Introducing organization-wide accessibility approaches: A guide to making a successful Pitch
The power is in the engine room, but the wheel is on the bridge—Alan Weiss
In this guide, we cover the important task of ‘selling’ the idea of organization-wide accessibility improvements to executives. Executives can actually authorize change, and then assign responsibility and accountability to see to it that change actually happens. We provide guidance on how to systematically deliver three pitches to executives: (1) Strategy; (2) Maturity measures, and tactical options; and (3) Cost and time estimate planning. It’s inevitable that there will be some who want to keep the organization as it currently is, and so we provide advice and links to further resources on overcoming resistance to change.
This guide 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
Introduction and Background
Organization-wide versus one-off improvements
The title of this article covers making a pitch based on proposed organization-wide accessibility improvements. Embarking on a broad range of organizational change strategies might combine aspects such as improving the accessibility of the Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) that all staff use, making broad commitments to hiring, retaining, and integrating people with disabilities in the workforce; and updating development processes so that products made and services delivered by the company feature accessibility solutions.
For tackling single instance problems such as responding to an external complaint, or fixing a lack of accessibility of your public web page, similar techniques to those suggested in this guide may be helpful, but the guide is focused on achieving goals that are more wide ranging.
Note: This guide is written for people who already have a good idea of available practical options for introducing organization-wide accessibility changes. If you are new to this area, we have produced other guides including a ‘roadmap’ to organization-wide accessibility for ICT vendors, and how to go beyond the traditional minimums, such as only offering employees a complaint process.
Prior to any organization-wide strategy and integration of accessibility, the groundswell might be led by an ‘evangelist’, as some would call them. New ideas about incorporating accessibility in organizational processes may begin within lunch meetings, coffee chats, or even watercooler banter. Initial conversations may lead to more serious meetings, with a widening pool of invited parties. “What if we did this?”, “What if we could do that?”, “Shouldn’t we learn more by going to this conference?”
The evangelist tries to get support for the idea, but it’s always a matter of faith when the evangelist isn’t high enough up the organizational chart to put wishes into action. Even when adding accessibility sounds like a good idea in principle, invariably it sounds like adding more work. People working in companies are usually averse to anything that sounds like more work.
The importance of executive support
Generating a groundswell of interest in accessibility requires a series of mini-pitches to peers. However, this is not ‘The Pitch’. The actual decision making power to do something about an unmet need resides at the upper level of the organizational chart. While the ranks lower down find it easy to say ‘no’ to requests for change, those at the upper level are empowered to say ‘yes’. The pitch for improving accessibility has to be made to the upper (executive) levels.
Evangelists ask people to believe, whereas executives assign accountability and responsibility. Organizational change doesn’t happen unless people are made responsible for it to happen, and accountable when things go wrong or need improving.
Preparing for the boss battle
In many computer games, you would fight your way through the lower levels, and once through you would meet ‘the boss’ for the really difficult battle. (Our image above shows a video game screen shot of a tiny penguin character about to tackle the great big boss in the form of an ice yeti.) The boss battle is a metaphor for the real world challenge of meeting superiors who have more power. It can be intimidating to think about. What if you get it wrong? What if you fluff your presentation? What if… What if…?
The battle is easier with good preparation and a methodical approach. That’s why we created this guide. Arguably the most important thing you’ll do in any accessibility program is get the executive support you need to see projects through.
Our guide breaks the process down into not one but three different pitches. Each pitch would usually be made on three separate occasions. The three pitches to executives are:
- Maturity measures, and tactical options.
- Cost and time estimate planning.
The step-by-step guide below begins with preparation, covers each of the three pitch presentations and conversations, and then provides tips on making your strategy stick in the implementation phases that follow. We have also added a section on overcoming resistance during the pitch process.
For each pitch, the simple way to look at it is:
- What does the boss want to happen?
- What do you want to happen?
- What’s good for the company?
When you can come together and, through persuasion and compromise, resolve all three questions to mutual satisfaction, you’ve made a successful pitch.
Don’t be put off
Just as in baseball, you can throw unsuccessful pitches. Dust yourself off and try again and try to throw more ‘strikes’ than ‘balls’.
Unlike the baseball metaphor, your aim in making the pitch should be to have the boss feel like she hit a home run. That will help a great deal in making sure accessibility initiatives are seen through to implementation and find a solid foothold in organizational work going forward.
Step-by-Step: Making a pitch to executives on introducing organization-wide accessibility approaches
Note: This step-by-step guidance assumes that you’ve already established a groundswell of support for your ideas (see above). During your first pitch meeting, if an executive invites others from your level for their opinions and they protest that this is the first time they ever heard of such an idea, then you might expect some push back.
Preparation Step: Homework
Here are our recommended homework tasks to complete before approaching executives to set up your first pitch:
- Read up on the topics. There is plenty of expert advice in the form of guides included within the Accessibility Switchboard project, and the resource books, webinars, and websites that the guides point to. If you’re new to accessibility, this is essential reading. If you’re an old hand at accessibility in a particular area, there will be new areas to consider when you are pitching organization-wide change. Reading around the topic gets you to try out other ‘swim lanes’. Thinking about it from the points of view of the recipients of change in other departments can be helped by expanding your reading list. After all, this is as much about change management as it is accessibility.
- Conduct a rough assessment of where you are now. Later on there will be a need to conduct a more thorough and formal assessment, but at this stage you can take some educated estimates of where the company is now. The company website says you have 20,000 employees. In your daily work experiences, how many people with disabilities do you encounter? If you have never witnessed deaf employees signing to each other over lunch in the cafeteria, or if to your knowledge guide dog sightings are rarer than alien sightings, then it is likely that the number of people with disabilities employed is pretty low. Similar quick assessments can be done on other aspects of your organization and the ICT that is used there. To make a start, lists of criteria that you can use on rough assessment of where you are now can be found in maturity assessment tools (see the Go In-Depth section at the end of this guide).
- Gauge peer support. Conduct a straw man proposal activity with your peers to bounce ideas around and assess whether you are likely to encounter resistance to those ideas. It will be important to address resistance concerns as part of your pitches. If you work in a place that has a silo type of office culture, this activity may not be possible or productive, but knowing that will also be a key factor in any proposal for introducing new ideas.
- Get the ‘through line’ of your story straight. Making a pitch isn’t making demands; it’s telling a story. Your story, the basis on which you or others have already generated your groundswell of interest, could stem from experiences you’ve had, conversations you’ve been in, presentations you’ve seen, books you’ve read, or all of these. Whatever your personal motivations for change, the key thing in any pitch presentation is to reduce things down to the key points that matter to decision makers (i.e., business motivators). This should be the ‘through line’ of your story. The story is a means to change people’s minds about their current practices, getting them to want to adopt your proposed practices.
- Tie your story to existing company mission and value statements. From previous company exercises, there will usually be a list of core statements that are intended to drive the overall direction and culture of the company. Does your story connect with those written statements? Is your story challenging how those statements are being (or not being) implemented? Will you be prepared if someone tries to deflect your efforts with an excuse such as “This has been addressed already. We have a policy in place. I remember that meeting when we decided the policy. Let’s not re‑hash that again.”
- Be prepared to make a good presentation. Making a good presentation of your story takes preparation. The time it takes to prepare can be thought of as inversely related to the length of time you’ll have to give it. When asked how long it took him to prepare his speeches, President Woodrow Wilson reportedly replied:
“That depends on the length of the speech. If it is a ten minute speech it takes me all of two weeks to prepare for it; if it is a half an hour speech it takes me a week; if I can talk as long as I want to it requires no preparation at all. I am ready now.”
TED Talks: The Official TED Guide to Public Speaking by Chris Anderson is a book written by the president and head curator of the Technology Entertainment Design (TED) series of conferences and online videos. The book covers various aspects of presentation and storytelling from your initial concept through to your ‘on-stage’ presence.
Step 1: First Pitch—Strategy
The goal for the first pitch meeting should be to define the intended strategy for the company. Strategy is not tactics. Strategy is not planning. Strategy is what drives the directions and subsequent decision making for people in the company. To put it another way, strategy is about what the desired future state is, while tactics and plans are about what to do in the present time to achieve those future goals.
An example of a strategy that might be defined following a successful exercise of getting the company website and intranet accessible, might be: “We will achieve integration of accessibility in all aspects of customer interaction and employee engagement.”
It is likely that the executives won’t have a broad understanding of the technology problems and available solutions that exist for people with disabilities. It is not their job to know. It’s easy for those in the accessibility field to get excited about the details of their profession. The details can be used as examples to tie together the bigger picture issues, but too much focus on details can divert attention from the strategic goals.
Executives need to be alerted to the fact that in any development involving customers or employees, some of those potential customers and employees will have disabilities, and that it follows that proactive steps will need to be made to address those needs. The main focus of the first pitch session should thus be to establish a committed strategy goal that addresses accessibility needs as a part of regular business as it moves forward.
The bottom line will likely be raised as question: “How much will this cost?” Without having an agreed upon strategy, how will you know in advance how much it will cost? The answer if a bottom line question is raised should be: (a) that any program should pay for itself, through improvements that are either tangible (affecting the balance sheet), or intangible (reducing risk, improving the company’s reputation); and (b) once the strategy is agreed, the cost question will be resolved through subsequent activities that form the basis of the next two meetings (see below). It would be foolhardy to spend time and company resources to go in to this meeting with cost estimates and plans in hand, before the executive level strategy has been established. In other words, the first question should be “what do we want to achieve?” and the follow up questions cover the “how?”.
Note: A common approach is to ask people whether they know anyone with a disability, and to ask how likely they think they are to acquire a disability in their lifetime. Making it personal carries weight, but one problem with this is that people are generally bad at rationalization and are notoriously bad at estimating risks (for more on this topic, read works by Dan Ariely). Again, the purpose of the story is to move from personal experience to collective experience and what makes sense for the company as a whole. If 20% of the population has a disability, it should follow that personal experiences are not as impactful as the collective, or societal experience. (For more on the 20% number, see our Q&A guide Why would I want to address accessibility in my organization?)
The two things that are needed from the first pitch meeting are:
- An agreed upon strategy; and
- Executive backing to proceed with tasks towards the next steps.
Note: Don’t worry if the strategy isn’t all you hoped for initially. Strategies are not set in stone, they can be modified and improved later on as you build on successful projects.
Step 2: Second Pitch—Maturity measures, and tactical options
In the preparatory step, above, you took some guesstimates of where the company is currently on accessibility across the various business components. In order to figure out what sort of tactics will achieve the strategic goals, it will be necessary to conduct a formal assessment of where your company is now. Without this understanding, you could set off on your journey without realizing that what you thought was the starting point is nowhere near what everyone else thinks is the starting point.
There are tools available that can guide you through making an organization-wide accessibility assessment (see the Go In-Depth section at the end of this guide). Such tools are used to provide indicative numbers on a scale. To get these numbers, you will have to do your research in the form of reaching out and interviewing people in your organization, some of whom will be hearing about your initiative for the first time. This is where the executive backing is important to have, because people at first may be suspicious, but if they learn that this is for the good of the company, and the good of their own jobs, then they are more likely to give you useful information.
Interviews are a means to get a representative sample of opinions from people in the various parts of the organization that affect accessibility (human resources, product development, product testing, website design and maintenance, facilities, marketing, customer support, etc.).
We would caution that in making an assessment of where the company is now, you refrain from discussing or intoning where you, personally, would like the company to be. That is a sure fire way to encounter resistance. Asking questions can be hard. In his book Humble Inquiry, Edgar Shein explains the pitfalls of (a) diagnostic inquiry—in which you are trying to solve their problems—because they are likely to push back thinking their problems are to be solved internally; and (b) confrontational inquiry—in which you are trying to insert your own ideas in the form of a question—because they are likely to see this as an underhand means of you achieving your own agenda. Instead, Shein offers the concept of (c) Humble Inquiry—where you maximize your curiosity and interest, and throw out any preconceived notions of how things actually get done—and simply ask people for their views on how things currently get done. By bringing humility into the maturity assessment process, you are more likely to get a more representative and more accurate picture of what is going on now (i.e., your starting point) which you can present to the executives.
Tactical options can then be considered with the executive supporters. Tactics are the means to achieve the strategic aims, given the share understanding of current practice. For example, to achieve the strategic goal of achieving integration of accessibility in all aspects of customer interaction and employee engagement, we might suggest the creation of a task force of individuals responsible for the various aspects of the business that have an impact on customer interaction and employee engagement. Tactics should be evaluated against various risks and rewards that are envisaged.
The two things that are needed from the second pitch meeting are:
- A shared understanding and assessment of where the company currently stands in terms of accessibility across the various aspects of the business; and
- A list of the tactics that will be targeted to achieve the strategic goals.
Note: Part of this pitch may be to refine the earlier established strategic goals, based on the results of the measures of organizational maturity that you obtained in this step.
Step 3: Third Pitch—Cost and time estimate planning
Now that you have your strategic goals and proposed tactics in place, the next step will be to respond to the question of costs and benefits, both tangible and intangible.
In all likelihood, if you are the initiator of the ideas to bring organization-wide change in accessibility, then you (or the executive in charge) will need to form an ad hoc group (e.g., subject matter experts, project managers, accountants) that can estimate, or help you estimate:
- Benefits to the organization (i.e., “What is the return on investment?”)
Representation on the group should follow from your results in Step 2 (human resources, product development, product testing, website design and maintenance, facilities, marketing, customer support, etc.), plus people from finances/accounting.
In terms of time to achieve goals, remember also that people like to under-commit and over deliver, so the time and cost estimates you may receive may seem way off your expectations. The plans to carry out the proposed tactics should be developed by or with each business unit for the benefit of each said business unit. (External plans made without the involvement of the affected stakeholders will be more likely to result in resistance to change.)
In order to act on the compelling reasons for change discussed in earlier pitch meetings, the key aim in this step is to get as much information as is practical in order to make a workable plan that will cause actual change. There may be a lot of negotiation that is out of your hands, but the outputs for the third pitch meeting to executives must be to get:
- An approved budget;
- An approved timeframe for implementation; and
- The green light to get started.
Note: Our Q&A article on whether accessibility has to be expensive can help in discussions of cost.
Post-Successful-Pitch Step: Keeping on track
“No strategy fails in the lofty atmosphere of formulation and flip charts tacked to the walls. It fails on the ground, in implementation, while people trample on it on their way to fight fires.”—Alan Weiss, Process Consulting, p.128
Someone needs to be responsible for keeping executives appraised of progress, or impediments to progress. Regular updates should assess how the strategy, tactics and plans are working, and if any adjustments to these are needed.
Remember that it is the executives who assign responsibility and accountability. If they are not doing this, then the problems lie in a lack of appropriate executive follow up of poor performance. In order to succeed, the responsibility and accountability need to be shared among the stakeholders in the business; not assigned to one person or one small group.
Supplemental guidance: overcoming resistance
Along the way, in creating a groundswell of interest or in the pitch discussions with executives, you may encounter resistance. It is best to go in expecting, and prepared to tackle resistance. Common examples to be aware of include:
- Freedom to make excuses. You may find yourself pitching accessibility to someone who has never previously had to deal with the idea of, or responsibility for, accessibility. To them it may sound like a socially responsible and meritous concept. Cognitive friction may ensue. It sounds like a good idea; and it’s something I have never practiced. As a result of cognitive friction, it can be easy to become defensive and then to invent excuses as to why they haven’t tried to include accessibility considerations before: “It will take too much time”, “It will cost too much money”, “There are not enough guide books”, “There are too many guide books”, et cetera. When someone has no prior experience to draw from, excuses are an invented fiction to lower their cognitive friction.
- Stonewalling and filibustering. It’s not just for politicians. “We need more time to assess”, “We need more studies before we can launch this”. Those who just simply enjoy the status quo can dig in their heels if someone lets them.
- Executives won’t assign responsibility and accountability. This situation leads to a culture where there is a freedom to make excuses and to be a stonewaller. The resolution to this problem must be to go back to the decisions made in the various pitch sessions, and establish why the situation exists. It may be necessary to revisit the fundamental question of Why would I want to address accessibility in my organization?
- Why make our systems accessible when we don’t have any people with disabilities to use them? This is like the chicken and the egg. Which came first? If your ICT isn’t accessible, how can you hire and retain employees with disabilities. If you don’t hire and retain people with disabilities, how can the rest of the employees be reminded that making ICT accessible is important?
There are two key things to remember when thinking about resistance. The first is that people aren’t really resistant to change, they’re resistant to ambiguity. It is easy to envisage the goal end-state. It is easy to assess the current beginning state. But, how can we get from the start to the finish? Without prior training and the provision of appropriate resources for any given challenge, people are naturally apprehensive. The second is that you always need to return to the ‘enlightened self interest’ of the individual. This is why responsibility and accountability are so important. When I don’t feel responsible, I’m less likely to make excuses as to why I shouldn’t come along on what I perceive to be someone else’s journey. When I know I will be judged on how accessible my area is on my annual performance review, you better believe I’m looking for solutions that I can implement.
Organizational Change and Accessibility, Overcoming the Resistance is a webinar by Chris Law, hosted by the International Association of Accessibility Professionals (IAAP). In the webinar, Chris gives practical examples and provides advice for overcoming resistance to organization-wide accessibility initiatives.
Policy Driven Adoption of Accessibility (PDAA) Vendor Self Assessment Tool. This self-assessment excel tool is a useful starter resource for scoring and tracking maturity levels across common organizational elements. PDAA is an initiative of the National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO).
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. Introducing organization-wide accessibility approaches: A guide to making a successful Pitch. January 2017, Version 1.0. National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute. Available: http://switchboard.nfb.org/
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