Think your IT department is responsible for digital accessibility compliance? Think again.

To make a sailing analogy, preparing a large ship to sail is an involved task. If you’ve seen a vintage sailing ship and the sheer number of rope and riggings hanging from its masts, you get the picture.

It’s virtually impossible for one person to man all the ropes, secure knots, set sails, and take the helm all at the same time, let alone when attempting to quickly execute a strategic maneuver. You need an experienced crew who knows their role and is committed to it.

Getting onboard with digital accessibility is a cultural shift, and navigating a paradigm shift in a large, multinational organization is challenging in this same way. Leaving this kind of change up to a single individual or department isn’t realistic.

Achieving digital accessibility will require involved management from the top and unity across potentially thousands of stakeholders who all deal with complex processes and technology.

In this blog, we’re going to be reviewing what it takes for enterprise-level companies to create an internal shift in their work culture and achieve their mission of full digital accessibility.

Social, Legal & Economic Imperative

A growing number of organizations are embarking on Enterprise Social Responsibility (ESR) initiatives to make their digital assets fully inclusive for people with low vision, mobility, hearing, or cognitive impairments. This means no matter what an individual’s ability, there are no barriers to them accessing digital products, such as websites, mobile apps, and PDFs.

It also means employees with disabilities can utilize all login-only assets such as intranet portals, employee communication channels, video training, social media accounts, and job application forms.

Enterprise digital accessibility is vital to ensuring continued relevance in society as a good corporate citizen. Protecting equal access rights is required by the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 and a huge component in scoring high on social indicator scores, such as the Disability Equity Index (DEI).

Enterprise-wide accessibility is also critical for competitive differentiation and carving out space in the digital economy. This is especially vital for companies active in bidding and RFP processes who could be disqualified for non-compliance with Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act.

All Hands On Deck

Companies that score high on the DEI have successfully led digital accessibility initiatives and have led cultural change within every department of their organization. This kind of success requires a continuous collaborative effort by multiple stakeholders from entry-level employees to upper management all striving towards the same goal.

Remediating an organization’s existing digital footprint is an undertaking in itself and it becomes exponentially more intricate when considering that enterprise digital accessibility requires continual maintenance, compliance testing for new content, and audits during the software procurement process.

Accessibility Silos Inherently Smother Inclusion

One of the most detrimental mistakes when approaching digital accessibility compliance is to believe it can be siloed in IT, legal, marketing, or human resources and addressed ad hoc. That is a pipedream.

It is very difficult for someone in one of these departments to wield enough influence to make substantial and lasting changes across an entire business without executive power behind them.

Digital accessibility is an all-hands-on-deck kind of undertaking because it will impact every corner of your organization. This means momentum has to be fueled directly from the top to affect cultural-level attitudes.

Making sweeping top-down directives is not enough. Teams need to know why it matters and why they should care because they will be the ones on the frontlines enacting the change.

C-Suite Sponsors

Because this kind of initiative necessitates fundamental adjustments of values, it is recommended that a C-level executive or a specially appointed Digital Accessibility Program Director (DAPD) is involved in and sponsoring the shift.

This officer will supply direction, craft proper messaging, remove roadblocks, and provide oversight, resources, vision, and values.

There may be a temptation for this executive to simply issue directives and step away while others make things happen. However, this results in unmotivated middle managers and a lack of purpose for those on the front lines.

Without someone perpetually casting vision and communicating the why behind the barrier-free digital assets, accessibility will become a matter of checking boxes and not creating real solutions.

Keys To Cultivating Culture

You don’t want your team to resent accessibility. This will cause internal turmoil that can add to the already present growing pains of your ESP initiative and potentially derail it.

There may be components of your program that are difficult to achieve buy-in from in certain departments or managers, and they may need help seeing the bigger picture. That’s why strategic and involved leadership is vital to a program such as enterprise digital accessibility.

Let’s look at some tips and steps that can help make this journey smoother.

Language Shapes Culture

One of the first things a DAPD can do is nail down proper messaging on digital accessibility to set the tone for how the company expects team members to approach this subject matter. There are subliminal ways words can affect attitudes and perception.

This is where things like person-first language come into play, prioritizing a person instead of reducing them to their disability. Terms like “the disabled” should be avoided and substituted with “people with disabilities.”

It’s not enough to lead by example in this regard, either. There needs to be intentional training available to help your organization respectfully discuss disabilities and foster a culture that emphasizes the need for accessibility.

Write The Vision, Make It Plain

When embarking on a voyage to full digital accessibility you don’t just need ambitions, you need a map.

Adopting a written enterprise-wide digital accessibility policy takes the guesswork out of approval processes and content and provides an overarching standard for every department to meet. When there is no roadmap, departments lack concrete governance to support repeated success.

This roadmap should define the program, its goals, expectations, and the management structure. It can also include prioritized tasks and estimated timeframes. This is a multi-year process and clearly communicating short-term goals will go a long way in building camaraderie and enthusiasm.

Developing this policy collaboratively with a set of individuals familiar with areas of accessibility and policy creation, with reviews and approvals directed by key stakeholders for assured buy-in.

Leveraging Human Resources & Internal Evangelists

Including people from all levels in planning and decision-making can help foster ownership among teams of change management. Your company or your digital accessibility compliance partner may have connections with someone with a disability.

Internal evangelists will also be easy to identify because they’ll be enthusiastic about the digital accessibility initiative from the beginning. They may have an impairment or have friends or family who do.

Identifying and promoting accessibility in appropriate communities of your organization can nurture motivation for change. Proactive invitations to these existing communities to embrace this initiative as part of their agenda will create energy among like-minded groups to share knowledge and ideas and turn a program into a social movement.

Hosting Empathy Labs

Hosting an empathy lab can be a unique opportunity to directly interact with members of the disabled community. These labs are similar to focus groups and can give real-world exposure to the barriers one may face when trying to access your website with a vision, hearing, cognitive or motor disability. These labs are also a critical step in new content development for user experience research and providing insights for production teams.

Empathy is the greatest driver to achieving full web accessibility. It is also a powerful tool to win people over to champion your ESR initiative and spur cultural development.

People empathize with others when they recognize pain points, which means engaging volunteers of the disabled community and internal evangelists to participate in conversations and training is a great opportunity.

Finding The Right Accessibility Partner

Apart from the solutions they provide, choosing the right digital accessibility partner is a vital facet of bringing important resources and support to your growing culture. While the basics of accessibility are essentially the same for all companies, the vendor you choose should have a multi-disciplinary background that can understand your industry space and how accessibility solutions relate to it.

This is important so that they can work with your organization’s culture and priorities and not be contrary to them.

Finding a quality service and product is just as important. How robust and successful the solution is can have an impact on your users and employees, and if changes are being implemented that claim to fix solutions but, in fact, do not, the credibility of your program can be damaged and set back cultural momentum.

That’s not even mentioning the potential to your relationships with your end-users and the potential litigation you may face.

UserWay is the world’s #1 global digital accessibility leader and is trusted by leading enterprising for best-in-class accessibility.