This is the fourth in a series of nine discussions on 8 Key Elements for Creating a Culture of Accessibility with Jeff Kline. We’re delighted to have the opportunity to speak with Jeff today about how integrating accessibility into key business processes drives accessibility in an organization.
In this interview, Jeff discusses why you need to make accessibility part of your business processes, the key processes to prioritize for accessibility review, how to ensure that the right stakeholders are involved, and driving accountability with key metrics
Why make accessibility part of your business processes?
Sanjay Nasta: Today, we are discussing integrating accessibility into key development and business processes with Jeff Kline.
This is part of our broader conversation on how to develop a culture of accessibility. It’s nice to get a broader view of accessibility, and not a technology-centric view of accessibility. Jeff, can you tell me a little bit about why you think integrating accessibility into key business and technology development processes is important?
Jeff Kline: To be successful and consistent in anything that you do requires a controlled set of procedures or actions. When you combine and formalize those actions they become a process. Once you have a process in place and your staff are instructed to follow it, uncertainty is reduced, and confidence in your ability to get the correct and consistent result is bolstered.
That’s true with accessibility. When you integrate accessibility into organizational processes, accessibility will be consistently implemented in a repeatable and scalable manner across the entire organization. You don’t have to rely on an individual who may move on to a new role and may not be reporting into the correct area of an organization. It goes into “automatic mode”. Once you’ve got a process built, accessibility is not done as a matter of happenstance–it is built-in to your organization and will just get done.
There are a lot of different processes within any organization, especially large organizations, where accessibility needs to be integrated. I mentioned development, which is obviously very important, but you must consider other areas such as HR, procurement, and internal IT.
In a default mode, no escapes are permitted from a defined accessibility process without jumping through some flaming hoops of fire.
Sanjay Nasta: That’s a colorful way to put that. If people do not want to follow the accessibility process, for example, in purchasing, do you recommend an approval process from people higher up in the organization or people who own the accessibility function?
Jeff Kline: I suggest that an exception process be created and approved by those who own the entire organization function, rather than those who manage the accessibility component. When you choose not to do accessibility, you are introducing risk into the project. There needs to be somebody higher up that needs to understand the risk and decide whether it is acceptable to approve the accessibility variance.
Most larger organizations do have a process for dealing with process variations. I believe that the organizations’ exceptions and departures should be kept to a bare minimum.
Sanjay Nasta: How do you decide which processes to prioritize for updates?
Jeff Kline: It all depends on how many users are affected by whatever is being evaluated. I’d recommend picking the processes that are of the highest importance to the largest number of organizations’ internal and external users.
Getting the right stakeholders involved
Sanjay Nasta: Adding accessibility to critical processes significantly changes how an organization does business. Who should be involved in the analysis of these processes to ensure accessibility criteria are present and, enforce the processes?
Jeff Kline: There’s likely somebody within that organization who owns or bears responsibility for each process you have chosen to revise. Clearly, you need to have that individual engaged.
You also need somebody from the accessibility community, an accessibility subject matter expert, developer, or project manager who really understands the importance of accessibility. Together they can look at each process and each step of the process critically and decide if accessibility changes need to be added to a step and where it fits within that process.
Finally, all of the other affected areas where the result of that process are utilized will require sign-off or agreement. If a development shop in an organization is working on a marketing application or website, you need to loop in the marketing group for input and approval of the development process.
Sanjay Nasta: I would guess that a critical part of improving processes is what we talked about last time–executive buy-in so that new processes are honored and executed.
Jeff Kline: Yes. you have to have somebody with enough clout to stand up and say, “Yes, we need to integrate accessibility into our processes. We’re going to assign people within each of our organizations to head that initiative up.”
The people who improve the process must be within the organization because they know how to speak the language and understand all the subtleties of their process.
Key processes to prioritize for accessibility review
Sanjay Nasta: How do you start the work of developing these processes? Is there a particular part of the organization that you start on? Do you go out and look at the processes of other organizations? Is there a template that you can start working with?
Jeff Kline: It depends. There are a lot of ways to skin that cat. Looking at what other organizations do is useful, although not a lot of information may be available. Most organizations, especially in the private sector, tend to keep that information close to their chest.
I recommend understanding what processes are currently being used by the organization and then analyzing those processes to see if accessibility needs to play a role in that process.
Then sitting down with the right people in the room and stepping through each process piece by piece: understanding what it is, doing some critical thinking on the role accessibility plays in a particular step of the overall process, and understanding what accessibility criteria need to be added to validate that the process improves accessibility.
Sanjay Nasta: What are the advantages of inserting accessibility into existing processes versus starting from scratch and, and, and starting from ground zero and developing new processes that include accessibility?
Jeff Kline: It’s less difficult to try to include accessibility into the appropriate phases of an existing process if it already exists and is followed. Now that doesn’t mean that you won’t get a lot of pushback because inserting accessibility has implications, and will drive other activities secondary to the process like training or procurement of new tools. I think it’s a bit more of a smooth go when you have a process to start with and then look for the integration points.
When there is no existing process, starting from scratch is a little bit more challenging because now you’re trying to create a new process. People tend to be more resistant to new things, especially if they don’t understand the new process, so communication is important.
I have to point out that if the company or the organization has an accessibility policy and that policy includes direction to revise or create new processes then there’s a lot more of a leg to stand to drive process changes and new processes.
Sanjay Nasta: It’s interesting to me how every step of building an accessibility culture is important, from starting with a solid policy, to having executive buy-in to creating and improving the process. Every bit is important.
Jeff Kline: Yeah, it really is. I recall one time I was involved in integrating accessibility into a very big, complicated process back in my private sector IT days. We evaluated every step of the existing process and sub-processes, which were not well documented. We then found the places where accessibility played a role, such as developing requirements, creating specifications, and make vs buy decisions. Unfortunately, the only place accessibility was formally integrated into the existing process was an accessibility test at the end of the process. You can be guaranteed that unless you have accessibility criteria tied back into all those other phases from the early inception of the project, you’re throwing your money away trying to test at the end because nothing has been done to create an accessible solution. Therefore, you know what the test result will be.
Sanjay Nasta: It’s striking me how complicated this can get because it does require a great deal of knowledge. If you want to add accessibility to a purchasing process, you must understand how you use accessibility compliance reports. If you want to add it to the development process, you must understand at what points of the development process you add accessibility and how you add it to the design phase? How do you add it to the development phase? How do you add it to the QA phase? It’s a complex process that requires a great deal of knowledge. Sometimes a person with the appropriate accessibility knowledge is hard to come by.
Jeff Kline: Yes. The first time you execute a new process, it will be slower than you would expect. You have to plan the slower pace into the projects. However, once you get experience with a process with accessibility integrated into it, it starts to take on a life of its own and becomes integral to everything else. Everything goes a lot smoother. And then, ongoing, the work will be dramatically more efficient.
Sanjay Nasta: I would presume you have to iterate to success. How do you get to a successful process more quickly? Does having an outside input help? Does hiring a consultant with experience setting up a process help? What are some of the steps you take to get to a successful process that results in furthering your culture of accessibility?
Jeff Kline: If you have accessibility subject matter experts within your organization with policy experience, you may not need anybody from the outside to assist. One of the reasons I say that is because the people outside of the organization may not have a feel for the culture of the organization. They’re just trying to apply general principles, which may or may not be effective. It’s not that you shouldn’t use outside consultants to help, but you may want to have them more involved in developing the accessibility policy. Having the right people in the room is really important.
If your organization doesn’t have any accessibility knowledge, and you’re just getting this stuff all kicked off driven by, for example, the DOJ says in a settlement that you must do this. Then, you might want to engage a third party to map things out and shorten the learning time. A lot of consulting companies are pretty smart about improving processes and bringing previous experience. Be careful to look for consultants with direct real-world experience in like organizations, not just theoretical experience.
The role of HR and Training Development
Sanjay Nasta: We’ve discussed integrating accessibility processes into your software development and purchasing. What are some other key areas to look at for integrating accessibility processes?
Jeff Kline: The other big area that I think is important is HR. Recognizing what positions are going to have a requirement to produce accessible deliverables. When hiring web developers, application developers, content producers, and document creators, you want to ensure that when recruiting for these roles, you’ve got the accessibility criteria embedded in the position descriptions and performance measures. Also, push accessibility performance metrics to the leaders of your hiring roles so they can hold each position accountable.
Another function HR needs to focus on is training. Provide training when you roll out accessibility so you can sensitize everyone in the company to what accessibility is and why it’s important. Emphasize how employees need to consider it in their job. Include training in the annual compliance training that everybody does on security, privacy, diversity, and inclusion.
Sanjay Nasta: We’ve discussed a subset of HR, which is a passion of mine–training and training development. I think it’s really ridiculous to have training that’s not accessible because that removes a chance of anybody with a disability successfully doing their job in an organization and successfully advancing in an organization. Unfortunately, it’s an area that’s ignored very often.
Jeff Kline: Yes. And that ties into HR, and into procurement. If you’re buying training services, you have to ensure that the training you buy is accessible.
Sanjay Nasta: Another really important function where you need to have defined processes that drive accessible digital content is marketing and outreach functions because they represent your organization to the world. Correct?
Jeff Kline: Absolutely. Some of that would fall under your website team. You’ve got people creating marketing content continuously; without accessibility in the process, you will see problems in that area. It is a really important area because it is very visible outside the organization and potentially high risk.
Driving accountability with key metrics
Sanjay Nasta: How do we know when you have been successful in integrating accessibility into your key business processes?
Jeff Kline: One of the things that is important in an organization, any organization, when you’re bringing up an accessibility program is you need to have established metrics and tracking systems. You can track lots of different things, anything from how many people have been trained in accessibility, how many products did we buy for the organization that were accessible versus not, and how many products are in development that have accessibility criteria integrated into them? There are lots of different ways to measure how well the program is doing internally.
Externally getting acknowledgment from different organizations can show progress. For example, if your products are accessible you’ll have a lot easier time selling to government agencies, and you’ll potentially see that in your revenue over time.
Sanjay Nasta: I would imagine that the results of your website audits and other review and QA processes will improve over time.
Jeff Kline: Yes, of course. That goes back to the fact that your marketing and development teams follow the process, which includes corrective actions when errors are identified.
Sanjay Nasta: Jeff, Thank you for your time. I hope the information you provide helps move accessibility from something driven by heroes to something driven by process. That makes it repeatable and scalable, and it’s the only way to have accessibility be implemented across a large organization.
Jeff Kline Bio
Jeff Kline is the author of Strategic IT Accessibility: Enabling the Organization and is a recognized subject matter expert in key areas of IT accessibility that includes policy, rulemaking, process integration, procurement, and risk mitigation. He formerly served as Program Director of Statewide Electronic and Information Resources (EIR) Accessibility at the Texas Department of Information Resources. Jeff consults on IT accessibility policy matters for federal and state agencies, educational institutions, NGOs, and accessibility certification bodies. We are excited to have Jeff work with Microassist on consulting engagements with our clients.
Before his recent position in public service, Mr. Kline managed IBM’s Worldwide Accessibility Consulting and Business Transformation initiatives. He held other management positions in research and product development during his 26-year IBM career, including industrial design, operating system UI development, and system usability.