If you’ve just made the decision to prioritize digital accessibility, you might not know where to begin. When they’re getting started, most organizations face a lengthy list of web and app improvements they’ll need to make before these products can be easily used by people with disabilities.
The good news? You don’t have to tackle every issue at once. In fact, you’ll build a more effective digital accessibility program by making steady progress towards realistic goals for your organization.
In our recent webinar, “Building Your Digital Accessibility Roadmap,” Level Access Chief Executive Officer Tim Springer and Chief Innovation Officer Karl Groves discussed the typical stages of development for brands’ digital accessibility programs, and steps organizations can take to advance their maturity.
Let’s explore some key takeaways from this session that will help your team define, and execute on, attainable digital accessibility goals in the year ahead.
Know where you are (and start from there)
The first step in setting realistic digital accessibility goals for your organization is understanding the current state of your program. While every team takes a unique approach to inclusive design and development, we’ve found that most organizations progress through four key stages as they work to improve digital experiences for all users.
Before you can make your website or app accessible, you need to determine which aspects of it aren’t accessible. This can be the most frustrating part of implementing a digital accessibility program, as it’s likely many aspects of your product don’t meet established standards. Organizations in the “Identify” stage shouldn’t be disheartened by the length of their to-do list. Instead, it’s important to flag the highest-priority items, and set manageable timelines for addressing them.
If you’ve identified which components of your product limit usability for people with disabilities, you’re probably in the “Fix” stage. This means you’ve allocated internal resources toward resolving these discrete issues. Too often, teams race through this phase under the illusion that, once their immediate problems have been addressed, they can treat accessibility as a completed project. Unfortunately, this approach leads to a repetitive “break/fix” cycle, in which inevitable, new accessibility issues send teams right back to square one. If your organization is in the “Fix” stage, try to prioritize lasting impact and avoid cutting corners.
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It’s an exciting time for your digital accessibility program—you’ve addressed issues flagged in your initial testing. While it might be tempting to consider your accessibility work complete (after all, your team could use a break), stopping here puts you at risk of lapsing into a “break/fix” cycle. Remember that your product is constantly evolving, and your digital accessibility program needs to keep up. Your challenge now is to establish regular, repeatable processes for addressing accessibility issues on an ongoing basis—the earlier in development the better.
Once you’ve found a sustainable system for preventing accessibility bugs, and squashing those that arise, it’s time to share your success. You’ve experienced firsthand the benefits of prioritizing digital accessibility, from improving product usability for all customers to bolstering your organization’s reputation through a demonstrated commitment to inclusion. Now, you can champion accessibility within other facets of your organization (How is your recruiting team approaching accessibility? Are people with disabilities represented in senior management?) and in external communications to raise awareness within your industry.
Keep your longer-term goals in mind
To keep your goals realistic, you’ll want to make sure they reflect the current maturity of your program. But you can, and should, approach your short-term objectives with longer-term progress in mind. For example, if your team is in the “Fix” phase, most of your energy and attention will be devoted to resolving immediate product accessibility issues—and the goals you set should align with these priorities. As you begin establishing processes for fixing problems, however, ensure that these workflows are efficient and easy to replicate. That way, when you enter “Sustain,” you can swiftly tackle ongoing accessibility projects using systems you’ve already built.
Planning ahead to the next destination on your roadmap will prevent you from getting “stuck” in the early stages and losing momentum. If you treat every phase as an isolated project, you’ll miss opportunities to streamline your efforts further down the road. This ultimately creates extra work for your team, making it easier to give up entirely. When you approach digital accessibility not as a set of discrete tasks with deadlines, but a series of ongoing, interwoven processes, you can build manageable, streamlined processes that mature with your organization.
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Know who’s accountable
Any project manager knows that clearly communicating responsibilities is key to getting the job done. But when it comes to digital accessibility, many companies struggle to assign consistent ownership. In fact, our 2022 survey found that less than half of organizations have a central party responsible for accessibility initiatives. This leads to siloed work, disorganization, and inefficiency.
As you set goals, ensure that every project has a single, primary owner who is accountable for achieving results. To determine who owns what, think about how digital accessibility projects might fit into the work team members are already doing. Does your lead product designer care deeply about exceptional usability? Do you have developers dedicated to addressing UX bugs? What about IT professionals who oversee information security and other aspects of digital compliance? By making digital accessibility a relevant part of individuals’ existing responsibilities, rather than an add-on, you can avoid the perception that you’re introducing “extra work.” Instead, you’re offering team members opportunities to grow in their respective roles.
Divvying up responsibility reasonably, throughout your organization, will also lighten your own burden as an internal accessibility advocate. Remember, not everyone needs training in everything. You don’t need to bend over backwards explaining color contrast to your web developers, so long as your UX team understands how to design for users with low vision. Eventually, individual project owners will also become accessibility champions—but first they need to know what they’re accountable for.
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Don’t be afraid to ask for help
Chances are, you’re not a digital accessibility expert. And some of the challenges facing your team might take experience to navigate. So, it’s wise to consult a trusted third party. Beyond offering guidance on individual projects, a third-party resource can help you understand which goals to prioritize, so you can use your time and resources as effectively as possible.
As the end-to-end digital accessibility platform, Level Access offers a robust suite of software tools along with dedicated coaching from accessibility experts. From automated site monitoring to comprehensive design reviews, our solutions work alongside your team to ensure your products meet established accessibility standards.
You’re not alone
No matter where you are on the digital accessibility roadmap, you’re not alone. Are you still identifying problems? Beginning to implement fixes? Don’t get discouraged by the work ahead. With few exceptions, all organizations—even accessibility leaders—start at “Identify.” What’s crucial is that you set goals that align with the tasks at hand, stay accountable for steady progress, and sustain momentum when you reach the next phase of your journey.
For more guidance on setting goals for your organization’s specific maturity level, and direction on how to get to the next phase, request our on-demand webinar, “Building Your Digital Accessibility Roadmap.”
Unsure where your organization is on the roadmap? Need support achieving your goals? Our team of digital accessibility experts is here to help.
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