Types of Accessibility Programs
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 (Coming Soon)
- 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.
The initial step in establishing an accessibility program is defining the type of program to establish, as this will dictate the approach toward other crucial factors. Generally, there are three types of accessibility programs: compliance-driven programs, innovation-driven programs, and a combination of both.
These programs encompass a diverse range of functions, spanning from corporate and product compliance to subject-matter expertise for feature development, training, and conferences, as well as ensuring documentation accessibility. Compliance programs are typically overseen by program managers, who are tasked with ensuring the organization complies with accessibility laws and standards. Additionally, these teams are responsible for defining accessibility standards for product teams, in cases where they are not adhering to the WCAG. Moreover, compliance-focused teams develop and track key performance indicators, metrics, and product milestones to ensure compliance.
A significant limitation of these teams is that they often lack direct engineering and design resources, which results in a reliance on requesting other teams to add accessibility work to their roadmaps. This can be challenging, especially in organizations where the primary focus of teams is to deliver features that generate revenue. Consequently, burnout rates among these teams tend to be high for a variety of reasons, with the reprioritization of work that has clear customer benefits and customer experience being a primary contributing factor.
An Innovation Accessibility team is a specialized group of professionals who are intensely focused on advancing innovation in a particular area or product. Typically, these teams are comprised of subject matter experts who possess a background or specialization in the given domain. Such teams are not commonly found outside of tech companies or other specialized firms with a dedicated focus on innovation.
Similar to product or feature teams, Innovation Accessibility teams are typically composed of various professionals, including engineers, designers, researchers, and technical product managers. This diverse team of experts brings unique skills and knowledge to the table, allowing them to work together to develop and implement innovative solutions.
A prime example of an Innovation Accessibility team can be seen in the Kindle Accessibility team at Amazon. This team is committed to improving the accessibility of the Kindle e-reader and associated digital content, ensuring that individuals with disabilities can enjoy reading with the same ease and convenience as everyone else. By leveraging their collective expertise and experience, the team has been able to make significant strides in improving the overall accessibility of the Kindle product line.
The Third Option
In many cases Accessibility teams found within companies can be a blend of these two: focusing primarily on compliance, as well as striving to create engaging and satisfying experiences for their customers. These teams are also known for their blended approach, as they typically consist of a mix of technical and non-technical Product and Program Managers, as well as other technical resources who oversee the implementation of accessibility programs and processes at scale.
Members of these teams need to possess a high degree of flexibility, as they may be required to take on various roles and responsibilities across multiple projects that require different skills and expertise. As such, it is generally expected that Product Managers who are part of these teams can effectively manage products and programs, collaborate with stakeholders, and serve as Subject Matter Experts on accessibility matters, including conducting design and code reviews.
By maintaining a versatile and knowledgeable accessibility team, companies can effectively ensure that their products and services meet the needs of all their customers, including those with disabilities. This is critical not only for compliance purposes but also for building customer loyalty and improving brand reputation.
In conclusion, developing an internal accessibility program can be challenging, but it is crucial for ensuring that a company’s products and services are inclusive and accessible to all customers, including those with disabilities. Establishing a scalable strategy is essential for recruitment, prioritization of work, and deciding where to scale accessibility. There are three types of accessibility programs: compliance-driven, innovation-driven, and a combination of both. Each type of program has its own unique advantages and limitations. Regardless of the program type, having a versatile and knowledgeable accessibility team that includes a mix of technical and non-technical professionals is essential for ensuring that accessibility is embedded in the organization’s culture and operations.