Accessible Technology: It’s a Team Effort
Technology providers design products for use by many people in many contexts, including employment. To ensure their products are accessible to the widest range of people—including people with disabilities—many technology providers implement internal initiatives focused specifically on information and communications technology (ICT) accessibility. To be successful, such an initiative must be guided by a well-rounded team of committed individuals, each bringing specific skills and resources to the table.
Building the right team helps increase understanding of the strong business case for accessible ICT. It also facilitates the smooth implementation of corporate goals, policies, and practices and helps track progress. Furthermore, spreading responsibility for accessible ICT among different individuals and departments goes a long way toward strengthening organizational commitment, preventing burnout, and widening the circle of knowledge on the topic within your organization.
Your accessibility team may be informal, at least at first. But sooner or later you will want to formally create roles and responsibilities to establish “ownership” of resources and effectively utilize the contributions of various team members. Some of the functions and skill sets that a strong accessibility team has include:
- Product Management. This includes day-to-day product managers, strategic planners, and those who manage the new product development process. Making accessibility part of that process—from the very start—should be a key goal.
- Marketing. Marketers and market researchers can translate the needs of your customers and end users, including legal responsibilities they may have regarding accessible technology. In fact, the marketing department often serves as the most influential voice in the product development cycle because it has in-depth knowledge of customers' direct needs and wants.
- Product Development. This includes not only designers and engineers, but also those who procure and maintain your development platforms, authoring tools, and libraries.
- Testing. Ensuring that products are accessible is best achieved through effective testing. Testers can range from accessibility experts to users with disabilities to automated software programs and should be called upon at various points in the product development lifecycle.
- Usability. Those who work in usability are a natural fit on an accessibility team—there's a lot of overlap in mission and professional skills. For example, features such as volume control and simple language benefit all users, and usability experts design, develop, integrate, and test such features.
- Documentation and Support. To fully benefit from the accessibility you build into your products, users must be able to find and understand how to use them. In addition, some regulations may require you to document the accessibility of your products and provide that documentation in accessible formats. The same may be true of your product support activities.
- Employee Training. From basic awareness about accessibility issues to ensuring developers know how to use accessibility techniques on specific platforms, training is also a key part of an accessibility initiative. So be sure to involve those who manage your company's training programs.
- Public Relations or Corporate Communications. Communicating your commitment to accessibility to potential employees, the general public, and the IT industry at large greatly enhances your company's public image and can provide a competitive advantage in a highly competitive industry. To assist in communicating their commitment to accessibility, some technology providers infuse it in their mission statements and publicly available corporate policy statements.
- Legal/Regulatory. Some laws and regulations apply to the products you produce, while others apply to your customers. In the latter case, legal arguments can be translated into effective sales tools. For example, companies that do business with the federal government must comply with Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act, which requires that the technology purchased by federal agencies be accessible to and usable by people with disabilities. Further, the Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in all areas of public life, including employment. Ensuring your technology infrastructure is accessible to all employees (and potential employees) helps meet these responsibilities.
- Employee Resource Groups (ERGs). ERGs working on diversity and disability issues can also be excellent internal sources of support for accessible technology initiatives, ideas and resources.
In building your team, be sure to take stock of who can bring the needed skills, resources, and commitment to the initiative. And remember, securing executive support and leadership and developing a compelling mission statement are essential to the team's success moving forward. You can find resources for recruiting and training a team in PEAT's Staff Training Resources.
Join the Conversation
Do you have an accessibility team at your company? If so, PEAT wants to know! Please contact us to share who comprises your team and the role that each person plays in ensuring accessibility is built into your products.