In today’s highly connected digital world, accessing opportunity can be just a click away. But for the one billion+ people with disabilities or impairments worldwide, that accessibility can be impacted or complicated by any number of things—whether it’s visual, auditory, cognitive or otherwise.
That’s where digital accessibility comes into play—the world of designing and developing user experiences, from websites and mobile applications to electronic documents, so that these can be independently used by everyone, including those with a disability or impairment.
As the Engineering Manager and lead of our Accessibility Team at LinkedIn, my job is to help make LinkedIn’s products as accessible as possible and to educate those involved in building our products on how to include digital accessibility from the start, in everything they do. From my career in this space I’ve compiled my top tips for improving digital accessibility in any workplace, big or small.
1. Create a culture of accessibility.
It all starts with making digital accessibility a priority for the products you create, the customers you serve and the people you employ. Build empathy by visiting your company’s website and attempt to navigate and interact with it using the keyboard and no mouse. Are you able to? If you aren’t, then it’s time to consider ways to improve this experience.
Deliberately make digital accessibility and equality a part of your culture and values. Put it at the forefront so that accessibility becomes an integral part of all design and product development. Start by training your teams—provide demonstrations that help them experience what the product or service is like for someone with different impairments so that it remains at the forefront of their minds as they create the next big thing for your organization. Then, bake in accessibility requirements from the start. Make accessibility something that is owned and tracked throughout all phases of the product development process, and include it as part of your Definition of Done.
2. Invest in a dedicated accessibility team.
Before I arrived at LinkedIn, they had a task force made up of passionate developers who volunteered a portion of their time to making products accessible, but it was not anyone’s full-time job. When I came on board, it became 100% of my focus. I was able to build a team of software engineers who are also 100% dedicated to accessibility and to assuring our products are as digitally inclusive as possible.
If you see a void at your company, start by building a case and pitching it to your engineering/product leadership about building a team that is committed to improving your company’s digital accessibility. It’s not only about addressing it at the code level (although that’s a big piece of it)—it’s also about embedding accessibility throughout the design and all other product development processes.
3. Educate and promote understanding.
Digital accessibility and the idea that people with disabilities/impairments may want to interact with your products may be a new idea for some at your office—and that’s okay. Spreading awareness is the best place to start. Build a community by sending an email to those involved in designing and developing your products and solicit interest in accessibility. You’ll likely be surprised at who raises their hand.
For example, if your company is responsible for developing web-based products, exposing and teaching engineers and designers about digital accessibility will in turn help it to become a natural part of product development and design. Contact local organizations that support people with different disabilities or impairments and see if they can help identify individuals who could come in and talk about and demonstrate how they use technology. Be brave and have them use your product.
Begin the conversation by sharing examples of ways accessibility can be woven into a product offering—for example, in order to meet the needs of those who are colorblind, explore adding an asterisk (*) to accompany red text indicating a required field on a web page. To address auditory accessibility, look into ways to provide transcripts and captioning for video content. There is an abundance of online information on digital accessibility, and an excellent place to start is WebAIM.org. These conversations and learnings will begin to foster awareness and understanding, and digital accessibility will become a part of your company’s DNA.
4. Foster an inclusive workplace
Create programs that will make a difference. At LinkedIn, for example, we always strive to employ a team that reflects the membership and the customers that we serve. As a critical piece of this effort, we have implemented a range of Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) to connect our team with a network of people driving change at LinkedIn and in the world. EnableIn is an ERG we have developed that focuses on awareness, inclusion and the hiring of people with disabilities or special needs. It’s an opportunity to foster open, honest discussion, and promote diversity, inclusion and belonging company-wide. Explore opportunities to start, or get involved with, similar programs at your company to help make a big impact from within.
While the primary focus here has been on how to begin the product accessibility journey, remember that other areas of an organization, such as customer support, marketing, and HR play equally vital roles in supporting digital access and inclusion efforts.
Author – J. Asuncion-LinkedIn