Creating an Accessibility Champion Program
While organizations across industries develop and roll out accessibility programs, one thing has become clear: an effective accessibility program doesn’t come together overnight. While most people realize time is needed to launch and maintain an accessibility practice, there is one resource that is easy to underestimate — people.
The reality is, launching any large scale, company-wide initiative takes a collaborative, all-hands-on-deck approach; and accessibility is no different. One tactic for making sure your initiative is impactful and sustainable is to establish an Accessibility Champion Program within your organization.
What is an Accessibility Champion Program?
An Accessibility Champion Program looks different at every organization, but generally speaking, it’s a group of employees who are united in their desire to advance the issue of accessibility — this could be relating to the workplace itself or the company’s products. The group’s responsibilities could vary greatly between organizations. Maybe they organize educational programming like lunch-and-learns and training sessions on accessibility topics. Depending on skill level and expertise, they could also be tasked with ensuring all web assets or products are accessible. Another strategy may be to focus on company culture by crafting policies that are conducive to a healthy, inclusive working environment for teammates with disabilities.
While the mission of an Accessibility Champion Program must be to positively impact the larger organizations’ efforts towards developing more accessible products and services that serve clients and their end-users, such a program has the secondary objective of allowing employees an opportunity to level-up in a subject matter area that is not always well known or understood to the uninitiated. Accessibility Champion Programs grant employees that may not know where to start access to resources, opportunities and mentorship that may not be available elsewhere.
Intuit’s Accessibility Champion Program (the earliest and most well known such program) offers those that participate in the program and who advance in their knowledge, recognition amongst their peers as having knowledge and expertise in this increasingly important subject area.
No matter your immediate needs, if you’re trying to prioritize accessibility within your organization, forming an Accessibility Champion Program is a great place to start. Here are some things to consider while getting started.
Recruit enthusiastic advocates
When selecting advocates for your Accessibility Champion Program, there are several things to consider. You should look for people who genuinely care about the cause and want to be involved. Consider opening the program up to all employees on a volunteer basis. Not only will people who volunteer be more enthusiastic about your cause, but they are less likely to burn out and lose interest after a few months, meaning your program’s impact will be long lasting.
It’s a good idea to select people from a variety of departments and job titles. If you can get an executive to participate, that will immediately give your program some leverage and legitimacy as you get started. Including people from different departments is also helpful, as it can ensure that accessibility is embedded throughout the organization — from Product, to HR, to Accounting, and beyond.
Include people with disabilities
One demographic you certainly want to include in your program is people with disabilities, as their voices will be critical in directing your program’s focus. By including them from the beginning, you can learn about their experiences working at your organization. They can identify areas where your company excels, as well as areas for improvement. Once you have an understanding of where your company stands when it comes to accessibility, it’s easier to put a plan into place for improving your current efforts.
Including voices of people with disabilities within your company will not only improve your workplace culture; it can also bring positive change to your products and services. Depending on your industry, you may be able to make changes to your offerings to better serve consumers with disabilities. By collecting feedback from those on your team who have extensive product knowledge coupled with a disability, you can create a product roadmap that is both innovative and feasible.
Create a regular meeting schedule and stick to it
When advocating for improved accessibility efforts across your organization, consistency is key. After all, this is a long-term initiative intended to change the fabric of your organization. One easy way to ensure that you are creating lasting change is to create and share a regular meeting schedule and for all members to commit to it. Meetings should be during the workday, not after, to signal that accessibility is an important workplace goal, not an extracurricular activity. By integrating these meetings into their schedules, your advocates can prioritize their commitments to the Accessibility Champion Program and build continued momentum for their initiatives, therefore creating thoughtful, long-term change.
Communicate results with the rest of the company
Part of advocating for accessibility at your organization is raising awareness. This means keeping your colleagues informed on your projects, wins, and future plans. This could take a variety of forms — it could be an internal newsletter on accessibility, a Slack channel, or even a slide at your quarterly all-hands meeting. The key here is understanding the way your organization handles internal communications, and making sure your efforts are a part of the conversation.
By making your work visible beyond the members and stakeholders of your Accessibility Champion Program, you are not only raising awareness for accessibility causes at your larger organization, but you are fueling your program’s future growth. You never know who you may inspire to attend your next lunch and learn, or even join your cause!
Prioritizing accessibility on a large-scale affects every corner of your organization, from workplace culture to your product offerings. Committing to accessibility is an important goal that comes with a variety of challenges. By recruiting your most passionate colleagues into an Accessibility Champion Program, you can build a foundation for real, long-term change at your organization. Success comes down to choosing the right people, understanding your challenges, committing to change, and communicating your progress.