How to create an accessibility culture

November 3, 2023
James Bateson

An accessibility champions network can be a great place to start creating a climate and mindset for change, but let's be honest: creating and changing culture is hard work. 

"Accessibility is like blueberry muffins: You can't bake muffins and then try to add blueberries after the muffins are baked. Similarly, you can't have accessible products if you try to add accessibility at the end. It must be baked in." – Cordelia McGee-Tubb — Digital accessibility specialist

In a recent talk at Manchester Tech Festival's Diversity & Inclusion stage, I shared Code's journey in creating an accessibility champions network, and below, I've summarised the fundamental steps we have taken ourselves within the agency and top tips to set you on your way.

Buddy up

Tap into motivated and passionate individuals who share your mindset and passions. One of the most influential aspects of collaboration is that you don't necessarily have to be accessibility experts to make a meaningful impact.

Starting small is also a smart strategy, allowing you to refine your approach over time. Having someone to lead and manage the effort provides valuable direction, ensuring that your collective enthusiasm is channelled effectively towards your shared goals.

Get leadership buy-in

Culture undeniably comes from the top, and leadership support is instrumental in motivating and granting the necessary time for initiatives to flourish. Continually demonstrate the value added by highlighting the benefits, such as improved employee engagement and productivity. 

One effective strategy is to maintain visibility through platforms like Slack channels, sharing progress and success stories with leaders, thereby reinforcing the positive impact of an inclusive and accessible culture.

Training and Education 

Training and education play a pivotal role in fostering accessibility, as it's the foundation for inclusivity and awareness. Through structured onboarding processes, employees gain knowledge and understanding of accessibility principles from day one. 

Skill-sharing sessions and lunchtime learning opportunities further empower the workforce to improve and keep learning continually. Online self-paced courses offer flexibility, while mentoring programs provide personalised guidance. 

Establishing an accessibility "hub" through platforms like Slack or Notion encourages collaboration and the sharing of best practices. Additionally, champion training ensures that advocates for accessibility continue to expand their knowledge and inspire others, reinforcing your commitment to inclusivity.

Celebrate wins

Celebrating wins, regardless of their size, is an essential aspect of cultivating an accessibility culture. Not only do these celebrations reinforce the importance of incremental progress, but they also help demonstrate the value of accessibility efforts to both employees and leadership. 

Recognising achievements, such as successful accessibility testing and well-documented ticket writing, not only keeps individuals motivated but also serves as a reminder of the broader purpose behind these initiatives. 

Guide, don't police

A guiding, not policing, approach means providing resources and signposts to help individuals navigate the path towards improving accessibility standards. 

Encouraging skill-sharing and peer learning allows team members to grow and develop their expertise independently. Not handing out answers all the time but instead empowering individuals to discover solutions, promotes a culture of ownership and innovation in accessibility efforts. 

Set goals

Establish realistic objectives that can be achieved over time. Breaking larger accessibility goals into smaller, manageable tasks helps make progress more attainable. When things don't quite go as planned, it's important to be understanding and flexible, allowing room for adjustments. 

Starting small, such as examining and improving documentation accessibility, is an effective strategy to kickstart the process. Consistency is key, with regular meetings and communications ensuring accessibility remains a constant focus. 

Culture over compliance

Accessibility culture begins with embracing guidelines as the standard for creating an inclusive digital environment. These guidelines serve as the starting point for accessibility efforts, providing a structured foundation. 

However, it's equally important for teams and companies to grasp the profound significance of accessibility and inclusion. Understanding why these principles matter, the potential barriers they can eliminate, and the importance of empathy and cultural awareness is crucial. 

Accessibility goes beyond merely checking boxes; it requires a human-centred approach. Learning about and considering the diverse experiences of individuals and the challenges they may face is at the core of building a genuinely inclusive and empathetic culture.

"Accessibility culture eats WCAG compliance for breakfast." - Gareth Ford-Williams — The little book of accessibility

Cultural change is a huge undertaking, and it cannot be done by one person alone. And it's a potentially multi-year commitment that needs to be understood. It may feel like you're banging the same drum repeatedly, but consistency through culture will lead to better habits and understanding.

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More about accessibility culture

About EM Code

EM Code is a customer experience, digital innovation and AI agency. 

We’re a strategic digital partner that delivers breakthrough growth throughout the customer experience (CX). 

We achieve this through our industry-renowned services in digital transformation, web development, brand strategy, click rate optimisation (CRO) and UX (user experience).

Our human centric approach underpins every aspect of our work.

A collective of experts in multiple disciplines, we collaborate to distil the complex needs of organisations and end users to engineer solutions that make an impact.

From fast scaling start ups to global brands, we can help you to transform your organisation.

We are an EssenceMediacom North agency.

About EssenceMediacom North

EssenceMediacom North helps brands to breakthrough in the new communications economy.

Disrupting models of media, EssenceMediacom North accelerates creative and business transformation for its clients roster, including Hillarys, Absolute Collagen, and United Utilities.

The agency delivers breakthrough growth, capabilities, and revenue through the integration of media, creativity, data and technology, combined with its diverse industry-leading expertise.

Equipped with access to the richest data, robust benchmarking and advanced technologies, EssenceMediacom North unlocks new opportunities to deliver truly integrated media solutions for scaling and global brands.

EssenceMediacom North is part of WPP’s media investment group, GroupM

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