In an era dominated by digital interactions, ensuring accessibility for all users has become imperative for today’s businesses. Over 40 million Americans have disabilities, and 75% of them use the internet daily, highlighting the essential need for inclusivity. Yet, digital accessibility isn’t just about being inclusive; it’s also about fulfilling legal and ethical obligations. In 2022, there were 3,225 website accessibility lawsuits, marking a 12% increase from the previous year and emphasizing the issue’s growing importance.
The Agile methodology concept of “shifting left” has emerged as a powerful strategy for organizations to embed accessibility into their product development lifecycles. The W3C Accessibility Maturity Model, which many organizations are adopting, aligns with this philosophy. It helps gauge the effectiveness of accessibility efforts and identifies areas for improvement.
“Shifting left” is the practice of integrating accessibility considerations and testing earlier in development lifecycles to identify and address issues sooner.
By integrating digital accessibility right from the outset of development, organizations can enhance the user experience while simultaneously mitigating risks and expanding their customer outreach. Summarizing our strategic advisors’ insights, this article explores five strategies for weaving digital accessibility deeply into the fabric of your company.
1. Gain Executive Support and Buy-In Across Teams Early
Securing early support from multiple fronts, including executive leadership and cross-functional teams, stands as the cornerstone of proactive integration. To truly shift left, digital accessibility must be embedded into the DNA of product management and the wider organizational landscape. This paradigm shift demands executive support and cross-functional coordination.
By aligning both business and ethical objectives, organizations establish a strong foundation for a holistic approach. This alignment not only sets the tone for a comprehensive strategy but also ingrains accessibility as a crucial criterion for success. From UX enhancements to legal and reputational advantages, gaining executive support and teams’ early commitment to digital accessibility fuels a proactive shift towards an all-inclusive digital landscape.
2. Provide Digital Accessibility Tools, Checklists, and Resources
Equipping product teams and beyond with the right tools and resources is essential for integrating digital accessibility into the development lifecycle. Organizations can provide a versatile toolkit for employees by curating a library of how-to articles, accessibility checklists, and other informative materials. These resources can serve as a compass to expertly guide teams through the intricate landscape of digital accessibility.
For instance, Microsoft’s Inclusive Design webpage encompasses principles, tools, activities, and success stories. Offering pragmatic solutions not only demystifies the accessibility journey but also fosters a culture of awareness. By providing teams with actionable insights, organizations can empower them to navigate accessibility hurdles with confidence, ensuring that inclusivity becomes an inherent aspect of their digital endeavors.
3. Embed Digital Accessibility Experts and Champions
Leveraging the expertise of dedicated accessibility teams and advocates, including individuals with disabilities, is pivotal to the success of your digital accessibility initiatives. Building dedicated teams ensures best practices are integrated across projects and departments. These teams create consistent standards, share guidance and spearhead training while leading remediation and innovation.
Organizations can also inspire integration throughout the development process by placing accessibility champions within cross-functional teams. Fostering collective ownership ensures accessibility becomes ingrained in values and practices, resulting in enhanced UX for all. This agile approach can be critical to developing a culture where inclusive design is second nature.
4. Implement Continuous Training and Awareness
Cultivating a culture of continuous learning and awareness is key to the “shift left” approach. Regular workshops, training sessions, and knowledge-sharing initiatives not only enhance teams’ skills but also reinforce the importance of digital accessibility.
By engaging in real-world scenarios and success stories, teams are motivated to advocate for accessibility at every development stage. In the larger scheme of things, this ongoing learning journey is an assurance that product teams remain well-versed with the most recent guidelines, tools, and methodologies in the ever-evolving landscape of digital accessibility.
5. Embrace Iterative Feedback and Improvement
Shifting left is an ongoing practice and commitment to improvement. Consequently, regular accessibility audits and evaluations are integral, as they provide insights into strengths and areas for enhancement. In addition, organizations should prioritize requesting user feedback, particularly from individuals with disabilities. Their lived experiences provide invaluable insights into the effectiveness of digital accessibility efforts. Finally, incorporating feedback loops into the development process refines accessibility initiatives and demonstrates an unwavering commitment to continuously enhancing user experience.
In today’s digital landscape, digital accessibility goes beyond compliance — it embodies inclusivity, innovation, and ethical responsibility. Adopting the “shift left” strategy propels organizations to the forefront of digital accessibility transformation. By engaging early, providing comprehensive resources, offering expert guidance, fostering continuous learning, and showcasing a steadfast commitment to improvement, businesses can establish a proactive digital accessibility practice. This journey sets a benchmark for a more inclusive digital future.
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