Centralized budgeting is a key activity for creating an accessibility environment that will mature more quickly
It is the second half of April, and in the accessibility world, that means three things:
- IEP season starts for the next school year (special education plans for students with disabilities)
- Budgeting season begins for the next corporate calendar year
- Half price Easter candy sales (online) will provide you the chocolate you need to get through #1 and #2
If you look at either Level Access’ Digital Accessibility Maturity Model or the BDF Accessibility Maturity Model, you will see that both models (which have a lot of similarities) place a lot of value on having a centralized accessibility process and budget.
Centralized Accessibility Benefit #1: More efficiency
When your budget is centralized, employees spend less time analyzing redundant information.
Working on separate defect spreadsheets that are housed with different product teams with independent structures, definitions, and abbreviations is highly inconsistent and inefficient. Less redundancy and inconsistencies lead to financial savings.
Some product teams may not be able to justify a full-time accessibility tester. They may prefer to rely on whatever resources are available at the time the testing needs to be done, which may result in a lower quality report.
If several different product teams are independently going to the same vendors for subcontracting services, discounts will be more substantial if all the purchases are coming from a single individual.
Centralized Accessibility Benefit #2: Reducing Competition
If 20 products are all asking for accessibility funding independently, the independent departments may view each other more as competitors than as making a specific funding request for a common cause. Also, the people being asked may think “accessibility? Didn’t we already fund that?” This creates unnecessary competition and infighting and gives the product teams no reason to cooperate. Budget centralization lessens this competitive attitude.
Centralized Accessibility Benefit #3: Take care of accessibility elements not attributable to a single product
Tools. Training. Testing hardware. When done correctly, one purchase should cover the entire company. But no product team wants to take on more than what is needed for *their* team because there is nothing in it for them except the headaches associated with sourcing and financing the corporate purchases then trying to claw back funds from other departments. This situation is precisely the purpose of centralized accessibility budgeting.
Centralized Accessibility Benefit #4: Budget Owner has greater control
When the accessibility budget process is managed through a centralized owner, that centralized owner has more control to pivot mid-year if spending needs to shift due to something that causes the accessibility mission to either to grow or to shrink. These can include:
- customer complaints
- new products / corporate acquisitions
- products going EOL
Fewer budgeting surprises for everyone at all levels is always a good thing.
Centralized Accessibility Benefit #5: Products are not paying directly for accessibility services
When product teams pay for accessibility from their budget, frequently bad accessibility decisions are made. Product team owners think if they “cheap out” on accessibility, they can shift the “saved” accessibility funds elsewhere within the team. However, these savings may be false. Underspending on accessibility increases lawsuit risk or lost sales opportunities. Both of these possibilities can incur significant charges that will be borne by a department other than that linked to the product.
In my experience, when product teams are responsible for making accessibility spending decisions, they chose the least expensive option possible, which frequently doesn’t achieve compliance. “It’s my money, and I’ll test if I want to” is the way to make sure a single accessibility subject matter expert is reviewing all expenditures and decisions, and making a consistent and well-reasoned choices for all products.
Centralized Accessibility Benefit #6: More transparency
A centralized accessibility budget can be reviewed by anyone who “needs to know.” This means:
- there are more eyes on the document to notice mistakes
- there is the possibility to compare the accessibility compliance costs between products
Accessibility compliance costs typically correlate to the amount of manual testing that needs to be done. Centralized budgets will identify “outliers” in accessibility testing. If one product costs three times as much as another to test, it could be that:
- one product uses an accessible design system, and the other does not;
- one product has a single set of code for both SaaS and on-prem installations, and the other does not;
- one product is building in accessibility from the beginning and another is retrofitting it at the end;
- one product is failing to perform automated testing before handing off code to the accessibility team, or;
- one product is failing to follow design best practices concerning templates or screen creation.
Just the simple act of centralizing the accessibility budget can help highlight which products are undertaking development practices that result in good, low-cost accessibility, and which do not. Product owners and other users then have a clear path to see which products should be additionally investigated to identify whether design or engineering changes would reduce accessibility costs.
Centralized Accessibility Benefit #7: Ease of extrapolating new project costs
Products and features get added all the time. With centralized budgeting, you can break things down into T-shirt sizes (XS, small, medium, large, XL) and use those average costs for existing projects to estimate the costs of a new feature or an entirely new product
Centralized Accessibility Benefit # 8: Get the accessibility effort “big picture”
When accessibility budgeting is centralized and updated in real-time, you can gain the advantage of having an always-current big picture view of how your accessibility spend is doing.
This can be beneficial for everyone involved in the accessibility budgeting process, not just the budget owner. When products own accessibility testing budgets, it may not be possible to see how the details fit together. A centralized budget allows product teams to see quickly see how the changes they make affect corporate finances.
Centralized Accessibility Benefit # 9: Reduce uncertainty
Expense fluctuations happen.
- Sometimes a product team requires an emergency release for a patch that requires a new VPAT.
- Sometimes hourly contractor rates go up.
With product-oriented accessibility budgets, managing fluctuations when more money required is hard, likely a new funding request will need to be made (which executives don’t like), or funds will have to be transferred from somewhere else in the product budget. When the accessibility budget is centralized, however, the overages and underages tend to even out, leading to a sustainable average. This allows the accessibility team to ride out the temporary negative situations without catastrophic results.
Centralized Accessibility Benefit # 10: Demonstrates a commitment to accessibility
Taking the step to centralize an accessibility budget shows a commitment to a singular approach to accessibility across the entire company. This can go a long way to convincing people who aren’t happy with your accessibility exceptions that the company is committed to accessibility and undertaking the organizational and financial steps necessary to improve accessibility across all the products.
If you aren’t on a centralized accessibility budget yet, this is the perfect time of the year to start lobbying for one. Waiting until the formal budgeting process starts at your company in July-August will likely be too late. It’s not as simple as asking for money and having all the decision-makers magically say “yes” immediately. There is a lot of logistical and political steps that have to be negotiated as well.
- The powers-that-be who hold the purse strings need to be convinced that centralization is the right approach to take for accessibility funding.
- If you have not yet made the determination where to locate your centralized accessibility effort that will need to be decided.
- New financial accounts need to be established.
- A funding mechanism for those new accounts needs to be established
- The amount being requested needs to be determined and justified.
However, using some of the arguments I have identified above may help your effort to level-up your accessibility maturity by centralizing the accessibility effort and budget.