Accessibility Participants, Managers, and Leaders

Cartoon man in overalls with four arms in a super hero pose completely laden down with construction tools (screwdrivers, pliers, level, tape measure, trowel, paint brush, paint roller, drill)

There are three groups of people in Accessibility: Participants, Managers, and Leaders. All are necessary but each wears a different hat. Which are you?

Accessibility Participants

Accessibility participants come in a number of flavors. They can be:

  • Members of an accessibility team
  • Product Owners
  • Engineering managers/directors/executives
  • Developers (usually, but not always, UI)
  • Designers
  • UX Managers
  • Program managers
  • Procurement professionals
  • Human Resources or Diversity/Inclusion team members

Multiple people from each of these categories must participate for a holistic, corporate-wide accessibility effort which is consistent with the company’s D&I initiatives to succeed.

Accessibility Managers

An accessibility program requires multiple participants and a manager at a minimum. The more participants the better. Accessibility Managers execute on the day-to-day accessibility programs the company needs to succeed.

Accessibility Managers are askers/tellers. They ask people to do things, or sometimes tell people what they need to do.

Accessibility Managers focus internally on process and process improvement. Repeatable processes are the hallmarks of good accessibility managers. Making sure everyone is on the same page with respect to defining keyboard focus indicators (or any other accessible component), using ARIA, or what assistive technology to test on and when is exceptionally important. Something that is worth doing that needs to be done repeatedly, can always be done better / faster / cheaper through a good, iterative process improvement loop.

Accessibility Managers are by-the-book. Once the process is down, most accessibility managers don’t really like to take significant risks or deviate widely from the established process.

Accessibility Managers build remediation plans. There is always something that has to be remediated. Always. And usually there is more than needs to be remediated than there is time for (the proverbial 10 lbs of flour and a five lb sack).

Accessibility Managers focus on answering the questions “who” and “how”. Stakeholders need to be identified and onboard. Budgets for outside consulting need to be established. Tools need to be chosen.

Accessibility Leaders

An OK accessibility program can exist with an accessibility manager and a few accessibility participants. The program will improve the more participants that program has, and even more when those participant’s efforts are synchronized. But accessibility leadership, not just taking care of day to day accessibility activities, is required for a program to grow.

Accessibility Leaders are persuaders. Rather than telling others “you have to do this” they create an environment where the leader influences people to decide on their own they want to do it, even though they already have too much on their plates.

Accessibility Leaders are innovators. If someone comes up to them with an idea of how to announce an update that isn’t in focus without using live-region, an accessibility leader can evaluate that proposal and decide if the new 4.1.3 Status Message guideline will be satisfied or not. They look at Machine Learning as an opportunity to increase the amount of testing that can be accomplished by automated code analysis from 30 %.

Accessibility Leaders are integrators. They make sure that their vision is executed by accessibility managers and accessibility participants as one cohesive program that further’s the accessibility leader’s vision.

Accessibility Leaders focus externally as well as internally. That external focus might include:

  • speaking at accessibility/UI/disability related events,
  • volunteering on one or more accessibility non-profit initiatives

Accessibility Leaders are strategizers. They can explain accessibility in the form of a set of competitive moves and actions that their business can use to attract customers, compete successfully, strengthen performance, and achieve organizational goals.

Accessibility Leaders have a five year plan. They keep their fingers on the pulse of what is going on in accessibility, outside of their home country and their home industry. They know when the deadlines are in the EU and Canada and what is going on with ISO initiatives pertaining to accessibility.

Accessibility Leaders focus on people more than process. This is a surprisingly simple yet deep “chicken and the egg” statement. If you have the best, smartest, and most committed people in the right positions, they will tell you what is needed and how to get there (i.e. the people you have focused on will define and execute the process).

Accessibility Leaders focus on answering the questions “when” and “why”. Understanding “why” is the first step to baking accessibility into the DNA of an organization. “When” impacts the five year plan. It also requires prioritization skill which which in turn requires some pretty serious risk management chops. Accessibility Leaders stretch the 5 lb bag to 7 lbs, then decide strategically what 3 lbs gets left on the floor.

The sum total of all the activities the accessibility leader does above is that an accessibility leader prevents a toxic accessibility culture from developing.

“Which one are you?”

This was a trick question, anyone who works in accessibility is likely all of these.

  • I pay attention to what other accessibility leaders do. When they have a great idea that I hadn’t thought of, I am not ashamed to copy from the best.
  • I also participate in doing hands on testing, teaching classes, trying to persuade procurement to stop buying inaccessible software, and occasionally making reasonable accommodation or physical access recommendations.
  • I spend a fair amount of time as an accessibility manager. Pushing through purchase orders, assigning tasks, reviewing workflows, making recommendations on how to implement designs in an accessible manner, documenting documenting documenting.
  • I spend the remaining time as an accessibility leader. Watching the lightbulb go on about why something is important is probably my favorite moment in everything I do, because you know that no matter where that person works in the future, they will take the lightbulb with them. That joy is almost matched by creating a program that strategically ensures that employees with disabilities are treated as well and with as much deference as customers.

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