Raising the awareness of teams with internal and simple in order to develop more accessible products and services
The great challenge of creating accessible products and services goes beyond technical difficulties and budgets: one must first focus on creating a more mature mentality about user experience in the collaborators of the product/project. Bringing awareness of our social responsibility within the scope of diversity and making it a pillar of our work is the first and one of the most important steps towards true inclusion.
When analyzing the history of accessibility in companies, it is observed that the theme has recently gained some relevance, being promoted at events and/or prioritized in the creation of digital products. It is still a very small part of the market and the vast majority of companies are charged by law. Because of this, there are still many doubts about how to actually implement an accessibility culture and where to start.
After a lot of insistence and dedication, I started to observe which initiatives worked in my experience and decided to report some important points to keep in mind when raising the flag within your company. Let’s go to them.
Empower employees with courses and lectures
The first step is to create awareness: propose training to the teams, whether in the form of a course, talks, lectures, whatever. There are several renowned professionals in the market who, invited by companies, promote introductory talks about accessibility, as well as introductory courses that can be purchased — and sometimes it is possible to get a corporate discount for the number of students. If budget is an issue, there are free courses and YouTube channels that provide quality content as well.
Pay attention to the training content and direct them to teams that make sense. There are many courses aimed at designers and developers, but it is also possible to find more theoretical ones, or call a speaker and align the content with him.
Basing arguments on data and facts
Did you know that currently, according to a survey carried out in 2022, only 0.89% of the internet can be considered accessible? This is just one of many data available on the internet for consultation. Gather some information relevant to your company and market and present it as arguments.
Often, the argument for not prioritizing accessibility is “the number of PWDs on the platform is too low”, but there is always that question: is it low because it is not accessible? So, to refute this argument — that we know doesn’t make sense, but it happens a lot — some data about the consumption power of people with disabilities in your country may be used in its favor.
Show users’ reality
Nothing better than seeing it in practice: show some recorded tests and videos illustrating the experience of people with disabilities on non-accessible platforms. If it is possible to simulate this experience in the company’s own product, would be even better.
There are plugins, extensions and tools that simulate some deficiencies and can help with this understanding as well. I will leave some listed in the references at the end of the text.
Want to take a test with your team? Have people screen-read your site or product while blindfolded, or apply an extension that adds a colorblindness filter to the screen. The experience can be very interesting to put yourself in other’s people shoes.
Show the reality of the company
It is also very important to show the difficulties that users find in your company’s own product. For this, you can test people with disabilities using these products, document and show it to the team. There are also specialized accessibility consultancies that perform these analyses.
Some website diagnostics sites can help raise the flag that there is room for improvement, but don’t rely entirely on your results, as they don’t have an intelligence capable of identifying experience and usability. Many will offer a note based on how the HTML was assembled, for example, identifying syntax errors in the code, but will not serve to validate alt text, for example, or whether keyboard navigation works. So always consider talking to users to make decisions.
Collect complaints on social networks
It’s where people tend to constantly expose frustrations about products and services, and it’s quite likely that these feedbacks already exist if your product has been on the market for a while. Search for “accessibility” + company/product name. You can find a lot on Twitter, for instance. This exposure is good the create an urgency about correcting errors and preventing the problem from escalating. The customer service team can also help by collecting feedback from users.
Knowledge on the topic must be global
Consider the scenario of a company that sells online courses. The course platform, of course, needs to be accessible: navigable by keyboard, screen reader, have interpretation of videos in sign language, etc. But the student experience will not be limited to the platform itself: they will have questions, enter a service chat, talk to someone on the phone, interact with emails, PDF materials and so on. So far, we have already considered a large part of the company involved with this student. In this way, a product or service demands that all its professionals know how to deal with different consumer scenarios. How does an attendant communicate with that deaf student who has a question? All this must be borne in mind.
Everyone should be “responsible” for accessibility. Creating an accessible product requires a series of best practices across multiple disciplines. A designer must understand Accessibility, but will not be a coding expert. Therefore, it is ideal that in each area of development, there is someone who knows the principles and best practices of accessibility in their discipline.
The problem of delegating this function to only one person on the team ends up making there not being commitment to know good practices. Once it becomes conscious, the new way of thinking can be implemented on a daily basis, making it something natural and intuitive. The specialist helps with problem solving, but everyone on the team should have a sense of this as it applies to their own work.
Use good accessibility practices on a daily basis
Once the team already has basic knowledge on the topic, now it’s time to turn it into a habit. Recurrently bring subjects, articles, indications of content that help to deepen the studies. The theme should always be fresh without becoming boring.
Deconstruct the idea that accessibility is a feature: it should be a pillar of the project from day one, in the same way, that it should also be tested from the beginning. Implement accessibility validation steps in design reviews and critique rituals and, when bringing up the points for improvement, enrich them with arguments and solutions so that people can learn. In this way, the team will make fewer basic mistakes and will get used to always designing in the most appropriate way.
And, of course, always seek to broaden horizons and disseminate what worked with other teams.
There are likely to be other people who are also passionate and enthusiastic about the subject. Join them to reunite forces and think together about internal actions to create this culture by organizing initiatives and mapping the main problems to be solved.
Learn about local accessibility laws
Each country and region will have certain laws that protect people with disabilities in order to guarantee their rights and freedoms. Inform yourself about them and bring the consequences of going against the law for your company.
Don’t trust “magical” plugins
“One line of code and your product will be accessible” — this is the biggest lie we can have about accessibility in digital products. It’s definitely impossible to guarantee accessibility with just plugins that don’t have the intelligence to, for example, create good image descriptions or give good error instructions. Accessibility needs to be thought about and designed considering the reality of users aligned with the product’s goals. On the other hand, creating affordable products from scratch will save the company time and money.
If accessibility were that easy, we would have much more than less than 1% of the internet accessible, don’t you think?
Not only must products be inclusive, but companies too
In addition to building an accessible and inclusive product, be an inclusive company: it is very important to hire PWDs. However, people must be hired to work in their professions, not in any position that was made just to fill the quota, since they are just as qualified as others. And, just as importantly, people with disabilities are protagonists in any discussion related to accessibility. They are the ones who feel the problems caused by the barrier of lack of accessibility on a daily basis and will have more properties to help your company with these issues.
It takes a certain humility to reach this conclusion, but the truth is that the plurality of scenarios and people is so vast that we will necessarily always have someone with problems using our products. So it is important, yes, to go in search of as much accessibility as possible, but without big promises that can end in frustration.
People feel happy when they feel that companies care about their experience, whether it’s a person with a disability or not. So position your company in an inclusive way, bring as much knowledge and support to the team to develop the accessibility mindset and work to make it a topic of constant study and investment.
We owe it to the people. That’s what we’re here for.