Scaling Accessibility: 3 Programs for Driving Accessibility at Scale

Written by Joseph Baker

The process of initiating or expanding an accessibility program can prove to be quite challenging due to the extensive horizontal reach across various touchpoints within a company. Before execution, it is crucial to establish a scalable strategy, as it will impact recruitment, prioritization of work, and the decision of where to scale accessibility.

Before embarking on developing or enhancing an internal Accessibility team, it is important to consider six major areas that I’ll be talking about in this series:

  • Type of Program
  • Driving and Scaling
  • Accessibility Standards (Coming Soon)
  • Testing (Coming Soon)
  • Expanding the Team (Coming Soon)
  • Engaging Product Teams (Coming Soon)

Notably, these areas pertain specifically to internal accessibility teams and do not cover the offerings for companies that offer remedial services for accessibility issues. It is essential to bear in mind that accessibility is not just about fixing issues, but also about creating a sustainable program.


Creating an effective strategy for driving and scaling accessibility is crucial to a successful accessibility program. This is challenging as accessibility teams typically have limited bandwidth and fewer resources than other teams. However, tapping into existing programs and processes can be an effective way to scale accessibility beyond the accessibility team. This article explores three programs that can help to drive accessibility at scale: a Champion program, a mature design system, and an Accessibility Score.

Champion Program

A Champion program is a way to involve individuals in the company who are interested in accessibility to help scale accessibility beyond the full-time team. There are two types of Champion programs: a Governance model and a Community model. The Governance model uses Champions to ensure compliance with accessibility standards, while the Community model focuses on education and representation. These two programs are managed differently, and it’s important to understand the specifics of each. A Champion program is different from an Employee Resource Group focused on employees with disabilities, although people can participate in both. A Community model can be set up quickly, and then scaling up to a Governance model is recommended. The Governance model requires buy-in from upper management, and resources need to be provided to Champions, including how much time and bandwidth should be spent on accessibility.

If you’re interested in the particulars for each type, you can read my articles on the two different Champions programs:
  • Running a Community Series – This article offers tips and best practices for running an accessible and inclusive community series, with actionable takeaways for readers. From establishing clear communication channels to seeking feedback from participants, this article provides practical advice for creating a successful and inclusive community Champions program.
  • Accessibility Champs Program –┬áThis article primarily focuses on governance models that add enforcement and responsibilities to champions. It discusses the pros and cons of implementing this program, best practices, and the steps to set up and run the program. The article highlights the need for leadership buy-in, promotion milestones, and process needs to ensure success.

Design System

A mature design system is the most scalable and efficient way to scale accessibility at a company. It can scale accessibility through design and development processes infinitely. A design system includes design assets and foundational elements like color, typography, and spacing. It provides guidance on how to use components in an accessible way and what to consider when designing. A design system enables makers (developers and designers) to focus on product-specific problems rather than general problems. It is 30 times more expensive to solve an accessibility issue in production than in design. A design system also allows for increased focus on accessibility and resource allocation to research, analytics reporting, content design, development practices, and automated and manual testing. The downside of a design system is that it requires a team of developers, engineers, product and program managers to create a roadmap of features and clear adoption strategies. It can take several years to create a fully realized design system.

To learn more about what a design system is and how it works, check out these articles:
  • Google Material Design – Google Material Design is a design system developed by Google that aims to create a consistent and intuitive user experience across all of their products and platforms, based on the principles of tactile “material” design elements such as paper and ink. It includes guidelines for typography, color schemes, layout, and user interaction, and provides a library of pre-built UI components and icons for easy and consistent design across different platforms.
  • Nielson Norman Group: Design System 101 – Introduces the concept of design systems and their importance in creating consistent and efficient user experiences. It covers the key components of a design system, including style guides, UI components, and design principles, and provides tips for creating and maintaining a successful design system.
  • Invision: A comprehensive guide to design systems – Provides a comprehensive introduction to design systems and their benefits for creating scalable and cohesive designs. It covers the key elements of a design system, including style guides, UI components, and design tokens, and offers practical advice for creating and maintaining a successful design system.

Accessibility Score/Grade

An Accessibility Score or Grade is a useful tool for upper-level management to report on the overall accessibility of a product or feature. It provides a measure of compliance and accessibility, including the number and type of issues, their severity, and customer impact on a product or organization. A score should also measure items outside of compliance such as employee participation in training courses, or participating in accessibility events such as Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD). Accessibility scores work like other compliance scores, assigning weights to each measure and computing a final score that corresponds to a letter grade. This program requires a full-time program manager to create graphs and data elements, gather and manage data inputs, and define the grades and what is computed as part of the grade. It can take time to create buy-in from leadership to understand the scoring system and its impact on customers. In a further article, I will present a template to use for creating an initial grading system.

Conclusion

In conclusion, driving and scaling accessibility is a critical element of a successful accessibility program. A Champion program, a mature design system, and an Accessibility Score are three programs that can help drive accessibility at scale. Each program has unique advantages and requires different resources and strategies. However, by incorporating these programs, accessibility can be scaled past the accessibility team to the entire company, making it an integral part of the organization.