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.
We are pleased to talk to Jeff today about creating a proactive culture of accessibility in organizations.
Sanjay Nasta: Welcome, Jeff! Thank you for taking the time to talk about creating a culture of accessibility in an organization. To start with, what are the key elements that drive a culture of accessibility at an organization?
Jeff Kline: Great question. There are several, and depending on the existing culture of an organization, they may be weighted differently, but here are the key ones:
- Policy: There must be a digital accessibility policy that drives the organization’s culture. It’s the foundation and can always be pointed back to when the initiative is questioned. (Kathy Keller’s interview Accessibility Policy Implementation: What You Need to Know offers another perspective on accessibility policy)
- Organizational Leadership: There needs to be someone in a leadership position that has ownership of the initiative, has the power to evoke change, and delegates to other leaders to drive specific initiatives.
- Key Process Integration: Digital accessibility must be integrated into the key development and business processes to ensure inclusivity and inclusion. You can’t rely on Bob or Gina down in a dev shop to own that. If they win the lotto tomorrow, you are back to square one.
- Procurement: Very important. Nearly everything IT is procured, not built internally, so accessibility must be woven into every element of the procurement life cycle with qualified individuals to create language and assess solicitation responses and contracts
- Role-based Training: With a policy in place, everyone needs to be trained to understand policy and process and how their particular role within the organization is affected. This includes many disciplines…admins, web designers, procurement, social media, and especially professors or instructors who may make micro-purchases for their classes with no regard to accessibility…then reuse year after year.
- Prioritization: Where do we start? What do we need to do the job? What is the size of the effort? There are many ways to prioritize, but I like to start with what makes the biggest impact….
- Metrics: If you don’t establish baselines, goals, and ways to measure progress, you will never know how effective your initiatives are, calling everything into question by the naysayers.
- HR: HR drives accountability for employees, management, leadership, and staffing. What do I mean by accountable? Simple. Include accessibility criteria in performance measurement, by business area for area owners, then in individual performance plans by role for anyone with a job where digital accessibility plays. Then it needs to be included in position descriptions when recruiting FTE OR contractors in roles where accessibility plays.
Sanjay Nasta: Whew! Indeed. It is a major organization-wide effort to create a proactive culture of accessibility and takes a great deal of foresight, planning, and resources. I’m sure it’s a challenge to make it an organizational priority. In your experience, what drives an organization to make an accessibility effort a priority?
Jeff Kline: Well, first, it takes leadership to recognize the importance of digital accessibility for its workforce and customers (including students). They have the foresight and “big picture” understanding of how this fits and are not bogged down by the day-to-day agendas of individual projects or areas. They must be able to articulate this to the organization to develop buy-in, and building the right policy is the best approach, in my opinion.
Sanjay Nasta: Jeff, what have you seen when an organization that doesn’t have a culture of accessibility has to react to an accessibility complaint?
Jeff Kline: There are two things: chaos and a loss of control over the situation. First comes the finger-pointing, then the leadership “help,” and depending on how events unfold, the offending entity will be required to do a LOT of things…most unknown to them.
Let’s go through a few. I think from above; you can see how disruptive this can be…impacting multiple areas of an organization. Then the dollars flow out… legal representation, remediation activities, required web or other IT audits, generating reports to the courts, OCR, DOJ, etc. There is also no control of the timeline; although there may be some negotiation, it will typically be aggressive…. oh, that also implies more dollars.
Then, there is the pain of negative press and damage control.
Sanjay Nasta: A proactive culture takes a substantial effort, but not considering accessibility in your plans can cause a substantial disruption to an organization. You’ve outlined some key areas that an organization needs to consider moving from a “head in the sand” mode to a more proactive approach. You’ve had considerable experience helping organizations move from a reactive to proactive mode—what is the first key step to start the flywheel moving in the right direction?
Jeff Kline: Awareness! Knowing what accessibility is and what the impacts are to an organization. There are more and more articles being published in business, education, higher ed, journals that care talking about the problems when awareness is low and the value of being proactive and leveraging that in the marketplace. Yet nothing is being done (inaccessible IT). Executives need to take notice, maybe read about the impacts to higher ed institutions where lawsuits ensued, and look at the risks associated with no accessibility infrastructure, and start looking at what to do within their organization.
Sanjay Nasta: There are a lot of items that compete for leadership’s attention. How can an accessibility advocate in an organization help make accessibility a priority at the executive level—to get a seat at the table?
Jeff Kline: It can be very difficult to approach from the bottom up, as middle managers are not interested in adding “one more thing” to their plate. Accessibility advocates can try to approach executives or send them articles independently (even to executive staff if known), If executives are well-read they will encounter articles about the risks of lack of accessibility. That should motivate senior leadership if they are smart.
Sanjay Nasta: In your experience, what are the unique challenges in creating a culture of accessibility at institutes of higher education?
Jeff Kline: Higher ed institutions certainly do face some unique challenges. This is due to the amount of autonomy within each higher ed college, university, or university system. This autonomy can mean complexity and confusion when implementing a good accessibility policy and programs (or any program for that matter!)
Think about it: General administration areas, such as procurement, facilities, etc., enrollment and recruiting, smaller versions of those at each college or department, teaching faculty, and very importantly, students. Even when organization-wide policy is created, trying to get all these entities to understand what they are, what they mean to each area, how the policy should be implemented within all of these diverse, autonomous areas, and how progress and compliance can be tracked and enforced can be a big effort.
Accessibility of curricula, courseware, and faculty specified websites/tools used by students, as I touched on earlier, can create problematic issues as well. In many cases, each faculty member operates very independently.
For example, let’s say a professor decides he/she requires students to use a particular website or web tool for the course they are teaching… perhaps purchased by the prof or even freeware. The site /tool is not accessibility compliant, and there is a blind student in the class who can’t use it, requiring accommodation. However, the accommodation process at the institution requires 24-48 hours to deliver, essentially putting the student and a 24-48 hour disadvantage.
Or imagine a faculty member requiring the use of a non-accessible website tool because it didn’t appear to them that anyone in the class had a disability. (We know that not all disabilities are visible, of course) so it wouldn’t be a problem for that class. Then, the same website/tool is used for the next semester class, when there is a vision-impaired student in the class.
Good policy and processes must account for such situations and use cases, ensuring that faculty looks past their current needs/desires to consider future students.
Sanjay Nasta: What are your favorite sources of articles to share and raise accessibility awareness?
Jeff Kline: Lainey Feingold and Seyfarth Shaw publish periodical updates on their website and newsletters. One of the best sources of current information is Accessibility in the News (AITN), a weekly newsletter published by Jack McElaney from Microassist. AITN is a very comprehensive source that curates’ accessibility articles worldwide.
Sanjay Nasta: Jeff, thank you for taking the time today. You have outlined eight areas to drive a culture of accessibility. That’s more than we can cover in this interview. I would love to come back and cover each of these areas in a separate interview with you.
Jeff Kline: Thank you. I hope it was useful. I would be happy to come back to cover those as they are all essential to the “journey.”
What colleges and universities need to know about accessibility?
Most colleges, universities and government organizations are required to make their online content and platforms—including elearning—accessible.
We’ll help you make sure your website, applications, and digital files comply with accessibility standards such as WCAG 2.1 or Sections 504 and 508 of the U.S. Rehabilitation Act, enabling people of all abilities to access your content with ease.