Making the “shift left”

At a surface level, accessibility compliance might seem like a “just fix it” kind of task. However, companies that continually remain in compliance have specific key commitments in common.

Any organization that has taken the “just fix it” approach and returned to business as usual will recreate the state of non-compliance that created the initial crisis.

Imagine: no more fire drills

I can help your organization build a successful compliance program that will break the cycle of crisis followed by emergency remediation.

Achieve compliance by default

Accessibility is not a one-and-done procedure; it requires studying an organization’s production cycle and examining the entire customer experience for barriers.

Once that study is complete, measurable and enforceable adjustments to processes can be made, reducing the stress of fire drills the organization.

7 Successful program components

I can help your organization deliver all of these key components.

Frankly, if any one of them is missing, your organization will always be in a mode of putting out fires.

1. Continually visible executive support

This is the first priority. Without this, you will always be frustrated and unable to gain traction enterprise wide.

  • Executive level buy in (that goes beyond a mass email) is required.
  • Organizations must believe that accessibility compliance is a top-down initiative.

As your program evolves, leaders and managers must be willing to enforce the policies that support accessibility strategic goals.

How executives can help

In the short term, priorities may need to temporarily shift from feature delivery to remediation efforts. If teams don’t believe that executives care about this initiative, they will not shift priorities.

In the long term, you may need help shifting focus from deadline oriented workflows to more thoughtful design and development cycles that emphasize better customer experiences.

2. Strategic goals

Strategies are broad idealistic concepts agreed upon by leadership and communicated clearly to the organization.

The scope of the strategies should be broad enough to encompass all parts of the organization, including procurement, vendors, facilities, internal applications and employee development.

Starter milestones

  • Creation of a team and budget solely dedicated to accessibility
  • Establish a project management methodology for the accessibility team
  • Accessibility assessments on a predicatable cadence
  • Internally published compliance standards that describe what accessibility means for your organization
  • Remediate existing code by priority

Adjusting processes

  • Reduce or eliminate accessibility fire drills
  • Identify and adjust weaknesses in processes and teams
  • Compare accessibility efforts against peer organizations or competitors
  • Establish measurable accessibility maturity KPIs
  • Require accessibility standards for vendors and partners

Cultural change

  • Become a culture that prioritizes accessibility first principles
  • Become an inclusive recruiter and environment for employees with disabilities
  • Ensure customer facing employees know how to create an inclusive experience

Thinking beyond digital compliance

  • ADA compliant physical spaces and facilities
  • Creation of an interactive accessibility innovation lab

After strategic goals are set, policies and tactics are what bring them into reality. They are often tied to key performance indicators (KPIs)to provide some general measurement of success. For example, the number of fire drill actions being reduced from 5 per quarter to 0 would be one indication that goals are being met.

3. Policies

Documented policies must be:

  • Visibly published to teams in practical language
  • Designed to support the strategic goals
  • Enforceable
  • Adaptable

Some policies are simple to define and enforce. For example, a policy can be “All products must pass an automated Google Lighthouse accessibility score of 95”. When incorporated as a product release gate mechanism, this is easily enforceable and measurable.

It could also be a policy that “Product owners must see all product demos using the assistive technology”. This is more challenging to enforce and measure without directly observing processes or adding reporting processes.

Policies will need to be realistically adaptable to fit the business needs of the organization.

For instance, a non-compliant vendor might provide critical functionality and isn’t able to meet compliance standards. Policies will then have to compromise until a new solution can be negotiated.

In other cases, because of technical barriers or staffing, remediating existing code may need to be prioritized or take a back seat to await a redesign.

Policy areas

  • Compliance standards by WCAG spec and minimum viable product (MVP)
  • Manual testing requirements
  • Automated gating and escalation procedures
  • Realistic deadlines for compliance
  • Minimum training competencies for team members
  • Procurement procedures for vendors

4. Tactics

Tactics are what an organization actually does to satisfy the strategic goals.

Tactics should be measurable and be able to adapt and improvise as results become evident. For example, if an email newsletter is a communications tactic, open rates and click through should be tracked. If a quality gate is constantly finding errors in production, that data should be reportable to leadership for escalation.

Put out the fires

  • Remediate defects or redesign features by priority
  • Resolve any customer complaints

Taking stock

  • Acquire product wide accessibility assessmments
  • Widely survey existing teams and processes for accessibility familiarity
  • Conduct group input sessions so that key players feel heard for easier buy-in
  • Track and report meaningful metrics to leadership

Improve processes and maturity

  • Add accessibility as high level requirements at each stage of all projects
  • Integrate manual and automated quality gates
  • Up-skill training for existing design, development, testing and customer service teams
  • Recruit new talent with accessibility skills or contract with consultants

Cultural change

  • Incorporate accessibility basics into company wide training
  • Produce high quality communications and events
  • Invest in a well supported accessiblity champion mentorship program

Bonus components

The first 4 components are part of any organization’s major strategic initiative, but the next components will make the job a lot easier, more entertaining and sustainable.

5. Allies

Win friends rather than battles. Coming into accessibility meetings with a “compliance or else” attitude will make you the “Accessibility Police” — once you have that perception nobody will want to include you in processes.

Avoid being seen as the police:

  • Show genuine interest in how processes work
  • Don’t overcommit to helping teams in ways for which you’re not staffed
  • Rely on your legal team or leadership to lay out hard requirements or be the “bad cop”, this allows you to be the friendly team with good solutions

Key allies

Some of the groups that can advance your efforts are obvious (leadership) but other key allies are easy to gain and can be great assets in your journey.

  • Legal counsel
  • Internal communications
  • Design system and styleguide
  • Agile coaches
  • Scrum masters
  • QA team
  • Facilities management

6. Celebrations of achievement

Don’t just remediate code and go home. Accessibility compliance is worth celebrating and shows the organization that accessibility is valued and their efforts are recognized.

  • The project management methodology used by the accessibility organization should allow for tracking of milestones
  • Have a party or event to mark meeting a remediation goal
  • Treat a team with lunch, gifts or promotional products for releasing a new product that is completely compliant

7. Patience

Understand that this is a long term project. There are no quick wins here.

Your charge is organizational cultural change, not just fixing stuff. From 0 to making a significant change may take 2 years before visible progress occurs across all areas of business.

Again: There are no quick wins here.

  • It takes time to gain solid executive buy in
  • It takes time to build a competent team.
  • It takes time to get on people’s schedules
  • It takes time to understand how the org works
  • It takes time to develop materials
  • It will take time to map/set up policies and sort out governance to enforce them
  • It takes time to set up a testing/monitoring plan
  • It takes time to go through procurement
  • It takes time to get it right

How I can help

I help you build strategies unique to your organization’s software development lifecycle.

Contact me to get started.