We continue our discussion on procurement in our series of accessibility conversations around the 8 Key Elements for Creating a Culture of Accessibility with Jeff Kline.
In this interview, we focus on the importance of accessibility training and how to implement an accessibility training program in an organization. From identifying the business goals and objectives of the training to tracking and monitoring progress, learn the key steps to creating a culture of accessibility within your organization.
Sanjay Nasta: Today, we are talking with Jeff Kline about training’s role in creating a culture of accessibility. And that’s a subject near and dear to my heart since Microassist has been a training company for 30 years. And we do a great deal of accessibility training. Jeff, why is accessibility training essential?
Jeff Kline: Accessibility training is important because: it helps individuals and organizations understand the importance of accessibility, provides them with the knowledge they need to create accessible products and services, and gives them the confidence to implement accessibility best practices. Ultimately, it helps create a culture of inclusion necessary for all organizations to succeed in the modern business world.
Getting started: Mapping accessibility goals and knowledge levels
Sanjay Nasta: Jeff, Can you outline how to implement an accessibility training program in an organization?
Jeff Kline: To implement an accessibility training program in an organization, one must first identify all the different areas where accessibility plays a role. This includes areas responsible for creating documents, presentations, website design, buying IT from third parties, creating videos, and undertaking development activities. Once these areas have been identified, incorporate the language into the organizational accessibility policy that directs the organization to ensure that all people involved with these efforts have appropriate training. The specifics of this training should be based on the organization’s different job positions and roles. With this approach, organizations can ensure compliance with accessibility requirements throughout their operations.
The organization needs to understand where its baseline knowledge is about accessibility. You can do this through surveys or assessments. Knowing what that baseline knowledge level is, you can understand where the knowledge gaps are and start filling those gaps with these role-based training programs.
For each job classification, create clear goals you want to achieve with the training. A training professional can help you create realistic and specific goals aligned with your overall strategy. Clearly defined goals will help you find or build a curriculum to fulfill the goals.
The next step is to decide if you can buy the training from a third party or if you need to build the curriculum and deliver the training with in-house courses. A successful training strategy often includes a combination of internal, free, and no-cost instruction alongside the services provided by training vendors like MIcroassist.
Finally, organizations must ensure that accessibility training is tracked and monitored properly. Regular reporting should be provided to management on each employee’s performance in the course and any areas where they need additional support. This will help companies stay ahead of potential problems and make sure their staff is up-to-date on the latest regulations – ensuring their business remains accessible now and into the future.
Accessibility roles drive training types
Sanjay Nasta: Jeff, What types of training are necessary for employees to create a culture of accessibility?
A great place to start is by providing general accessibility training for everyone, which I consider to be sensitivity training. It is essential to comprehend the distinct requirements of disabled individuals and to provide quality assistive technologies and IT solutions for them. The team must be aware of the legal ramifications of failing to offer accessible services and how to adhere to WCAG standards for implementation. Everyone should be aware of this baseline information to understand the context.
Investigate the roles that require tailored accessibility training. Content creators, developers, and testers are natural candidates for such instruction. Important topics for content creators included designing for accessibility, testing for accessibility, and using accessible formats. Support personnel such as project managers and procurement officers also play a major role in establishing an accessible culture – thus requiring specialized training too.
Sanjay Nasta: We advise our clients to assess the baseline knowledge of their employees, have clear goals for their training programs, and then create goal-driven training. In accessibility, we see a split between soft skills training, such as sensitivity and policy training, and the more technical side of training.
Jeff Kline: In my book, Strategic IT Accessibility: Enabling the Organization, I created a table that shows how to create a role-based training curriculum. Once you set the training goals for each role, you then define the specific skills needed by each role.
Training development: Buy vs. build
Sanjay Nasta: Let’s discuss a bit about buying vs. building training. Our general view on build versus buys is that we give the same recommendation for training that we do for software development. If you can find training that’s already built and meets your objective, we highly recommend buying that training or working with the vendor to modify the existing training to meet your objectives. As you know, building training is a costly and time-consuming endeavor, and you end up also not getting the benefit of wisdom from the training vendor and their other clients. Building training in-house has advantages. It allows you to incorporate policies and processes unique to your organization but make sure it’s needed before you build it yourself.
Jeff Kline: Absolutely! To create a successful in-house training program, you must have in-house accessibility subject-matter experts that can help with curriculum development. With an immature accessibility program within an organization, that’s not a practical approach. Without in-house accessibility experts, you cannot develop an accessibility training program.
Sanjay Nasta: And that’s one of our other cautions. It’s tempting to let a subject-matter expert train a class. Our experience is that effective training requires a combination of a subject-matter expert and a training expert, such as an instructional designer, to make sure training meets your training objectives. Despite a subject-matter expert’s vast knowledge, training should not merely be an exercise in communicating that information. Rather, the purpose of such instruction is to equip learners with lasting skills and understanding so that they can apply it to their jobs. You need a training expert, such as an instructional designer, to help you build a curriculum.
Jeff Kline: I agree. A subject-matter expert is just that; they’re experts in that subject. They may not know what it is like to develop and deliver training.
Sanjay Nasta: The other issue we often see is that subject-matter experts have forgotten the beginner mindset. It’s tough for them to remember what it was like to be a beginner. They have a lot of unconscious knowledge. It’s like asking a world-class tennis player to teach a beginner to play tennis. Often, it’s not that useful for the beginner because the advanced player doesn’t remember the basic steps.
Evolving accessibility with continuous learning
Sanjay Nasta: How do you continue to develop a culture of accessibility after the initial training?
Jeff Kline: It’s important to have regular communication within the organization to keep your team aware of what’s happening in accessibility. An accessibility champion who publishes articles or information regularly is a good way to do this.
Jack McElaney curates information on news, policy, and tools weekly in Accessibility in the News. Subscribing to his newsletter is a “cheat code” for keeping up with the industry and sharing information with your team.
By providing the necessary training and following training with communication on policies, articles, and advice, we can foster a culture of accessibility.
Sanjay Nasta: Accessibility is a rapidly changing field, both in terms of technology and policy. A lot of organizations view training as a one-time event. What are your recommendations for making training a continuous event, a continuous process, so you are constantly educating your people, improving their accessibility knowledge, and moving them further down the road?
Jeff Kline: The Accessibility 101 Course is something that should be mandated every year, similar to the way organizations do security re-certification for all their employees or ethics training. It should be used to keep accessibility front and center in an organization.
Role-specific training, such as training for developers or content producers, should be an integral portion of any employee’s performance plan. It is important to ensure that these individuals take and remain up-to-date on the most recent accessibility advancements in their respective fields. That’s no different from any other software development shop where software engineers must continue building skills throughout their careers.
Benefits from community and peer-based training
Sanjay Nasta: We see a lot of value in continuing training because people can only absorb so much at one point. And spaced training is a way to increase absorption and improve capabilities. One of the things you did at the State of Texas was that you created a community around accessibility so that once an expert trained people, they could continue learning from their peers. That’s a remarkable way to increase the capabilities of your team. Can you talk about some of the stuff you did at the state around peers supporting peers?
Jeff Kline: Train the trainers, peer-based training, and support programs are quite effective as part of a training program. It is not the end-all solution, but it guides employees to other resources to get additional information on critical subject areas.
In many development shops, you’ve got team leads that provide a lot of guidance to their team working through accessibility issues.
If there’s an external training or there’s an external conference where there’s going to be a lot of good information, technical and otherwise, about accessibility like CSUN or the M-Enabling Summit, send key team members. If your organization can’t afford to send everybody to a conference, pick a team member and make it a condition of attendance that when they come back from the conference, they have and provide some training to the people within their organization about what they learned.
Sanjay Nasta: This is worth thinking about because we usually only consider training as something that happens in a classroom. But there is also informal training which can happen at conferences or even on group chat forums and newsgroups. Informal training can be just as important as formal training. As much as 80% of training is informal, and you can facilitate that by providing tools such as group chats and having people go to conferences and attend sessions.
Jeff Kline: Another example is weekly webinars on accessibility. Having someone publicize the appropriate webinars to your team will ensure more people attend. It is a high-leverage activity.
Sanjay Nasta: A very important function for the experts in your organization is also curating the quality of the information disseminated. Because, like in every field, there’s misinformation out there. And I think that one thing that the accessibility experts in your organization can provide is curate and share the information that’s been well-qualified.
Jeff Kline: That is a good point.
The important thing is to ensure that if you’re building an accessibility policy for your organization, you include some language on training.
One of the things that I’ve talked about in my book and other places is building accessibility training requirements or knowledge into individual performance plans. It should even be built into executive plans to make sure that they’re responsible for making sure that folks have the right training and the right skills for accessibility related to the work they do within their organization.
Goal setting ensures quality outcomes
Sanjay Nasta: From our perspective, one of the things that people frequently don’t do when selecting training or putting a training plan together is to be clear on the goals. That’s where a training professional can help you. Just sending somebody to class or sending a group of employees to a class without being clear on the goals of what you want that employee to get out of the class makes training a lot less effective. So I think there should be definite work put together on goals. It’s no different from doing anything else in your business.
The second part is we have found that not understanding where a particular student’s existing baseline of accessibility knowledge is and putting them in the wrong class is another way that you waste money if you put a student with strong accessibility knowledge in a very introductory class, that frustrates them, and vice versa. If you put somebody that doesn’t have the base technical knowledge in a highly technical class, that frustrates them and frankly diminishes the quality of the class for the rest of the students. So ensuring that you have a baseline understanding of a student’s knowledge level is critical to putting a student in the class that meets their needs.
The other thing I think a lot of people don’t understand about training programs is that the cost that you pay for the training program is the smallest portion of your cost. Because if you pay an instructor “X” dollars, you have to realize that you’re also paying the salary of every student attending the class. If you do not create a quality training program, you also waste future potential. If that student leaves untrained, when class ends, they’re going to be wasting a tremendous amount of time.
Jeff Kline: Well, not just wasting time, but also potentially creating issues for whatever they’re working on where accessibility is supposed to play a role.
Sanjay Nasta: It’s very frustrating to me that a lot of RFPs, are just focused on the cost of the training versus the quality and qualifications of the training. Because whatever you spend on the training is just a small part of the total cost of that program. Unfortunately, the other costs are a little more hidden, so people don’t think about that.
Jeff Kline: Yeah. I would consider training costs, for the most part, a non-repetitive cost. Once somebody is trained in a certain area, you don’t have to go back and retrain them again. But if you go to a third party to do all your development, for example, or to farm that out, you’ll have repetitive costs every time
Sanjay Nasta: The other issue, which we really shouldn’t have to say because it’s really obvious, is if you’re doing accessibility training, actually for all of your training, the training should be accessible. Unfortunately, often, that’s not a criterion for training. Because if you don’t provide accessible training, you are hindering the career progress or the career start of somebody with a disability. And you are tremendously affecting the opportunities they have available to them.
Jeff Kline: That’s correct, Sanjay. And what you’re talking about here is all training, not just accessibility training.