The Five “Cs” of Accessibility

Business team huddle with 3 men and 3 women with their hands touching in the center

There are many subjects that use a mnemonic of “5Cs” to identify the things that are at the core of their definition.

· Credit has Character, Capacity, Capital, Conditions and Collateral.

· Marketing has Company, Customers, Competitors, Collaborators, and Climate.

· Diamonds have Carat, Clarity, Color, Cut, and Certificate

So why shouldn’t there be a 5Cs of Accessibility? Here are mine.


There is no accessibility without compassion. The power of compassion is stronger than the power of empathy because compassion is about imagining other’s difficulties at a deep, personal level. Compassion is more than empathy or surface-level sympathy, compassion is a motivator of action. Also, compassion is a two-way street. Not only does it benefit the group of people being helped, it can fundamentally benefit the person being compassionate.

Any time you feel your compassion flagging, trying watching or listening to a video on someone exploring a sense for the first time. Cochlear implant activation videos to this day make me cry. I have been left speechless watching people putting on EnChroma glasses for the first time. Watch the Sady Apple Accessibility video. Assistive technology provided the path to the sense or perception or operation occurring in each of these cases, and a major accessibility goal is making software “play nice” with assistive technology.


Accessibility is an exercise in collaboration because it is such a highly cross-functional process. In a mature organization, an accessibility manager may interact and collaborate with as many as 13 different departments to achieve the pinnacle of accessibility success — an organization that other companies want to copy. Loosely categorized , they include:

Legal: GRC, Policies, Regulatory

Administrative: Procurement, Finance, HR

Product/Service: Design, UX, Development, Testing

Auxiliary: Support, Documentation, Training

Collaboration is easier to initiate when you have an accessibility “elevator pitch” — a succinct and persuasive verbal summary explaining the importance of accessibility. Rather than talking about regulations and WCAG which are fairly boring and dry, think about invoking Helen Keller or Stephen Hawking to help the person you are speaking with build a mental image of what accessibility is all about.


Doing what users expect is an important hallmark of accessibility. Furthermore, Identification and Navigation consistency are required in WCAG 2.0 Level AA. Just a few examples of accessibility consistency include:

1. Don’t map control-C to do something other than copy.

2. Don’t use a single finger flick left to do anything but return to the previous field.

3. Put the hamburger menu in the same place every time, with the menu items in the same order every time.

4. Always have the OK and Close buttons in the same relative places on modal dialogs.


To be at the top of your accessibility game, accessibility must be customary at your organization. Customary is defined as “usual practices associated with a particular set of circumstances” Accessibility is customary at your organization if:

  1. “How do I make it accessible?” is raised in brainstorming sessions at the idea stage or in the design phase, not at the end
  2. Accessibility is a fully thought out and integrated, ongoing process improvement based program, not a checkbox
  3. Every employee hears about accessibility at least once (preferably more than once) in early on-boarding or training sessions
  4. Developers and testers are expected to know how to competently use at least one screen reader or other piece of assistive technology


When you get an accessibility win, celebrate it ! Accessibility wins include (but obviously are not limited to)

1. Someone on your team (or a vendor’s team) getting IAAP certified

2. Learning a new piece of assistive technology

3. Changing “Supports with exceptions” to “Supports” in a VPAT

4. Incorporating people with disabilities into your testing or user input process

5. Preaching the “Gospel of Accessibility” to a group of people who couldn’t even spell “accessibility” before they met you

Saying a public “thank you” and making sure accessibility wins are widely broadcast shows appreciation for those who contributed and also allows you to build on those wins the next time you want to “level up” in accessibility. This is an essential component of creating accessibility champions throughout your organization.


Accessibility can be fairly hard to explain to others who don’t have any exposure to it. By having an accessibility “elevator pitch” plus some of these techniques in your back pocket, you will be well prepared the next time you need to explain accessibility to someone who has no background on the topic in a short period of time. An accessibility program that contains Compassion, Collaboration, Consistency and Celebration where accessibility is a Customary part of what everyone does is one that is on the road to success.

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