Getting to an accessibility strategy

Published: 15-02-2024

Read time: 19 minutes

Tags: strategic accessibility

This blog will discuss the steps I took to get to an accessibility strategy for a company with eight million customers. I’ll caveat this post by saying my approach is not perfect, but it worked for me, and it might just work for you. I was supported by some exceptional, very senior ‘strategy people’ who provided steer and guidance throughout.

Understanding the problem

To form a strategy for anything, you first need to understand the problem you’re trying to solve. I’ve spoken to several people in the last year whose strategies consist of compliance and auditing to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).

Technical compliance is necessary, but the technical standard isn’t a silver bullet. All too often, we’re tied up in compliance and need to remember the most important thing. People. Your users. Focus on your users. It’s all about outcomes for users. What are the real barriers your they are experiencing? A lot of them can fall outside of WCAG compliance anyway.

Planning your strategy is an opportunity to think about where you really want to go. What does amazing look like? How can your product or service be the best it can be?

There’s a lot of overlap with accessibility, usability and inclusive design. For me, a good accessibility strategy focuses on all of these things. So, where do we even begin?

Gap analysis

“A gap analysis is the process companies use to compare their current performance with their desired, expected performance.”

Think of a gap analysis like this:

  • what is the current state?
  • what is the future state?
  • what is the gap?
  • how can we close the gap?

Leveraging any data you already have is an excellent start to support your gap assessment. Consider things like:

  • customer complaints
  • any quantitative data you might have, such as Google Analytics
  • research and usability testing findings
  • focus groups with real users, surveys, social media outreach. The people are more than willing!

Look for obvious things. Does your company have large print and braille alternatives for vital information? Does your service design require someone to call your call centre to do a thing? Does your company do regular usability testing with disabled people? Look for things that might be excluding people. You usually don’t have to look far to find them.

A gap analysis was front and centre of my approach to getting to a strategy. There are many different frameworks that you can use, but I created my own. It focussed on six things:

1. Documenting the gap

Talk about what the gap is. This should be fact-based, make sure you’re articulating what what it currently looks like (or doesn’t).

2. What is the impact?

Who are we currently excluding, and what does that actually mean in practice? What happens if we don’t fix it? What are the benefits of closing the gap? It’s essential to zoom out here; not everyone will care about it being the right thing to do. (Think about brand loyalty, customer sentiment, more customer sign-ups, competitive advantage etc.)

3. Identifying and understanding risks

Think about legislative, regulatory and industry standards the gap doesn’t meet (WCAG, Consumer Duty, Equality Act, European Accessibility Act, etc.). Talk about reputational damage, negative press and any other risks.

4. Possible mitigations

What does good look like? Provide some high-level options and caveat them with a high-level effort to implement. I’ve found multiple options tend to land better. The important thing here is to involve people early.

5. Who are the stakeholders?

Who needs to be involved? Again, it’s essential to zoom out. If the gap has a knock-on effect on any team (which is usually the case), they must be bought in and engaged throughout.

6. Reporting, monitoring and process development

How will you measure success? What operational processes will underpin and be key to the success of this work?

Communication is key

While doing my gap assessment, I was constantly in touch with different areas of the business. Fact-finding and building relationships with those I knew I needed to influence and work with. Don’t feel like the gap assessment needs to be done in isolation. People are usually very forthcoming with information, reasons why things hadn’t been done already and possible mitigations.

It’s crucial to involve the teams you’re reporting gaps within. First and foremost, they’ll have much more detail than you do. You should also approach a gap assessment delicately. People don’t like it when you call their baby ugly!

Collaborating with teams will give you an initial idea of how difficult a solution is to implement or when teams or business areas can collaborate with you to deliver a solution.

A gap assessment isn’t a once-and-done thing. It was important to timebox the initial assessment, or I could still be finding gaps to this day! Creating a process to review and add new gaps regularly kept my strategy fresh and positioned me to continuously improve. We’re never done with this stuff.

Writing project plans

Once I did my gap assessment, I knew what I needed to deliver as part of my strategy. Next, I engaged senior leaders and the stakeholders identified in my gap assessment to run through it all. There was a lot of back and forth about mitigations, but that is precisely what I wanted.

People are far more likely to buy into something if they’re involved and their ideas are heard. I’m acutely aware that I am one opinion and a set of ideas, and those ideas are not always the best ones.

When everyone was aligned on some deliverables, I was able to create some project plans. Having project plans will give you a high-level idea of how much work you have to do and how long it might take.

I’ve seen incredibly detailed project plans, but I kept mine relatively high-level with some milestones included. In my experience, things rarely run to plan anyway, and some of the things I’d never done before, so I wasn’t sure exactly how long it would take.

For example, I’ve never procured a supplier to supply braille grades one and two for critical information. Scoping what information is ‘critical’ and what isn’t would be monumental. My assumption was that it would take around a year.

Creating a roadmap

Once I had all my project plans containing some lower-level details, I could begin prioritising a roadmap. This part involved senior people and any stakeholders. We looked at each thing, taking into account things like:

  • legal and regulatory requirements
  • the effort to deliver vs impact on customers
  • quick wins, especially those with the most significant customer impact

Some things were completely deprioritised at this point. An example was something with very low customer impact and no legal, regulatory, or industry standard requirements that would cost millions to implement.

It wasn’t worth it to the company, and that is fine. You won’t get everything your way; celebrate the things you do get prioritised.

My initial roadmap contained around twenty-five deliverables spanning nearly three years of effort to deliver. Many quick wins were to be delivered first, with longer, more strategic items coming later when teams could align their resources to support the delivery.

When road mapping, I advise factoring in things outside the roadmap when estimating how long something will take. Things will always crop up outside of what you’re meant to do. You could use the 60:20:20 method.

  • 60% of your time is spent working on planned work
  • 20% of your time is working on unplanned work (i.e. ‘can you just’)
  • 20% of your time is spent on debt (improving processes, documentation, etc.)

I cannot stress to you how important having a roadmap is for our work. It’s particularly useful to manage burnout. We work in a profession where the ‘can you just’ requests rack up very quickly. Having a roadmap helps you and your team understand what you’re meant to be working on versus what you should be prioritising at a different stage of your roadmap.

The accessibility strategy

By this point, you’ll have the details you need to write a solid accessibility strategy. I recommend reading Craig Abbott’s article on defining an accessibility strategy. I wax lyrical about Craig’s work a lot because it’s brilliant. I have implemented Craig’s approach around culture, compliance and education as three strategic pillars. It works beautifully in practice.

From here on out, it’s rolling up the details to a higher level in a strategy document. You can roll it up further into a nice deck you can share. You’ll be able to demonstrate the what, how and when in detail.

It took me around six months to get to a point where I was ready to write a strategy. I found that starting with the low level detail and progressively rolling it up made writing the strategy itself straightforward and easy (especially if you follow Craig’s article!).

I hope this has been somewhat useful, and as always I’m keen to hear any feedback or ideas about how you’ve approached getting to an accessibility strategy.