-person training for your organization, via web conferencing software such as Zoom, WebEx, or Microsoft Teams. Your organization schedules these events with our training team. Options include general, introductory training, role-based specific training, and much more.
  • Open enrollment virtual training. Deque will periodically schedule training events that are not specific to any one organization. Anyone can enroll.

Free Training Resources

Deque has hundreds of hours of free content to get your team started with their accessibility learnings. You can get started with the resources below:

  • Deque webinars, which are free and on-demand
  • Deque’s blog has a wealth of intro, intermediary and advanced topics for all  types of roles
  • Axe-con, which is Deque’ annual virtual conference. Register for free to access over 80 hours of amazing accessibility talks across Development, Design, Org Success tracks & more.
  • Free axe help pages for how to fix accessibility errors found by Deque’s automated tools.

Leveraging IAAP Education and Certification Opportunities

The IAAP is a membership-based organization for accessibility professionals, with the goals of advocating for the profession and providing professional development opportunities for people in the profession, or interested in joining the profession.

Membership is open to individuals as well as to entire organizations. Organization membership confers benefits such as reduced price or free access to educational offerings, and reduced prices on certification exams.

  • Webinars by international leaders in the field
  • Certification exams on different digital accessibility specializations
  • Online forum for discussing accessibility
  • Other education opportunities
  • Accessibility-related job listings

Self-Paced Online Courses or Instructor-Led Training?

In terms of formal training to offer your team members, should you choose self-paced online courses or instructor-led training? This answer is yes! It is not an either/or question. Both have their place, within the context of an accountable system.

  • Self-paced online courses can be taken at any time when it is convenient for the learner, and the learner can review the content as many times as desired. Deque University courses are searchable across the entire system, so they can serve as a reference resource to find quick answers to accessibility questions. Self-paced courses can be very detailed in ways that are impractical for Instructor-led Training.
  • Instructor-led training –whether in person or online– is a quick way to provide an immediate boost in motivation, and allows for interaction between knowledgeable instructors and savvy learners. Deque often recommends Instructor-led Training as a way to successfully “jump start” an accessibility initiative within an organization. As long as learners can make a clear connection between the training event and future expectations, instructor-led training can be an effective investment in time and resources.

Passive Commitment to Accessibility Training is Not Effective

Just throwing online training at people–signing them up without explaining much–is unlikely to make much of a positive impact, no matter how good the courses are. It’s easy for people to ignore the courses and carry on as if they have no need to learn about accessibility. The course completion statistics are likely to be dismal unless people understand they will be held accountable for their accessibility performance.

Even direct Instructor-led Training by highly effective and highly motivating instructors will have a limited impact in the absence of some kind of accountability. The positive impact will be felt in the short term, but the long-term benefits will fade quickly if accessibility is not embedded in the culture of the organization.

So is training even worth it? Absolutely! Actually, it’s essential. Just make sure that you don’t ask the training efforts to do more than they can do. Training doesn’t magically create accountability, but it is foundational to the success of accessibility in an organization that values accessibility accountability.

Concluding Thoughts

A sustainable culture of accessibility accountability is the true end goal. Providing accessibility training is essential to achieving that goal, and there are many ways to approach building accessibility expertise, as outlined above. As long as team members understand that accessibility is a core part of their job description, there are many pathways to success and not just one right approach.

Enjoy the journey, and let us know at Deque if there is anything we can do to help you.

Photo of Paul Bohman

About Paul Bohman

Paul Bohman, PhD, is the Director of Training at Deque. He created Deque University – both the platform and the web accessibility courses within it – and continues to expand Deque University features with the help of a talented team. Paul travels frequently to provide highly-rated accessibility workshops at client sites, at conferences, and at other events. He is also the Chair of the Certification Committee in the International Association of Accessibility Professionals (IAAP). Paul’s accessibility career started in 1999 and has included teaching graduate university classes in web accessibility. For his doctoral dissertation, Paul researched and wrote case studies about curriculum programs teaching web accessibility at the master's level in the US, London, and Austria.
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