One of the things that has bothered me for a while during my career is that situation each of us has all too often found us in: Everywhere you turn, someone is throwing up roadblocks to accessibility. People always seem to have some excuse about why they cannot make something accessible. In my experience few of the excuses hold much water. Fundamentally, the prime reason why Information and Communications Technology (ICT) is not accessible is that the concept of accessibility has not been institutionalized among those who design, develop, and buy ICT products and services. The reason why it has not been institutionalized is because people – primarily those at the top – have not been convinced of its importance.

I found a need to discuss this topic because a lot of people I talk to work in an environment like the one described above and they’re not making significant headway in turning things around. So last year I created a presentation called “Selling Accessibility” which I gave for the first time at the Boston Accessibility Unconference. I’m retiring that presentation and have decided to turn it into a series of blog posts. What I hope to accomplish in this series of blog posts is provide accessibility advocates with some advice on how to persuade others (particularly executives) about the importance of accessibility.


One of the topics I’ve been interested in for a long time has been the psychology of persuasion. There are a lot of related fields such as rhetoric, propaganda, psywarfare and the like, but in this case what I was interested in primarily was what are the things which cause people to be persuaded successfully to see another person’s point of view or to comply with another person’s request. One of the most well known names in this field is Robert Cialdini. His book “Influence: The Science of Persuasion”is very often cited by others in this field and he’s seen as one of the pioneers of this field of study. Throughout his field studies and academic research in this area, he found 6 types of tactics used in compliance gaining.

Robert Cialdini

  1. Reciprocity – People tend to return a favor.
  2. Commitment and Consistency – Once people commit to what they think is right, orally or in writing, they are more likely to honor that commitment.
  3. Social Proof – People will do things that they see other people are doing.
  4. Authority – People will tend to obey authority figures.
  5. Liking – People are easily persuaded by other people whom they like.
  6. Scarcity– Perceived scarcity will generate demand.

“Influence” is a must-read book on persuasion primarily because of Cialdini’s ability to describe and demonstrate the effectiveness of the above 6 tactics.

Guy Kawasaki

Guy Kawasaki was one of the Apple employees originally responsible for marketing the Macintosh in 1984 and was the chief evangelist for four years. He is now a venture capitalist, speaker, and author. Guy has written nearly a dozen books, mostly aimed at entrepreneurs and marketers. Of interest to this conversation is his book “Enchantment: The Art of Changing Hearts, Minds, and Actions”. Overall, I recommend Robert Cialdini’s work over Guy Kawasaki, but the material in “Enchantment” is less dense and is primarily a practical application of the things in Robert Cialdini’s book “Influence”.

“Enchantment” primarily focuses on 3 themes:

  1. Be likeable
  2. Be trustworthy
  3. Have a great cause

One of the most frequent criticisms in online reviews of “Enchantment” is that it contains a lot of really obvious stuff like advice about making sure you dress right and the importance of having a firm handshake. These are things that, in a lot of people’s opinions, are too obvious to take up space in a book. Still, its worth reading if you don’t want the heavy psychology orientation of “Influence”

The Art of Woo

Another book worth mentioning on this topic is “The Art of Woo” by G. Richard Shell and Mario Moussa. In this book they talk about the 4 steps in convincing others.

  1. Survey your situation – Analyze your situation, goals, and challenges
  2. Confront the five barriers – relationships, credibility, communication mismatches, belief systems, and interest and needs.
  3. Make your pitch – People need a solid reason to justify a decision, yet at the same time many decisions are made on the basis of intuition. This step also deals with presentation skills.
  4. Secure your commitments – In order to safeguard the longtime success of a persuasive decision, it is vital to deal with politics at both the individual and organizational level.

Of these steps, I think that confronting the barriers is most appropriate in selling accessibility, and is something that Shell and Moussa focus on as well, as you are almost sure to fail if you’ve not confronted the barriers first.

Chris Law

So far, none of those books and authors discussed so far have anything at all to do with Accessibility. That’s why I was excited to find Chris M Law. Chris’s PhD thesis, titled “Responding to accessibility issues in business”discusses directly this topic of being successful as an organization when it comes to accessibility. During his thesis work, Chris found common characteristics among organizations which are successful at implementing accessibility. He also found common issues among those which are unsuccessful.

The success factors he identified are:

  1. Adopting the social model of disability
  2. Establishing executive-level backing
  3. Establishing accessibility as a priority on the agenda
  4. Taking a planned, proactive approach
  5. Making accessibility a shared task
  6. Providing enabling resources
  7. Providing sources of accessibility expertise.

I strongly recommend reading Chris Law’s work for more specific information on this topic.

The 48 Laws of Power - the Dark Side of persuasion

For those interested in the “Dark Side” of persuasion, there’s The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene. This book is an interesting read that takes elements from writers such as Niccolò Machiavelli and Sun Tzu to come up with his 48 laws of power. He uses a large number of historical anecdotes to illustrate the 48 Laws, such as:

  • Never outshine the master
  • Never put too much trust in friends; learn how to use enemies.
  • Conceal your intentions.
  • Always say less than necessary.
  • So much depends on reputation. Guard it with your life.
  • Court attention at all costs.
  • Get others to do the work for you, but always take the credit.

So much about this book goes against my very fabric that I hardly even feel comfortable talking about it. I don’t believe in purposely manipulating people and would never recommend that others do so. But there really are some good points in this book – especially the areas where it talks about always picking your battles wisely, protecting your image, and being sure to always weigh your situation so you’re prepared to make the best argument for your cause. It is a worthwhile read if you can get past the manipulative tone of the topic.

By now, you should be able to see a theme developing here. It will be a theme we hear a lot about throughout this series of blog posts. All five authors discussed so far have made sure to focus on likeability, relationships, and credibility as key to persuading others. Guy Kawasaki summarizes the point clearly when he says “Have you ever purchased a car from someone you didn’t like?” I don’t mean “Was your car salesman your best friend?” but its clear: if your car salesman was a jerk you probably wouldn’t buy a car from him even if the deal was good.

While the work of Chris Law is directly relevant to accessibility, the rest of the material discussed so far was not. So, I decided to turn to others in our field to see what they had to say about how accessibility is successfully implemented. I interviewed 13 people who have experience working in accessibility at very large organizations – often organizations where the concept of accessibility didn’t have a lot of buy-in across the entire organization. Still, each of these folks had enjoyed some level of success in getting accessibility adopted more broadly than it was before.

  • Matt Feldman – OpenFocusIT, IRS, DHS
  • Robert Pearson – Accessible Media
  • Jim Tobias – Inclusive Technologies
  • Jay Mullen – College Board
  • Denis Boudreau – AccessibilitéWeb
  • Cher Travis Ellis – CSU Fresno
  • Neil Milliken – BBC
  • John Foliot – JP Morgan Chase, formerlyStanford U.
  • Monica Ackerman – AVTA/ Scotia Bank
  • Barry Johnson – Deque Sys. Staffed at Dept. of Ed
  • Elle Waters – Humana
  • Glenda Sims – Deque Sys., Formerly UT Austin
  • Rob Yonaitis – Founder, HiSoftware

What I thought I’d see was a reiteration of some of the topics covered by the books “Influence” and “The Art of Woo”. What I got didn’t seem like there was anything in common with the material in any of those books. Looking deeper into my notes, however, showed a lot of similarities with what I’d read. Over and over in my notes I noticed the practical, boots-on-the-ground application of these principles by people who had intuitively been able to navigate these same principles. In my notes I noticed two prevailing themes: there are things that work against you which will hinder your success (Negative Factors) and things which help you (Positive Factors). Some of the positive factors are external that you cannot directly control but that you can wield to your benefit and and some that you can control.

Negative Factors

  • Existing misconceptions
  • Hostility & FUD
  • Looking like a hurdle
  • Overstated importance
  • Overstating business value
  • Chasing perfection

External Positive Factors

  • Executive Sponsorship
  • Working in litigious industry
  • Existing policy, regulation, or law
  • Vocal end users
  • Successes of peers

Internal Positive Factors

  • Personality
  • Effective Communication
  • Pragmatism
  • Training
  • Collaboration & Integration

Throughout the rest of this series I’ll discuss each of these factors in a way that will help you understand the way they have contributed to the successful adoption of accessibility in large organizations.

My company, AFixt exists to do one thing: Fix accessibility issues in websites, apps, and software. If you need help, get in touch with me now!