Using Agile Principles to Accelerate Digital Accessibility: Agile Accessibility Explained
Mar 21, 2023
Ensuring that your digital experiences are usable for all people is key to creating a more equitable, inclusive world. But in order to make an impact, organizations can’t just pay lip service to accessibility—they need to deliver results. So how can you be certain your team is doing the right thing, the right way?
For 24 years, we’ve helped industry leaders build sustainable digital accessibility programs. We’ve also witnessed the costs that organizations incur—in time, money, and momentum—when they treat inclusion as an afterthought, slowing progress and making digital accessibility much harder than it needs to be.
What separates the most innovative accessibility programs from those that get stuck in the past? In our experience, the most effective organizations take an agile approach to digital accessibility. They prioritize inclusion at every stage of a digital experience’s life cycle, and continually revisit and refine their work. In contrast, teams that wait to tackle accessibility until after digital experiences are built find themselves in a never-ending break/fix cycle that costs more, leaves accessibility barriers in the way of users, and increases legal and reputational risks.
This post provides a comprehensive overview of agile accessibility, unpacking what it is and why it’s critical to the long-term success of every digital accessibility program.
What is an agile approach to digital accessibility?
Regardless of whether you’re a tech professional, chances are you’ve encountered the term “agile” in the workplace. Now the industry standard for product development, the agile methodology empowers teams to quickly build new features—and improve old ones—in short sprints, and consistently iterate on their progress. The results? A highly effective process where ongoing learning takes place at each stage of the digital experience life cycle.
One of the main advantages of the agile methodology is that, by emphasizing collaboration and continuous iteration over immediate perfection, it empowers teams to sustainably, consistently deliver rich user experiences. Agile accessibility applies this philosophy to digital accessibility, inviting teams to prioritize accessibility in the design, development, and delivery of a digital product—whether it’s a website, app, or platform—and continuously improve upon their work in every stage.
But what does that mean in practice? In a nutshell, taking an agile approach to accessibility means bringing three pillars of the agile philosophy—focused projects, constant iteration, and a high level of collaboration—into the work of building inclusive online experiences.
Let’s explore each of these concepts in the context of digital accessibility.
Too often, organizations believe they must scramble to address every accessibility issue across their digital products at once. This way of working is overwhelming and impossible to sustain, leading to lost momentum. Instead, organizations that embrace agile accessibility focus on building accessibility into the definition of “done.” This ensures a baseline of accessibility across all development activities. Focused accessibility work—especially remediation—can occur in limited-scope, high-priority projects like optimizing critical website components and key user flows (the specific paths that users take as they interact with your product).
In agile product development, teams consistently iterate on existing features. Agile accessibility operates similarly: organizations continually monitor their digital properties for issues and strive to improve them through constant, incremental progress. As a result, teams never miss new opportunities to make digital experiences more robust and accessible for all users.
Agile accessibility is a team effort. In an agile approach, tasks are distributed across relevant functions within an organization—from design to quality assurance (QA) to marketing. This allows teams to weave accessibility into their existing workflows, driving efficiency. It also yields stronger results by ensuring that accessibility is considered at every stage of the product development life cycle.
How agile accessibility pays off
Now that we’ve defined agile accessibility, let’s dive into a few of the ways that your organization can benefit from this strategy.
In an agile approach to digital accessibility, teams focus on discrete, manageable, and high-impact projects, rather than slogging through never-ending lists of bugs. By clearly defining and acting on priority items, organizations can swiftly remove the most critical accessibility barriers from their digital properties.
By approaching accessibility as an iterative process, organizations commit to making consistent improvements. Teams can celebrate their steady progress rather than trudging toward an unattainable end goal. This isn’t just good for morale: over time, incremental wins add up, allowing organizations to accomplish more than they would during a fixed period. Ultimately, agile accessibility amounts to a shift in mindset and culture, as teams embrace ongoing progress and lasting results rather than quick fixes.
Every manager knows that inefficiency is expensive. Addressing accessibility early and often throughout the digital experience life cycle not only reduces the amount of overall time needed to address digital accessibility, but also reduces the costs associated with that labor.
Of course, time is always money. But this is particularly true when it comes to developing inclusive digital experiences. If accessibility is treated as a one-off project, with teams pouring resources into reactive fixes, a product update may erase much of the progress that has already been made. Organizations then end up paying for repeat work.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that when teams prioritize digital accessibility throughout the development life cycle, rather than rushing through it at the end, the resulting product is more accessible. It’s also more usable for everyone—not just those with disabilities. With shared project ownership, each function within an organization contributes unique skills to the creation of inclusive experiences.
Developers don’t need to awkwardly shoehorn accessibility features into new designs if designers are already delivering accessible concepts. This collaborative approach—coupled with continuous iteration—means organizations can efficiently and consistently produce rich experiences for all.
Set your team up for agile wins
Whether you’re new to digital accessibility, or scaling a mature program, adopting an agile approach will help you more efficiently and effectively create inclusive online experiences. And with the right resources in place, embracing this new way of working can be seamless. To learn more about how our software and expert managed services can accelerate your path to a sustainable accessibility practice, engage with our team today.
eSSENTIAL Accessibility has changed its name to Level Access! Read More