Since the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in 1990, employers, like contact centers, (known as “covered entities” under the law), have scrambled to understand how the act applies to them.
Overwhelmingly, organizations have taken a reactive approach to the ADA. To illustrate, in a study conducted by the Great Lakes ADA Center, the National Rehabilitation Information Center reported in 2020 that researchers found that only 13% of public (non-business) entities had an ADA transition plan available to the public, a key provision of the ADA: nearly 30 years past due.
Furthermore, in a 2019 study conducted on the accessibility of eCommerce, Nucleus Research found that 70% of all websites had accessibility barriers that prevented users with disabilities from properly accessing content intended for public use.
Legal Action, But Potential
In response to many covered entities’ failure to adhere to some of the most basic provisions of the ADA, the U.S. Department of Justice, along with affected citizens and community advocacy organizations, have begun to act.
Since the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) published the first draft of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) over 20 years ago, digital accessibility lawsuits have gone from virtually zero each year to over 2,500 in 2020, and this number continues to increase year over year.
Also in 2020, DigitalCommerce360 reported that “more than 66% of Top 500 online retailers were named in an ADA web or app-accessibility cases from 2017 through 2019.”
As many organizations adapt to the new legal realities regarding accessibility, many industry leaders are pointing to benefits beyond compliance, such as ROI, access to diverse markets, and improved innovation baked into the company culture.
They may be on to something. In 2017, it was estimated that approximately $8 billion was spent on diversity programming in the United States.
Furthermore, WAI estimates the annual discretionary spending of people with disabilities is over $200 billion. Globally, this market is estimated to be worth over $7 trillion.
Moreover, Nucleus noted that the aforementioned barriers cost businesses up to $6.9 billion in revenue that was otherwise spent by persons with disabilities on alternatives that were accessible.
But how can organizations meet their compliance requirements and tap into this explosive and growing market?
In this article, we’ll make our case for the adoption of a model to successfully implement accessibility within your organization that emphasizes continuous improvement to foster an inclusive culture.
Barriers to Accessibility Initiatives
Accessibility initiatives require many things: support from the leadership, a mandate, accessibility training and awareness, and strong relationships with customers and communities.
These initiatives also require adoption of a standard and a process to measure progress, talent, consideration throughout the lifecycle of product development, the establishment of procedures for procurement, and a process to continuously improve on past success.
This means organizations need commitment, drive, and a great deal of flexibility.
In 2020, Consulteer.com wrote that over 70% of digital transformations fail. Among the many reasons for this, the following were included:
- Lack of clear goals
- No support from senior management
- Lack of expertise
- Singular focus
- Failure has become normal
This list likely wouldn’t surprise anyone who has managed large projects—whether we’re examining digital accessibility transformation initiatives or organizational diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) efforts—the reasons for failure are the same.
At the end of the day, no effort will be successful if appropriate resources are not allocated, there will be no resources without buy-in, no buy-in without trust, and no trust without objective data, solutions, and flexibility.
Accessibility Responsive Model
As an old colleague of mine always said “You can be 100% compliant, but you will never be 100% accessible.” He’s right. No matter what a consultant tells you, or how diligently you hold stakeholders accountable, you will never—I repeat, never—be 100% accessible to every living person on this planet.
And that’s ok. But it’s why you need a model.
The Accessibility Responsive Model (ARM) contains six core concepts that must be adopted and implemented to see organizational resistance to accessibility dissipate. We’d advocate that they are followed sequentially, but we’re flexible.
Core Concept 1: Create a mandate
No accessibility initiative can be successful without support from the leadership. Existing legal mandates in the accessibility space are simply not sufficient. Even for those who have been living under a tree for the last 30 years, most are very well aware that they cannot discriminate on the basis of someone’s disability. So why does it still happen?
In short, it’s complicated. We doubt many would argue with a straight face that the leadership wakes up every day indifferent to the needs of their customers or the legal requirements of their organization. Not at all. But these details are easily lost in the day-to-day push to improve the bottom line.
Whatever the case, step one for any accessibility initiative is to build support from the leadership and create a mandate.
When it’s all said and done, support will likely be something as simple as an official letter from the leadership, a policy, or even a project charter that answers tactical questions regarding how the work gets done.
Nevertheless, here are some questions you should be ready to answer before approaching the leadership:
- Does the company currently have a policy on non-discrimination or accessibility?
- Does your organization have someone tasked with coordinating compliance efforts?
- Who is responsible for developing work packages? Assessments, remediation, quality and assurance: every detail must be addressed.
- Have you defined the scope and do you have a complete view of how the initiative will impact other business operations?
- Who are your stakeholders? And have they been consulted?
- What resource groups will you collaborate with to ensure success can be measured objectively?
Answering these questions will you help clearly define the scope of the project: a step that cannot be skipped.
When the leadership is engaged, they’ll want to see that all stakeholders have been consulted, roles have been defined, and success can be measured in a way that is non-biased and objective.
But more importantly, the leadership will want to know that they can be flexible if something goes wrong. After all, it is they who will have to answer for the success or failure of any effort undertaken by the organization.
This means developing plans and solutions for any barriers that may be encountered throughout the process. For example, a mobile app developed by a third-party cannot be modified until the contract is renewed, which will impact how the project’s success is perceived. Unfortunate, yes: but this information must be incorporated in the effort. Transparency is critical.
During a meeting with a high-level stakeholder, I was once asked (regarding an accessibility initiative), “Kevin, this is all great, but say we do this, what happens if you get hit by a bus?” Oof.
Ultimately, your stakeholders want to know if the bell can be un-rung if the initiative begins to produce unfavorable results. Not to worry, it won’t.
Core Concept 2: Build accessibility into training programs
With the disability population making up approximately 15% of the world, or roughly over 1 billion people, we feel that it’s safe to say that organizations that do not incorporate accessibility into their training programs are missing a significant segment of the economy.
Organizational mandates are ineffective if staff do not have the tools to successfully complete their assigned tasks. While every organization is different, those seeking to implement an accessibility initiative should consider the following trainings at a minimum:
- Disability sensitivity training
- Customer service training for accessibility (Accessibility.com has a great and affordable solution)
- Creating accessible content
- Procuring accessible technology
- Social media and accessibility
In addition, guides should be developed that align with accessibility training programs to ensure continuity of operations: just in case, you know, you get hit by a bus.
Core Concept 3: Engage the community
As we’ve already alluded to, organizations will never be 100% accessible. However, with the help of community resource groups (CRGs) that include diverse representation, your organization will have the ability to better identify solutions that are unique to the communities you serve.
Here are several tips for building strong CRGs:
- Include diverse representation from the community.
- Include representation from local non-profits.
- Incorporate the group in real decision making, such as budgeting and identification of compliance issues.
- Create real action items for the group to deliberate and act on.
- Create accountability mechanisms. Don’t be afraid of adversity, embrace it.
When you incorporate the end-user in the discovery, assessment, and solution process, you’ll always get a better result.
Core Concept 4: Offer flexible and responsive workplace accommodations
In 2019 there were over 20,000 charges filed against employers for disability discrimination. The simple fact is that many organizations have not established the required practices to maintain a robust accommodation process.
Employees with disabilities can provide valuable insight into the organization’s overall accessibility. For example, if an employee with a disability is having difficulty accessing a website while trying to assist a customer, chances are that customers with disabilities are encountering the same barriers. Employees need to feel safe reporting any challenges they experience.
Consider the following tips for developing a robust and effective accommodation process:
- Include accommodation information in your new hire orientation or on-boarding program.
- Use people-first language that puts the person before the disability.
- Provide manager training specifically for the accommodation process.
- Create a checks-and-balance approach to the hiring process.
- Establish diverse employee resource groups so all perspectives are considered.
Having a diverse workforce and inclusive and accessible hiring process will not only improve your organization’s ability to innovate, but also demonstrate the company’s commitment to the initiative.
Core Concept 5: Bake accessibility into the development lifecycle and procurement process
To be truly successful, accessibility needs to be built into the development lifecycle: from start to finish. This means that organizations should incorporate the end-user’s experience from concept to deployment.
Here are the key lifecycle questions:
- Who are our users and how will they access this content?
- What types of technology will be supported?
- How will the application interact with assistive technology?
- How will alternative means of access be provided for those who experience barriers?
- What are the unique challenges our customers face that this application will resolve?
- Which standards will be used?
- What perspectives should we consider?
Consider incorporating accessibility user-stories throughout so difficult questions are answered before each stage of the process.
When projects are sourced and must be procured, ensure the organization’s accessibility expectations are included, and incorporate an enforcement mechanism to ensure compliance as a separate provision of the contract.
Core Concept 6: Adopt a model for continuous improvement
Accessibility is a journey, not a destination. Organizations that adopt strict standards and then fail to adhere to them often become discouraged.
In my experience, information and technology departments will become disillusioned with the process if they cannot overcome barriers to accessibility. This outcome must be avoided. But models that focus on continuous improvement have typically led to longer lasting and stickier gains.
The Accessibility Responsive Model was developed to introduce organizations to accessibility and foster an inclusive and accessible culture over time. The key to this is creating measurable objectives for each level that demonstrate small improvements with each iteration.
In Core Concept 3, we advocated that organizations embrace their communities and incorporate them into the decision-making process. Consider building a matrix that demonstrates the progress made in this effort, for example:
- Level 1: Community resources are identified and engaged as needed.
- Level 2: CRGs are established and utilized for advisory workshops.
- Level 3: CRGs are regularly convened and engaged for all major purchases and development projects.
- Level 4: CRGs are incorporated for all major decisions and collectively represent one vote in project approval committees.
- Level 5: CRGs are diverse, regularly convened, have authority and responsibilities in developing budgets and project implementation, and are engaged for strategic planning.
The list above is just an example. The objective is to use the model to develop plans that can be measured and show continuous improvement. Start small and plan to build up with clearly defined accomplishments along way (e.g., in Q4 we’ll have met Level 3 in Core Concept 3, and so on).
In this article we’ve laid out six concepts and steps your organization can take to put you on the path to inclusion and accessibility.
The U.S. Department of Justice often isn’t concerned with what or how something was broken or inaccessible. It wants to know whether the organization developed a plan for accessibility and followed through.
To achieve that aim, develop goals and objectives that encourage continuous progress: rather than set end-dates that often are not only arbitrary but also usually signal the end of the organization’s commitment to accessibility.
Ultimately, there are no perfect solutions to implementing an accessibility initiative: every case will be unique. However, adopting a model that includes measurable and achievable goals will always be a great first step to inclusion and accessibility.
To learn more about implementing accessibility initiatives in your organization, sign up for our newsletter by visiting Accessibility.com.