It takes time and effort to embed sustainable accessibility into an organisation. It cannot be achieved through disconnected activities like assessments or training (although such things can be useful in their own right); sustainable accessibility needs a co-ordinated and evolving plan that encompasses every aspect of the organisation.
Sustainable accessibility is a significant investment because it has many moving parts, but it ultimately reduces cost because it:
- Sets expectations by communicating clear accessibility policies and priorities
- Amplifies knowledge throughout the organisation by establishing an accessibility champions network
- Reduces production time by making accessibility a first principle for design and development
- Reduces refactoring and remediation time by eliminating accessibility issues during production
- Reduces dependency on assessments by making them a monitoring tool instead of a primary way to manage accessibility
- Reduces reliance on third parties by empowering teams to make accessibility part of everything they do
When accessibility knowledge is dependent on a particular person or group of people, the organisation is at risk of losing that knowledge should those people leave. For accessibility to be really sustainable it must be part of the organisation's DNA; but because every organisation is different there is no definitive blueprint for sustainable accessibility. That said, it is typically a 12 to 36 month endeavour that encompasses many different activities that reflect the size, complexity, and existing practices of the organisation.
At its core is a living roadmap that is, as the name suggests, constantly updated and refined as the organisation makes demonstrable progress towards sustainable accessibility. The living roadmap can cover any period of time but starting with a 6 to 12 month plan helps focus the initial (and most intense) period of activity.
The scope and content of the living roadmap are unique to the organisation, but there are certain features that are almost always worth including - albeit with adaptations that make them relevant to the organisation in question:
- Policy: A sustainable accessibility policy sets clear expectations throughout the organisation so that everyone understands they have a responsibility and what that responsibility is
- Processes: Changes to existing processes or the introduction of new processes so that accessibility is part of everything the organisation does including strategy, marketing, communication, research, design and development
- Training: Maintainable training materials that can be deployed at scale, delivered in different formats and at different points (like on-boarding)
- Champions: A network of people to help communicate, educate and facilitate the spread of accessibility knowledge throughout the organisation
- Documentation: Maintainable information and resources integrated into design systems, repositories and standard project requirements
- Competency: Mechanisms for monitoring and maintaining high standards of accessibility knowledge throughout the organisation
- Recruitment: Job descriptions for all roles with consistent expectations in terms of accessibility skills and experience
- Procurement: Changes to procurement processes and contract language to protect the organisation against the purchase of inaccessible platforms or services
- Assessments: Periodic monitoring of products and services to verify that accessibility standards continue to be met, and to inform senior stakeholders
When deciding which features to include in the living roadmap it is tempting to try and change the way the organisation works, but this is rarely successful. Whatever else it does, sustainable accessibility should amplify what the organisation is already doing - helping to achieve more (not slow things down).