How to talk to stakeholders about web accessibility: a presentation template
Hint: It’s more emotion than logic.
As a Web Accessibility Specialist at a large company, I am constantly advocating for the importance of accessibility.
Whether it’s to receive funding, increase scope, or simply improve the reputation of accessibility work within the company, there is always more teaching, speaking, and sharing to do.
In the past, I’ll admit I’ve made the mistake of trying to shame or scold others into caring about accessibility. Maybe I have shown a large number of defects we still haven’t gotten to.
Maybe I have talked about the threat of a lawsuit. Maybe I have played a guilt trip, bringing up morals and ethics and implying that not making time for accessibility was a sin (not many regrets on this one though).
I’ve seen these scare tactics a lot. What I’ve learned is that they don’t work. Often they come from designers or developers who are working against a system that doesn’t want to make time for accessibility, and they are frustrated. They wish everyone cared as much as they did, and they are tired of feeling like the only ones making an effort.
A big part of why they are making the effort is because they care about providing equal opportunity for all, of course. But also because they have adopted accessibility as part of their professional skillset and their personal identity.
They are ‘people who design/build for accessibility’. They are advocates. For this reason, allowing inaccessible experiences is out of alignment with their identity and causes friction.
The trick to getting others to care too? Make them identify as accessibility advocates. As soon as others in the business start saying phrases like “our company really values accessibility” or “it is a big part of what we do here”, they have taken it on and have to start backing it up. You can achieve this by instilling a sense of pride.
Show your stakeholders everything your company has done and is doing, the wonderful world of accessibility they are joining, and that they are already a part of the solution.
Recently, I gave a presentation on the 30 year anniversary of the ADA. Because it was a celebratory occasion, I gave a very positive and inspiring update. I focused on all the work that had been done in the world and at our company, and shared resources for people to get more involved.
It was an absolute hit. It was by far the best presentation or talk I’ve given on accessibility, both in terms of spreading awareness and spurring action.
I want to share with you all a template of the presentation I gave, so you can use it in your own companies and help change the conversation around accessibility.
1. Define the ADA
Start by talking about what the ADA is. Depending on how much your audience knows about the ADA and web accessibility, this can be more or less detailed. The important part is to make sure to note that the ADA is a law that came about 30 years ago and applied to any buildings, spaces, or equipment for public use. It wasn’t until a few years ago that ADA started officially extending to the web.
It’s important to point this out because not everyone easily draws a line between the law that created handicap parking spaces and the law that requires the buttons on your site to be accessible by keyboard. They are the same thing. People see a handicap parking space and think “of course”, but they don’t think the same way about web accessibility, even though there are many sites we visit much more often than even our favorite stores.
Sharing a quote around the importance of the ADA at this point will introduce empathy early in your presentation. Since I was doing a 30-year ADA anniversary update, I chose this one:
“The anniversary of the ADA is not only a chance to celebrate those with a disability, but also a chance to reflect on all the barriers still in place. Without updating the ADA to stay relevant as technology develops, we will never be able to unlock the full potential of those with a disability.”
— Caroline Casey, an accessibility activist, for NBC News
2. Show physical examples
To further draw the line between physical and web accessibility requirements, pick a few examples from the physical world to show how much ADA considerations have improved the lives and autonomy of those with disabilities. With each example, you can also point out how helpful these considerations are for people without disabilities as well as how they ultimately improve the lives of a wide range of people. I found it useful to use examples that are so commonplace we barely notice them now, to give a glimpse of how commonplace web accessibility could also become. The examples I chose were:
- Wheelchair-accessible entrances to public buildings, especially entrances to voting locations
- Two-sized drinking fountains
- Braille on public phones
- Front loading washers and dryers at laundromats
3. Find your physical counterpart
At this point, choose a physical counterpart to the service or product your business offers. This may take some creativity. Since I work for a fintech company, I chose an ATM. These are both places for people to view their account, manage their finances, and get money out. If you worked for LinkedIn, perhaps you could talk about accessible entrances to office buildings or conference centers — places where business professionals can meet and network. You get the idea.
Once you have your counterpart, do a quick google search on all the ADA requirements surrounding it. For the ATM, there are requirements around floor space and accessible entrances, headphone jacks so users can listen to what is on the screen, braille displays, and color contrast requirements for the display screen.
Go through several of these in your presentation, pointing them out on the physical object or space, so people can see how commonplace they are.
Next, share your takeaways from that example. What does looking at this physical counterpart tell you about how you design and build products? I chose these three:
- ADA compliance does not happen by accident. If you were designing an ATM from scratch, you might not think to put a headphone jack and include a voice-over of everything on the screen. Similarly, by default, most experiences are not designed or built accessibly without a specific effort.
- ADA does not hinder the experience. If you’re like me, you haven’t noticed most or any of the features mentioned when using an ATM. Similarly, when we build digital experiences, the accessibility considerations won’t be in the way or cause problems for users who don’t need them.
- ADA compliance should provide an equal experience. In this case, there is an alternate way to get money out at a bank, which is to go to the teller (assuming that’s accessible). But, this is not an equal experience because it’s not providing the same value as the ATM in allowing the user to be autonomous. This is sort of like putting a button on a site that says ‘accessible version here’ and creating a separate experience. Instead, we can make the original experience accessible and provide equal opportunity for everyone.
4. Share stats on the current and future state of accessibility
Now it’s time to set the stage and build some cred. Share some stats and research around the current state of web accessibility. Does your company fall on the right or wrong side of those stats (hint: the stats are pretty bad, so if your company is doing any work around accessibility you can probably highlight that you are ahead of the pack!). Also share some stats that highlight the scope of people affected. Demonstrate how big of an opportunity awaits if you fill a need for people with disabilities. Show how this need will always be growing. Here are a few I used:
- 98% of web menus are inaccessible
- 71% of web forms are inaccessible
- The aging population is predicted to triple to 1.5 billion by 2050
- Mobile screen reader usage has increased by 76% from 2009–2017
5. Feature tech improvements
This part is more fun. Find your favorite, most innovative and exciting examples of progress in digital accessibility. They don’t have to be directly related to the web. Most people are not aware of things like adaptive x-box controllers, braille touchscreen keyboards, and eye-tracking software for screen navigation. Inspire your listeners to go above and beyond by showing some creative, thoughtful solutions.
Squash any notions that accessibility is a dull set of rules to follow, and instead show how much room there is for creativity. Quotes here, again, can really illustrate how life-changing these technologies are. Here are a few more examples I used:
- Automatic captioning and the ability to add sound effects on YouTube
- Live-streaming for those without mobility
- Google home and Alexa for those with visual and dexterity impairments
- E-readers that allow users to listen to books the day they are released, rather than waiting for someone to record an audiobook
And, the most important improvement, dedicated accessibility teams! Talk about how major tech companies are putting together teams entirely focused on accessibility. This just might inspire your company to hire a few folks.
6. Include a demo
This was the most impactful part of my presentation, and I got many positive comments and questions on it afterward. If you do nothing else in this template, don’t skip this step. SHOW A PERSON USING ACCESSIBLE TECHNOLOGY. There is no better way to fully comprehend how important accessibility is. I chose to show a quick clip of someone using their screen reader on an iPhone.
It puts a face to the experiences we are designing and building, that will be hard to forget next time someone wants to say we “don’t have time for ADA”.
7. Highlight company wins & progress
Now it’s time to celebrate and show off. To help your stakeholders identify with the feeling that they work for a company that cares about accessibility, show them that they already do. If you show all the progress the company has made in the past year or few years, it will be hard for them not to internalize it and begin to think of the company as accessibility-first.
Plus, they will likely want to join in on the action. After all, accessibility work is getting so much praise around here these days! Here are some things you could share at this point:
- Any trainings, education, or certifications the team have achieved
- Any documentation created or updated (standards, checklists, development documentation)
- Any process changes (eg adding ADA compliance to definition of done, adding accessibility knowledge transfers to onboarding)
- Audits completed of existing experiences
- Any new tools or resources (like screen reader licenses or an auditing software)
8. Recommend education and tools
Next, share where your listeners can go to learn more. There are many active communities focused on accessibility. Screenshot some of those conversations and share them. Illustrate how these communities share resources and education, helping each other in the quest for accessibility, and inspire your listeners to join in.
Give them some hashtags to follow, podcasts to listen to, Slacks to join. Provide educational resources at different levels — introduction courses, business-focused courses, and technical courses. Stakeholders love to be on the cutting edge. Give them the right resources so they, too, can become advocates.
9. Thank them
Finally, thank your listeners for their commitment to accessibility. After all, they have put in the time to listen to you today. They have taken a step in the right direction and have a path ahead of them to follow. Encourage them to reach out and continue the conversation. Express how proud you are to be part of an organization that values accessibility. Keep saying this until it is true.
Thank you so much for reading, I hope you enjoyed this presentation template. Let me know what I missed and what has worked for you in your web accessibility advocacy below. If you try any of these tactics, I would love to hear your results. For more thoughts on accessibility and enterprise UX, follow me on twitter @rmgallucci.