Creating a Company Culture that Promotes Accessibility
Mark Lapole shares proven tips for success in establishing a company culture that promotes digital accessibility.
Mark Lapole is a Senior Product Manager and Ambassador for Accessibility at eBay.
At eBay, we take digital accessibility very seriously. We strive to create a company culture that promotes it and focuses on action.
In my last guest post, I discussed what digital accessibility actually means to your brand. Digital accessibility is a way to improve your bottom line and avoid litigation, but more importantly it is a way for a brand to become an even better version of itself.
Now I want to provide some actionable steps that can be taken within your company to promote accessible designs and help establish digital accessibility as a priority.
1. Test with the People You are Designing For
Incorporating user feedback into product development has already become critical for companies to differentiate themselves. Neglecting to incorporate feedback from people with disabilities is potentially ignoring 15% of all people that could be interacting with your brand, using your product, and participating and contributing to the community.
With websites and mobile apps now effectively functioning as the front door for your brand and product offerings, failing to consider the disabled population when designing is essentially locking out potential customers and brand ambassadors.
Companies like Applause have provided eBay with direct access to members of its community that have disabilities for design feedback, and provided Accessibility Assessments to support our initiatives.
While testing with people with disabilities is useful on its own, one of the larger benefits we see is those surprise moments by our colleagues, when they observe how people interact with their designs differently than they expected. Actually watching the product team observe is one of the best parts of testing with people. Seeing and hearing themes emerge from participants is also valuable as it often provides teams clear and actionable takeaways. When in-person or real-time testing isn’t available, ensuring there are video recordings is very useful as they can be shared with teams and even used in other training and awareness efforts.
2. Get Out and Engage
Another way to become more fully aware of the broad range of perspectives and needs of your customers is to volunteer. Spending time helping and observing people in their own environment will unlock things you’ve likely not considered previously.
I encourage teammates, even colleagues whose role isn’t specifically accessibility, to volunteer with people that have disabilities on a consistent basis for a few reasons. First, it’s an opportunity to serve people that are very appreciative. Second, it gives us a chance to get to know the needs and challenges faced by this segment of the eBay community. Lastly, working with people and striking up conversations gives you insight you wouldn’t typically get from a study or report.
It’s really amazing what people will share once you’ve engaged with them and shown a genuine interest in helping them out. And their willingness to reciprocate such help, maybe in the form of testing your product, is really invaluable. There’s no substitute for first-hand experience.
A seemingly simple finding from one of these volunteer events came when I was helping someone who happened to be blind. He was browsing through a site on his phone, listening to VoiceOver with the device held near his ear, and he kept shaking his head and sort of laughing, but what seemed to be in frustration or impatience. We had already established what type of work I do, so I asked what was going on. He said, “These sites that try to do the right thing just use too many words sometimes.” It was some validation for an easy trap to fall into, which is being too verbose or descriptive with alternative text for images. Sure, in this case it was only one person but I’ve since heard that sentiment over and over.
3. Build a Relationship of Trust with Product Teams
As you continue to raise awareness and train teams throughout the company, you’ll want to be conscious of how you engage with various personnel. Oftentimes, a respectful but firm delivery can go a long way. Sharing a willingness to understand the pressures others may be under while ensuring the teams are clear of your requirements from an accessibility perspective is critical to a successful working relationship.
When providing design guidance or prioritizing which bugs to address first, it’s important that these conversations are held in an open, straightforward, and mutually respectful manner. I have yet to come across a product team that isn’t trying to build the best possible product or feature. Work with them to make sure the people you’re advocating for are kept in mind during design, development and testing.
It is possible that you will encounter some negotiating along the way, and that’s completely fine. Keep in mind the people you’re advocating for, and more often than not you’ll find team members working together to build a more accessible and overall more usable product.
4. Partner with your Diversity and Inclusion Leads
According to Deloitte, over two-thirds of company executives are now rating diversity and inclusion as an important issue. Digital accessibility is an integral part of this strategy. It represents an acknowledgment of the different ways that people interact with your brand, and promotes an environment that welcomes everyone to engage with your digital products.
Our message really broadened across the company when we partnered with Diversity and Inclusion, which even added Accessibility to their charter. Since the core accessibility team is part of the product org, this type of partnership allows us to extend our influence via the diversity and inclusion folks in meetings they’re in, updates to executive staff, and activities they’re planning.
And it goes both ways. For the diversity and inclusion team, merely knowing that there is a core accessibility team empowers them in a sense… they can run things by us, invite us to participate in company activities they plan, include us in new hire orientation, etc. It also led to us to create an employee resource group (we call it Communities of Inclusion) for persons with disabilities, which allows those who happen to have a disability, or just a passion or interest, to contribute.
For this reason, your company’s diversity and inclusion team members can serve as an expressway to getting the message of digital accessibility out to your company’s leadership.
5. Regular Internal Communications
Doing all this work is only part of the formula for creating a more accessibility-minded culture. It’s also important to provide updates on progress, status, challenges, obstacles and risks to make sure a consistent message is getting communicated. Whether you communicate via email, staff meetings, or instant messaging software, just being responsive can go a long way to keeping the organization on track and can really help your team stand out.
For example, our Corporate Social Responsibility team reached out to me to feature one of our success stories – a non-profit eBay seller that happens to employ primarily disabled people. The story was featured on our Global Impact site and was regularly used for pre-meeting slideshows and our larger all-hands meetings. We also had the opportunity show our accessibility program progress and demonstrate its impact on stage with our CTO. Now, we have even more exposure during Product and Technology all-hands meetings.
Having this continuity and exposure helps reinforce your message and serves as a reminder that this type of work isn’t simply a “checkbox,” it’s an ongoing effort which will hopefully become second nature and simply part of your company’s software development lifecycle.
These are just some of the steps we’re taking at eBay to ensure a more inclusive approach to creating products and features, ultimately resulting in more accessible eBay sites and apps. Of course there are others, but hopefully you’ve found this list helpful and can apply some of the examples at your company. It may help to work with a company like Applause to kick start things, but no matter how you start… just start!