Accessibility Champs Program
I’ve seen this program called multiple things: Champions, Sponsors, Experts, Advocates etc. but for this article I’ll refer to this program as the shorthand of Champions (Champs). A common issue with accessibility teams and programs is that they tend to be smaller teams, and not everyone on those teams is going to be an expert on technical, design, and programmatic work. A way to augment and scale an accessibility team is to train other members of your company (Developers, designers, Program Managers) to serve as a first resource for common questions.
Two Kinds of Champs Programs
The term Champs is a loaded term and can mean very different things to each company. In terms of program definition generally a Champs program falls into two types of models: Community and Governance. A community model mostly involves offering training opportunities (demos, speakers, presentations) to a group of interested members in your company.
The primary difference between Community and Governance is that Governance adds enforcement and responsibilities to a Champ. A Governance model Champ can be responsible for accessibility in their designated area, can manage a roadmap of accessibility bugs/features, possibly budget, compliance to your standards, or goals for their responsible organization. A Governance modeled Champs program requires far more work to manage, setup, agreement on standards, and buy-in from your company. A Community modeled Champs program is an excellent program to help establish a base accessibility knowledge within your company, as well as establish contacts within other organizations.
Community Model Best Practices
There are some lessons that benefit both models, but this article focuses on the governance model since there is a lot more complexity to it. To see tips and best practices for running an accessibility champs program in the community model please read my article on Tips and Best Practices for running a community series.
Pros to a Champs Program
The primary pro is that once established this is one of the easiest options to scale and sustain. A well-run Champs program needs two things to get started: a person on the accessibility team and training materials. Ideally you only need one person on the accessibility team to serve as the main point of contact for the Champs, track their training and the roster, and route more complex questions to accessibility experts. Training materials need to be created once and training programs can be setup to train several members at one time. These trainings can be integrated with your existing meetings, such as consultations or Office Hours, to provide training and real use cases. Once trained, a Champ can free up the accessibility teams time spent on simple questions and management.
Another great benefit is it gets folks into accessibility who otherwise haven’t had exposure to it before. One of the primary problems with technical and design programs (in colleges/boot camps/online) is that accessibility isn’t taught as a standard topic. Oftentimes a college-grad, career switcher, or someone switching industries, won’t been aware of accessibility requirements and will require training. A Champs program offers an easy way for these folks to not only learn, but to integrate accessibility into their career moving forward and influence others.
One last benefit is that gaining more Champs multiplies your ability to create additional accessibility training that’s more specific to different disciplines (design, dev, QA, etc.) since you have people in those roles to conduct the training. This training can then be further used for conferences, by more experienced Champs, and delve into even more specific topics of accessibility.
Cons to a Champs Program
The primary con is that the accessibility program has to already have experts in accessible design, development, and program management – either on the team or hired externally. These folks are needed to create the initial training, be the mentors for the first few Champs, and serve as the ultimate subject matter expert for more difficult questions.
A secondary con is if these trained Champs leave the team, organization, or the company altogether, then a replacement has to be identified and trained. For many companies and sectors this may not be an issue, but in the Tech industry and during the “Great Resignation” this is something to keep in mind. The best way to offset this con is to make sure your documentation is always up-to-date, well documented, and is widely shared throughout your company.
Setting up and running the program
Setting up a Champs program requires leadership buy-in for one primary reason: Approval for Champs to take time from daily duties for training and consultation. Once trained a Champ could spend as little at 10%, or as most as 50%, of their time working exclusively on accessibility. This range goes up and down depending on the number of other Champs with similar skill set, the number of projects they are responsible for, the size of the dedicated accessibility team, and the number of design/development systems.
Another initial setup item for this program is you will need to decide what promotes a trainee into a Champ. This is typically done by setting up milestones for a Champ such as:
- Time or number of trainings done
- Number and types of projects they have worked on
- Approval by a senior Champ (Think a mentor/mentee relationship)
- Voted on by a group of Senior Champs
No matter the milestones (or combinations) to promote a Champ in training, this individual should be able to identify common accessibility issues, and communicate the customer impact without the help of other Champs.
There are also a number of processes a Champs program should have to ensure success:
- Standardization of Bug Priority/Severity – Establish a severity system for bugs based on severity of issue to the customer, and how to tag these. Most of the time this process exists outside of a Champs program but it’s crucial this exists in order to amplify the Champs and communicate to teams the issues.
- Standards – Ensure that you have an accessibility standard that maps each type of issue, and is fully documented, to the Bug Severity. If you are an international company I would suggest creating an internal standard that leverages both EN and WCAG to cover your bases. Otherwise, work with your legal team to make sure you are using the appropriate set of standards.
- Mass Training aka Community Model – Often times a Governance model first starts out as a Community program. It’s important, if this is the case, to make sure you continue the momentum at your company. If you have both a Community and a Governance model running at the same time it is best to name the Champs from either model a different name.
- Champs Training – Determine and document the process for a Champ to be elevated from a Trainee, who will train those folks, and where the training will occur.
- Champs Responsibilities – This is the hardest process to establish since it requires full leadership buy-in to be effective. Providing Champs the necessary templates to communicate to the accessibility team and their area of responsibility is crucial as part of this process.
As mentioned earlier your organization will need a PM who has dedicated time toward managing the program. This includes maintaining and setting up training, keeping an accurate roster of Champs, and routing project teams to their areas Champ.
This is an example Governance Champs program that is a combination of several programs I have seen that you can use as a model. This example couple be added to, or reduced, based on the bandwidth of your Accessibility team and the maturity of accessibility at your company.
The Accessibility team has a director and four Program Managers. One program manager is dedicated at 50% of their time to manage the Champs program. The program initially started out as a Community model Champs program that provided training and speakers ever quarter to build empathy for customers with disabilities. The Director worked up their management chain to get approval to expand the program to add the Governance Champs. Additionally, through documentation of time allotment needed to run and setup the program the Director got approval to get one additional headcount to run it.
Documenting the processes and responsibilities into one document was the first step for the PM. After reading the proposal written by the Director for the initial pitch, and consulting with the Director and Accessibility team, the PM detailed the following:
- Inaugural Champs – The Accessibility team is short on resources when it comes to design reviews and how to implement accessibility in React, so a designer and a developer will be chosen to solve for more immediate needs. These first two Champs were chosen from a pool of identified individuals at the company who had showed an interest in accessibility previously.
- Promotion Process – Trainee Champs would be evaluated quarterly for promotion by a vote of the Accessibility Team. Each Trainee Champ would be assigned a member of the Accessibility team as a mentor and would attend Office Hours and other review meetings with the Trainee.
- Mentor Responsibilities – Mentor would spend ~30% of their time initially with Trainee for knowledge transfer of accessibility, how to communicate issues, and how to resolver common accessibility problems. This time would be encapsulated by the Office Hours, Review meetings, questions from the Trainee, as well as a weekly 1:1 with the Trainee. The Mentor would spend the first month leading meetings, and gradually start making the Trainee the lead for accessibility questions.
- Training Materials – Mentors would provide accessibility resources to specific questions, but the PM would capture these for future reference. A handbook would be created during the first round of Champs by the PM for future Champs to leverage as training materials with these resources.
- Short Term Goals – The goals for the Champs program would be to eliminate all known high severity bugs in Champ organizations, no new high accessibility issues released, and to be involved with five projects in the first year.
- Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) – Number of bugs reduced, number of new bugs against previous quarters, number of design/development reviews, increased accessibility score, and features involved in.
- Post Promotion Champ Responsibilities – Champs would be responsible for their organization by documenting all known bugs, being the first line of contact for accessibility, bug management (mostly severity of issues), and escalating large issues to the Accessibility Team.
This document was then proposed to the Senior Leadership at the company for questions and approval to move forward.
Once officially launched the PM spends their time organizing the program:
- Status Emails – A quarterly meeting sent out to stakeholders that announces promotions, all the KPIs, and goal status’
- Process Training – establishing the process, training, templates, and mechanisms for Champs to report for their organization
- Playbook – Write and update a playbook for Champs to follow for their engagement with organizations and the Accessibility Team
- Maintain Company Roster – Not needed until the program is scaled past the first few Champs, but a public (to the company) active roster of Champs detailing ways to contact the Champs, roles of each champ, and responsible organizations.
- Maintain Internal Roster – Roster that contains all the information in the Company Roster, but also maintains status of Trainees and promotion status, that is available to the Accessibility Team.
- Identify new Champs – Maintain list of prospective Champs
- Nomination Processes – Establish, maintain, and document process for a prospective Champ to be nominated.