Q&A: Does accessibility have to be expensive?
This article was developed as part of
The Accessibility Switchboard Project
National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute
January 2017, Version 1.0.
Creative Commons License: CC BY-SA 4.0
Does accessibility have to be expensive?
No, but it can get expensive if you let it.
In-Depth answer: Does accessibility have to be expensive?
Increasing efficiency is better than increasing costs
There are efficient ways to implement ICT (Information and Communications Technology) accessibility solutions in your organization. The higher the efficiency, the easier it is to keep associated costs low or even negligible.
The flip side of efficiency is the stuff that keeps cartoonist Scott Adams busy drawing Dilbert cartoons. We may laugh when we’re reading the comic strip in the Sunday papers, but that’s because we recognize the thread of truth from our own workplace experiences. There are ways that we have seen companies inadvertently increase their costs associated with ICT accessibility.
In this article we offer methods to increase efficiency. For cartoon fodder, we also offer the cautionary flip side.
Ten ways to be more efficient with ICT accessibility
1. Embrace accessibility as a part of your corporate culture
More and more customers are requesting in their procurement solicitations that ICT accessibility is addressed. Companies that have incorporated accessibility solutions in their ICT have demonstrated that this kind of change is readily achievable. (If you need information to help change the minds of any naysayers, case history continues to grow in the area of ICT accessibility litigations and settlements. For further background and information on lawsuits, see chapter 5 of Ensuring Digital Accessibility Through Process and Policy by Lazar, Goldstein & Taylor.)
The flip side is to ignore, or willfully oppose accessibility. You risk losing contracts to companies that do address accessibility as a natural part of their everyday work. Also, there’s a high likelihood that consumers with disabilities, and employees who are, or who become disabled, will have difficulty using your ICT. By ignoring accessibility, you are likely to brush off their inquiries. Then brush off their complaints. Then your likelihood of receiving a legal action increases.
2. Integrate accessibility within your existing development and testing teams
There are methods to integrate accessibility testing within your mainstream development processes and project management mechanisms. A report has been published by DHS, providing examples of integrating accessibility test processes, along with a guide on how to replicate this process in your organization.
The flip side is to employ a separate team to conduct your accessibility testing. You have your mainstream development team already. They do Quality Assurance (QA) testing on code quality and security as they go. If you keep your accessibility team separate to these developers and testers, you can keep paying that accessibility team to test at the end of the development process, when changes are much harder to incorporate.
3. Use automated tools as a QA check for an already accessible site
For new content that has been purposefully designed to incorporate accessibility that is posted on a website that has already been designed to be accessible, automated testing tools work great as a QA check.
The flip side is to use automated testing tools as your primary means of finding accessibility errors. If you don’t have an accessible site to begin with, and you don’t have accessibility checklists for newly produced content, then relying on automated tools is a recipe for high risk and low reward. Even the best automated tools find less than half of things that could be wrong, and can’t compete with using humans in the actual development process. So don’t fix your website’s accessibility from the beginning; do it from the end. After all, when a car comes off the production line to the quality control department, that is the costliest time to begin examining it for quality issues.
4. Use code inspection technologies as your primary means of ICT accessibility testing
Assistive Technologies (AT) commonly used by people with disabilities such as screen readers and screen magnifiers can be used for testing accessibility. However, learning how to use AT for testing is a specialist task, usually carried out by highly trained individuals. The more efficient alternative is to employ code inspection methods and tools that can be easily employed by mainstream programmers and assurance testers (one of many examples is the Web Accessibility Toolbar). This requires a small investment of time and resources initially training existing staff to use these code inspection methods and tools. If you do have a separate AT testing team in place, changing to an integrated code inspection testing model frees up your AT team to work in a Quality Control (QC) role, and to work on using AT for usability testing (to ensure that your products are usable by people with disabilities).
The flip side is to use assistive technologies as your primary means of ICT accessibility testing. AT usually interacts with applications only when the design is pretty much complete, so in addition to being an expensive specialist task, it works at or near the end of the development process, when changes are harder to make. It’s like implementing QC without any QA.
5. Take opportunities to get up to speed on the latest developments on accessible ICT
There’s a wealth of experience and information to be gained by attending and participating in disability access conferences. If you’re looking for the primary starting points in the US, there’s the annual CSUN International Technology & Persons with Disabilities Conference, and on the human resources side, the USBLN Annual National Conference & Biz2Biz Expo. Throughout the world, there are international, national and local events, publications and organizations. (NFB is pleased to provide the Accessibility Switchboard website, and NFB can be contacted for help getting started in this area.)
The flip side is to ignore the latest developments in ICT accessibility. Don’t go to any conferences, don’t read online articles, don’t interact with people with disabilities or the associations that represent them. This will save you plenty of time, save you a bit of money, and you’ll miss out on plenty of opportunities.
6. Provide HR training on hiring people with disabilities, and make your ICT accessible
There are books on making IT in the organization accessible that feature a minor coverage of Human Resource (HR) issues (e.g., Chapter 10 of Strategic IT Accessibility: Enabling the Organization by Jeff Kline). There are books on making HR functions more inclusive of people with disabilities that feature a minor coverage of ICT issues (e.g., pages 93-95 of Tapping Into Hidden Human Capital by Debra Ruh).
The flip side is to provide HR training on hiring people with disabilities, and then don’t make your ICT accessible. You invest time and money on a program to get your staff up to speed on the benefits to your organization of including people with disabilities in the workforce. That’s great. Your staff will come out with new-found enthusiasm and understanding that will help them in their hiring and promotion decisions. But then they’ll be left guessing as to whether people with disabilities will be able to use the ICT that the staff rely on to carry out their daily work. You’ll quickly see HR’s time and money investment evaporate.
7. Make your ICT accessible, and provide HR training on hiring people with disabilities
This is essentially the same as the previous suggestion: In your roadmap to organizational accessibility, the more expeditious and efficient use of your resources is to make your ICT accessible and hire people with disabilities at the same time.
The flip side is to make your ICT accessible, and then don’t provide HR training on hiring people with disabilities. (i.e., the reverse of #0 is also true.)You invest time and money on a program to make the ICT that your staff uses to carry out their daily work accessible. Now you can feel good that you have made your workplace (potentially) more inclusive. However, the likelihood that anyone with a disability will ever benefit from it is low, because those making hiring and promotion decisions have not been trained to look beyond disabilities to capabilities. The HR department and related hiring personnel may not even know how much money you spent on your accessible ICT program.
8. Get executive backing, and share the responsibility around
Evangelists ask people to believe, whereas executives assign accountability and responsibility. Advice on getting executive support and sharing responsibility throughout the organization can be found in our guides on the roadmap for organizational accessibility, and making the pitch to executives.
The flip side is to be an evangelist without executive backing. You may have faith that if you preach the gospel of accessibility and inclusion, a congregation will form and you can move mountains. The mountains won’t move, of course, but nothing’s stopping you from exerting the effort (probably in your spare time). When you get fed up and leave, the mountains will endure, but will anyone fill the void you left behind?
9. Learn from implementation, and adjust plans as needed
The planning stage only costs money. Once your roadmap plan is complete, execute it with implementation to begin making money, reducing your risks, and increasing your efficiency. No plan is ever perfect, and there are diminishing returns on the time investment in planning. The real-life lessons you learn from doing accessibility work can be used to feed into the next planning stage, but don’t get stuck in planning.
The flip side is to plan, plan, plan and never implement. Would you spend the time and effort to learn to be a Certified Project Management Professional (PMP), get a job as a Project Manager, and then just stick with planning projects? That would be a waste. You could waste time by planning to (one day) get to thinking (some day) about maybe (in a far off time) getting to accessibility.
10. Save your marketing budget for the product
The more powerful marketing campaigns show a diversity of users, including people with disabilities. So, in your marketing, instead of focusing on what a great job you’ve done to make your product accessible, focus on the products themselves, and maybe mention accessibility features as incidental.
The flip side is to make a glitzy marketing plan on your accessibility efforts, without really having any accessibility efforts. If your company is new to accessibility, you’re actually a few decadeslate. Making a song and dance about your achievements at this stage could backfire. Veneer is no substitute for genuine hardwood. Saying you’re doing well without doing well carries the same risks as #1, above.
About this article
This article is published as part of The Accessibility Switchboard Project, an initiative of the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute with support from the members of the Accessibility Switchboard Project Community Of Practice, and from the Maryland Department of Disabilities.
The Accessibility Switchboard Project. Q&A: Does accessibility have to be expensive?. January 2017, Version 1.0. National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute. Available: http://switchboard.nfb.org/
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