This is the third post in a series of posts on Selling Accessibility. If you haven’t already, head on over to Selling Accessibility – An Introduction to get caught up.
As promised in my last post, I’d like to switch focus to positive factors. In this case what I want to talk about are external positive factors. External positive factors are those things which are outside of your control. These are things which you may be able to use to your advantage, but you cannot control these factors. These either exist or not and can be used to help make your case for accessibility within the organization stronger or, more accurately, easier.
The first, and in my opinion, most important positive factor is Executive Sponsorship. In any organization, no effort is expended and no money is spent without an executive calling for it to happen. Authority to determine how to spend time and money diminishes the further away you get from the top of the proverbial org chart, especially in very large organizations. Often, unfortunately, the employees on the bottom of the ladder feel powerless to make any significant changes to the way they do things without being explicitly told to do so. For these reasons and more, it is vital that securing executive buy-in be at the top of your priority list. All of your persuasive power must be dedicated to trying to get the attention of the highest executive you can to get some focus on accessibility.
When trying to focus on executive buy-in, keep in mind that your message should be geared toward how accessibility can help the executive meet their goals. What goals those are depends upon who you’re talking to. Sometimes you won’t be able to get to the CEO or any other C-level executive. In some cases, you’ll only be able to get to Project Managers – they are concerned with budget and timeline on their projects. If you’re able to get to a Program manager, they’re concerned with the efficiency of their program and achieving the stated goals of their program. Speak to those goals. For whoever you’re speaking with, attempt to steer the conversation toward ways in which accessibility can help them meet their goals and keep the message in language they can understand and that resonates with them. Does the company want to focus on improved mobile experience? Talk about responsive design and progressive enhancement and give a high-level description of how accessibility can help.
Some readers may be thinking “my organization is so huge there’s no way I can get to the CEO”. That’s fine. In such a case, perhaps a bottoms-up approach may work. John Foliot, for example, took this approach while at Stanford. John’s strategy was to work from bottom up in a grass roots fashion starting with developers. His reasoning was when you have all of the developers on your side, they can have huge impact on the end product even without an executive having said to do so. John says he spent about 3 1/2 years to become part of developer community but had good successes before beginning to work on project managers to insert accessibility into the proper places of the SDLC. This approach resonated with Rob Yonaitis, too, who said “Once you have executive buy-in, you still need to get developers on board.” – after all, these are the people ultimately responsible for making things happen.
Working in a Litigious Industry
For some organizations, reduction of legal risk is a compelling case for beginning an accessibility program in the organization. Although I’ve so often said we want to avoid attempting to use fear as a selling tool, in some industries understanding your potential legal risk is important. The List of Web Accessibility-Related Litigation and Settlements shows that organizations in Finance & Insurance, Healthcare, E-Retail, Education, and the Public Sector have the highest level of risk. During my interviews with them, both Robert Pearson and Glenda Sims said that working in industry that sees lots of litigation helped make push easier, mostly because their executives understood the risk they were under. To find out more about this topic, see my post Reduction of Legal Risk as Accessibility Business Case
Existing Policy, Regulation, or Law
Similar to the above is whether or not there’s already an existing policy, regulation, or law which mandates accessibility. For instance in the United States there’s the Rehabilitation Act which covers the Federal Government. We also have ADA, IDEA, and similar laws that may be applicable. In the UK there’s the Equality Act/ DDA and many other countries have similar laws or regulations. There may also be a law or regulation at the state or province level, such as California’s Unruh act. Barring an actual law, there may be an existing internal policy or standard within your organization. If any of these things exist, they can be used to push accessibility forward in the organization. An existing policy, for example, can be used to get accessibility requirements added to projects and procurement documents. This can often mean that accessibility can get some budget to support those requirements though this often requires executive support which can become a chicken/ egg scenario.
Vocal End Users
An unfortunate reality for many people trying to advance the cause of accessibility in their organization is that they’re often a single person or small group of people trying to make accessibility happen by themselves. The bigger the organization, the smaller this voice tends to become, which can result in little traction for your cause. In such a case, it may seem sensible to double down on your efforts, but that approach could backfire. Instead, look for end users who may actually be impacted by accessibility problems, as they can help make what you say more concrete.
Case in point: a few years ago I was working on a contract at a large government agency’s 508 office. As the group which handled such things, agency employees with disabilities often turned to us whenever they had problems with internal applications. Unfortunately, we didn’t have the direct power to compel anyone to remediate their systems. Our strategy in this case was to encourage agency employees to submit a support request through the internal support system. By doing so, the end users themselves were supplying direct evidence of accessibility problems. This was exceptionally useful because support tickets must be tracked to resolution. Ultimately what happens is that evidence piles up that there’s a real problem impacting real users that cannot be resolved. This evidence can then be used to make the case for more budget and resources for accessibility and stricter enforcement of internal policies and procedures.
Successes of Peers
Despite the arguments people will make about their individuality, Social Proof is a very strong persuader. This is especially true in the case of accessibility which is often a new concept and requires the organization to venture into unknown territory and to find or grow new talent for the task. When it comes to accessibility, successful peers or competitors can be used as examples to demonstrate the value and effectiveness of accessibility and can show that it isn’t as difficult as they think it will be, if done right. This can be especially useful when trying to persuade a particularly troublesome detractor. Instead of arguing endlessly with such a person, get the non-believer to talk to others who have done it, especially people in similar types of organizations. If you have any difficulty finding someone to talk to, check out my Twitter list of Enterprise Accessibility people or contact me and I can put you in touch with some people directly.