Running a Community Series

Overview

There are a few best practices for a community series, or a community model Champs program, for the training and experiences you offer. Most of these suggestions are general and can be applied to any speaker/training series that is held for your organization. However, due to accessibility being viewed sometimes only as a compliance topic there are some special considerations.

One amazing opportunity as an accessibility subject matter expert/team we all have is to educate folks who do not have lived experience. When I was a full time front-end engineer I attended a training showing different assistive technologies are used and that experience is one of the turning points in my career. Seeing how a screen reader works, or how a user can navigate complicated experiences using a sip-and-puff, is always an experience I try to provide in my training materials.

Establish your audience

A critical first step while creating an education program that should be well defined. This will determine what type of training and experiences your audience will be interested in and at what base accessibility knowledge they have. If accessibility knowledge is limited or accessibility is a new initiative for your company, start with generalist topics and as the program evolves past basic accessibility knowledge introduce more complex topics. Complex topics should be geared toward the roles that are your core audience. Generally speaking developers will be interested in implementation and code, and designers are going to be more interested in accessible design patterns and layout.

Engage the area leads

Accessibility is often seen as a checkbox for compliance and viewed the same as all those mandatory trainings your company forces you to do. One way to engage your company is to engage with the area leads such as Engineering, PM, and Design to and sell the program. Talk to them one on one to get buy-in for increased attendance and engagement and tell them how this benefits their teams outside of compliance. Don’t assume a company-wide email talking about the program will necessarily drum up interest. Go after the folks you want attending these trainings and showcase to them all the benefits of accessibility.

Stay engaged

Provide a way for interested attendees to ask questions and suggest topics. This also offers a two-way connection where you can provide links to resources, upcoming events, training, and conferences. The best method is best done through your company’s chat system (Slack, Teams, etc.) or via an email alias. Maintain a roster of attendance for your own reference to create a list of contacts and make sure they are added to this communication channel. Post questions or other engaging topics on a semi-regular basis to keep engagement high and more than just a speaker with a topic.

Make it interesting

When identifying topics and speakers make sure the topics are informative, fun, and offer something unique. Folks don’t want to hear about how to check for color contrast, or topics that strictly fall into compliance. Those who do not have lived experience want to know what a user goes through when dealing with a disability, and do their job better. Expose your attendees to the vast world of accessibility and get them thinking about how to approach accessibility. Ensure your speakers keep their talks focused to a key set of takeaways and they emphasize these in their talk. For an hour long talk I would stick to three primary things that your audience leaves with.

Cadence

Cadence of these sessions is entirely up to you but I would suggest quarterly or monthly. At larger companies where you can bring more internal speakers and have more content a monthly cadence is sustainable. However, if you rely on external speakers I would keep this to quarterly due to the amount of time it takes to coordinate and line up speakers. Lastly, don’t give your audience homework or pre-work for these trainings or sessions. Participants shouldn’t come with work completed beforehand, but should leave with takeaways that help them improve.

External Speakers

Working with external speakers is a lot more complicated than an internal speaker for a number of reasons. Identifying the speakers with relevant topics can be tricky, but working with local groups that focus on disability advocacy and rights is a great way to get a lived experience speaker. Finding developers or designers externally with relevant and new topics is particularly tricky if you are using anything custom in your development pipelines, but can be found with adequate research on popular blogs and LinkedIn.

I highly recommend external speakers should be paid in money, and in some cases gift certificates work as well. These folks are dedicating their time to develop the talk and topic, and to present. Please do not assume some awesome swag as payment unless your speaker has declined payment. Even if a speaker declines payment, offer to make a donation to an association/foundation of that speaker’s choice. Figuring out how much to pay a speaker will depend on their experience, topic, length of talk, and their availability. Speakers who professionally do presentations on a regular cadence will most likely have a set rate. 

It is vital that you test your video conferencing system with your speaker, and ensure that it is accessible for your speakers’ assistive technology. One thing I would recommend is before the presentation do a meet and greet, with a member of your conferencing or IT department in attendance as well for troubleshooting. This will help the speaker to familiarize themselves with their setup. 

Example topics to present

  • Assistive Technology demo (screen reader, switches, etc.)
  • History of the Americans with Disabilities Act
  • How to code accessibly in a specific code or framework
  • A showing of documentaries about accessibility (I recommend Crip Camp!)
  • A showcase on what other companies are doing in Accessibility
  • Guest speakers with lived experience
If you have an questions, suggestions, or general comments please Contact me!