A Practical Guide to Creating Digital Accessibility Culture

A team of coworkers gathered around a computer tackling PDF accessibility.

Digital accessibility is now an issue that needs to be addressed sooner rather than later. Lawsuits, stricter accessibility laws, and the simple math of neglecting as much as 25% of the market mean it’s not something any savvy organization can afford to ignore or postpone. As with many facets of any well-run organization such as diversity, customer service, and marketing, accessibility should be integrated into an organization’s culture. 

Without executive-level leadership, accessibility cannot be properly addressed.  Accessibility culture needs to be built from the top down. It should be as much of a priority as branding and as much of a goal as customer service (which, in fact, it is). As an organization begins to explore how to address the accessibility of their digital presence, many are finding their staff are not trained for accessibility and are questioning how to develop their accessibility culture, and what it should look like.

Building a Digital Accessibility Policy

The first step in building accessibility culture is a digital accessibility policy.  This will cover how materials are created to ensure that all digital aspects of the organization meet the digital accessibility requirements of both employees and customers. A thorough understanding of the applicable federal and state laws local to the organization, as well as an understanding of Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), the most widely accepted international guidelines for digital accessibility, is a must for the person or team developing the accessibility policy.  More detail on how to build a digital accessibility policy will be covered in a subsequent blog.

Accessibility is for Every Department

Accessibility touches every aspect of any organization’s business, because it connects to every aspect of their digital presence, both internally and externally.  It influences their website, mobile app(s), internal and external communication, human resources and customer service. 

A typical analysis of any organization’s accessibility might include:

  • Is the website accessible?  Can users access every feature of the website if they are deaf, blind, or have a mobile or cognitive disability?  Does the website work with screen readers or keyboard-only users? 
  • Are your marketing efforts accessible, including social media posts, online ads, email campaigns? What about the digital correspondence sent by your sales personnel? 
  • Are your organization’s products and services accessible to users? Can user manuals, assembly instructions, warranties, and any physical products be used and accessed by all users, regardless of ability?
  • Are your Human Resources materials accessible to people with disabilities?  Can people with disabilities navigate your online application process? What about employment agreements, information regarding benefits packages, payment processes and company policies?  Are those accessible to all of your staff regardless of ability?

All of these are questions that must be addressed when implementing Accessibility Culture.  And all are risk factors for accessibility lawsuits. Both staff and clients or customers must be included when examining what needs to happen to make your company digitally accessible and keep it there, just as with physical accessibility.

Who’s Responsible?

There are a variety of approaches to addressing digital accessibility within your organization. Properly trained staff are a key component, along with the Accessibility Policy. Some positions that should be created or assigned responsibility for digital accessibility might include: 

  • Accessibility Coordinator
  • Marketers
  • Webmasters
  • Information Technology
  • Human Resources
  • Departmental executives or representatives

Many organizations have an accessibility coordinator who is responsible for creating and implementing company policies and practices (the actionable details of an accessibility policy) for ensuring digital accessibility and resolving accessibility complaints and issues as they arise.  This can be a good choice for a smaller organization that has no staff trained in digital accessibility. This type of position can quickly become a “police sergeant” job without any means of influencing future digital accessibility issues or to take on an approach of putting out fires rather than prevention.  It is important that this position has the support of management in order to allow proper education of staff and the power to enforce an approved Accessibility Policy.  

As organizations grow, it becomes less practical to have a central position.  The sheer volume of digital material flowing in and out of an organization becomes too large for one person to track and analyze.  Things begin to slip through the cracks unless the work is divided and each area of the organization has the expertise to properly follow through with established digital accessibility policies.  Continuous creation of new digital content in every department makes the practicality of having a single person responsible for the digital accessibility of the entire organization impossible. 

At this point, it becomes useful to divide the responsibilities among the various departments within the organization: human resources, information technology, marketing, customer service, etc.  If the staff is untrained or is still learning about digital accessibility, retaining an accessibility coordinator may still be beneficial to help address issues and answer questions. 

Methods for Training Staff in Digital Accessibility

All staff should be made aware of accessibility policies and the responsibility for digital accessibility should fall on the shoulders of every single employee who creates or modifies content, or procures hardware or software.  Internal training can help employees to learn the basics. As the organization grows, one option is a rotating schedule of in-depth training for at least one member of staff within each department to help spread the culture of accessibility.  Perhaps the first year or two only one person per department receives in-depth training, and the following year, another member of staff and so on. Having at least one person within each department who understands digital accessibility can help prevent barriers and provide each department with its own expert. 

For smaller organizations, having a series of training sessions for the entire staff can be quite effective.  Some organizations use online training tools to provide this type of information and instill accessibility culture along with things such as diversity training.  As the understanding of digital accessibility within an organization grows, the employees will learn to conform to accessibility cultural norms and, rather than the organization’s accessibility policies and procedures becoming stagnant, employees will contribute as technology changes and new content is created.  Just as it is no longer acceptable for an organization’s staff to make inappropriate jokes or discriminate against minorities, digital accessibility culture will develop and a lack of conformance will begin to stand out as unacceptable to the majority.

Accessibility Culture is a Process

Developing digital accessibility begins with executive support, and proceeds to the development of a digital accessibility 

policy and acquiring and training staff who will develop and enforce that policy.  With proper support, development and ongoing maintenance, organizations can be more inclusive, increase their market share to include people with disabilities (and those who care about them) and avoid expensive and image-damaging legal difficulties that can stem from inaccessible digital content. 

To learn more about developing accessibility culture in your organization contact us

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Ryan Pugh

Ryan Pugh | Director of Accessibility | Onix Prior to joining Onix, Ryan Pugh served as an Access Technology Analyst for the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) in Baltimore, where he was the NFB's focal point for accessibility and usability testing. He conducted intensive web accessibility audits for compliance with Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 AA for numerous Fortune 500 companies, including some of the world’s largest online retailers, notable colleges and universities, government agencies at the federal, state and local levels and for other non-profit institutions. He also delivered accessibility training workshops and managed the NFB’s document remediation program, specializing in PDF accessibility.