How to Scale Your Accessibility Initiatives By Empowering & Equipping Your Workforce
Great accessibility doesn’t just happen.
Once your company begins the process of building a culture of accessibility and a core accessibility team, it’s important that your team members have the tools and environment in place to achieve success. By providing your employees with ongoing education and encouragement to celebrate and create awareness around accessibility, they will own and champion accessibility as part of their job.
Not only will tools and training equip your team for initial success, it will allow your team to have success that is built to last.
Access to accessibility training for all employees encourages continuous development of their expertise and ensures that new employees will have a way to gain basic accessibility knowledge quickly and efficiently.
To create a baseline understanding and awareness of accessibility, consider working with HR and your compliance team to establish a “basic training” course. This can be in the form of in-person or online training. If you can integrate this course into your new employee onboarding process, even better!
Finally, take measures to ensure that champions from each department fully understand the fundamentals of digital accessibility, that they understand their team’s responsibilities and the guidelines specific to their discipline, and that they can effectively communicate this information to their team.
Training may also include hands-on experiences and empathy exercises. For example, employees can learn to use assistive technology by simulating different types of disabilities while using a computer via screen reader software. It’s recommended to have a designated space and equipment (similar to what companies such as Yahoo’s lab and PayPal’s showcase). Not to mention, empathy training can even be done on a tight budget.
It’s important to note that training and assistance only go so far. Ultimately, managers and teams must be held responsible to maintain a culture of accessibility. Creating a culture of accessibility cannot be done with one person or even one team, especially in a large organization.
Resources and Tools
Resources are all about equipping your team for success. Training is a resource in and of itself, especially if you subscribe to an online training portal like Deque University). In addition to online references, the opportunity to learn directly from an expert can be an invaluable resource. This could be in the form of instructor-led training, hiring an embedded consultant to act as an expert-in-residence, or establishing your own team of accessibility experts who can provide help and guidance to other teams and departments anytime.
Another important resource is tools for accessibility testing and remediation. There are lots of free automated accessibility testing tools out there, like our own open source tool aXe, and we’ll provide a short list of free tools to check out at the end of this section. In addition to automated testing tools, you need to provide access to screen readers (also available for free, in some cases) for manual testing. It doesn’t hurt to have some other assistive technologies for testing (like screen magnifiers), but screen readers and keyboard-only manual testing is a great place to start.
You also need to make sure that the tools your teams are using internally have capabilities to fix accessibility issues. If you want your teams to be able to make their own accessible PDFs, for example, they’re going to need a more robust PDF editing tool like Adobe Acrobat Pro. If your working with a Content Management System, you need to make sure your content team can fix accessibility issues that might show up in the templates or pages generated by the CMS and any plugins or widgets. A big part of that is making sure you’ve picked tools that provide a lot of flexibility and access to code that is generating the templates and content.
Finally, if you have specific compliance requirements that need to be met, you’ll need to equip your development and QA teams with more powerful accessibility testing tools. Automated accessibility testing can provide the most value when sites and products and sites are still in the development stage. Our own tools were designed to reflect actual software development practices and to fit into these practices with minimal interruption. WorldSpace Attest is meant to be used by developers as they code and integrates with all modern testing frameworks so your team can run accessibility tests as part of their unit and integration testing. WorldSpace Assure can help your QA or core accessibility team to create clear and consistent accessibility issue reports while they conduct manual accessibility testing.
There are many accessibility “auditing” tools out there – we have our own, called WorldSpace Comply. They’re an older style of accessibility testing tool and while they’re great for keeping an eye on your site for any new issues after your initial accessibility remediation is complete, they’re pretty clunky and the reports can be overwhelming and confusing if you try to use them for your initial accessibility audit. If your team is new to accessibility, the best resource you can provide is a full assessment performed and explained by accessibility experts.
Here’s a short list of some free accessibility tools and resources to check out:
- Free automated accessibility testing: We’ve got to give a shout-out to our own tool: aXe. aXe is available as a browser plugin, or you can jump in the deep-end with our aXe-core repository on Github. Learn more on aXe-core.org.
- Screen Readers: If you’re using an Apple computer or device, you’ve already got a screen reader called VoiceOver. Apple has a great VoiceOver tutorial available online. If you’re using Windows, we recommend checking out NVDA. You can download NVDA for free on the NV Access website, and we’ve got a short tutorial to help you get started.
- W3C WAI: The W3C Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) Education and Outreach Working Group (link is external) has created many of its own materials. It’s a natural home for collecting and evaluating both curricula and materials on accessible web tools
- Handy List by Mike Gifford: Mike compiled a great open-source list of courses, webinars, educational videos, and more, offered in web accessibility
- IAAP: The International Association of Accessibility Professionals (IAAP) (link is external) has taken on a major role in training and professional development (link is external). The organization is actively developing curricula and collecting materials for almost all of the domains where accessibility is important, including workplace ICT.
Events and Conferences
An event is a valuable and entertaining way to spread awareness and knowledge about accessibility and is also good for team building and morale.
An accessibility event can be held for a variety of reasons and in a variety of ways. You can host a guest speaker; run a bug bash; or go on a field trip (relating to accessibility of course!) A great way to incorporate team building into an accessibility event is by hosting a quiz or contest where employees are in teams. The winners may be rewarded with branded accessibility swag.
Any feasible time is good to host an event. An event can also be a way to kick off a project. Many folks organize and attend an event on Global Accessibility Awareness Day, which is celebrated on the third Thursday of May.
Events outside your organization are also very beneficial for continuing professional growth. There are many accessibility conferences around the world; in the U.S., popular events include CSUN Assistive Technology Conference, Accessing Higher Ground, and M-Enabling Summit.
Also, check Meetup.com to see if there are any accessibility groups near you; or attend an accessibility “bar camp” such as the Accessibility Toronto Camp and Accessibility Camp Bay Area. Attending events like these are usually lower in cost and will fuel your team to be better at accessibility. In the end, it will be a worthwhile investment.
If you’re looking to create a dependable and effective accessibility team, your job doesn’t end after you create a core accessibility team and a culture of accessibility. Training and equipping your team for long-term success is key to creating a successful accessibility program. By investing in your team’s skills, tools, and empathy training, accessibility will be something that every member of the accessibility team will embrace.