Connecting the dots: Accessibility and Inclusion

You’ve heard about the importance of accessibility and inclusion. You don’t want a hefty fine, but you’ve been overwhelmed with the number of changes necessary. Where to begin?

Across every industry, there is a long-overdue push for accessible websites. We’ve seen new accessibility software pop up, a slew of lawsuits across every industry from pizza to beauty to higher education, and new legislation created to protect the rights of individuals with disabilities and those that make use of assistive technologies.

More than one in five people make use of assistive technology, according to UK and US government data. There are 13.9 million people with some sort of disability in the UK, including:

  • 8% of children
  • 19% of working age adults
  • 45% of pension age adults
Source: Family Resources Survey 2016/17

As this trend grows from the United States to a global conversation, it’s important to take a proactive approach to your digital properties. However, fixing code isn’t the crux of the issue from our point of view, and most likely not yours either.

Framing the conversation with your team 

But to what end? Making accessibility a priority in any organization can be a long process to change. Legislation makes it obvious that the mandatory changes must be made, but calling accessibility simply a ‘requirement’ doesn’t do it justice. When companies and leaders use language akin to “accessibility is a requirement, therefore…” the most meaningful context is missing. If people will find excuses not to change how they work, it will be a painstakingly slow battle.

Bringing people into the process of “finding a solution” makes it more likely that a company will embrace the change and it has a chance to be built into the culture. At every level and at every point of collaboration, accessibility is a priority that should be talked about openly.

Practical steps to understanding and implementing accessibility

Now that you’ve set accessibility as a priority for your team, so begins the journey of everyone getting up to speed. Based on your role in the organization, there will be different pieces of digital accessibility to know, take responsibility for, or be involved with at a strategy level. The following four stages, proposed by Carie Fisher, provides a helpful framework for understanding your accessibility journey.

  • Awareness: Frankly, this is where most of your team will start. They have heard about accessibility guidelines that other organizations use, and they know the basic concept, but they are still unclear about what it means practically for their role.
  • Knowledge: You are familiar with the requirements and goals, so your developers decide you need to test out some tools that flag issues, such as missing descriptions for images, low color contrast, or the ability to navigate without a mouse.
  • Practice: Based on the output of the tool, your developers start to make changes that fix issues. You start to make a protocol for fixing issues and confirming you have met the current WCAG requirements. You track your progress over time.
  • Understanding: As you build processes into your workflow, code becomes secondary to the people that you are creating for. Yes, the descriptions and the color contrast and the tags matter. But you grow in understanding and motivation to make changes regardless of the challenges involved because you want every human to be able to read your page and access your content.

Digital accessibility is not just a stamp of approval on your website, it’s a paradigm shift towards including real people. Digital inclusion is beyond the code, and it’s so much more than one piece of software can provide. Building accessibility into your culture is about leaving a legacy that isn’t based on ability or privilege. It’s about creating systems that work toward a better online world in which to connect and learn.

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