Making the “shift left”

At a surface level, accessibility compliance might seem like a “just fix it” kind of task. However, companies who 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.

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. 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. For example, priorities may need to temporarily shift from feature delivery to remediation efforts. If they don’t believe that executives care about this initiative, they will not shift priorities.

2. Strategic goals

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

  • Creation of a team solely dedicated to accessibility
  • Compliance standards that describe what accessibility means for your organization
  • Cultural change to prioritize accessibility first principles
  • Identify weaknesses in processes and teams
  • Compare accessibility efforts against peer organizations or competitors
  • Achieve increasing levels of accessibility maturity
  • Remediate existing code by priority
  • Reduce or eliminate accessibility fire drills

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

Visibly documented policies must be 1) designed to support the strategies and be 2) enforceable.

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

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 hurdles, infrastructure barriers or staffing, remediating existing code may need to be prioritized or take a back seat to await a redesign.

4. Tactics

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

  • 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
  • Up-skill training for existing design, development and testing teams
  • Recruit new talent with accessibility skills or contract with consultants
  • Remediate defects or redesign features by priority
  • Add accessibility as high level requirements at each stage of all projects
  • Track and report meaningful metrics to leadership
  • Produce high quality communications and events
  • Integrate manual and automated quality gates
  • Invest in a well supported accessiblity champion mentorship program

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.

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.

  • Internal communications
  • Design system and styleguide
  • Agile coaches

6. Celebrations of achievement

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

  • Have a party or event to mark meeting a remediation goal
  • Treat a team 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