Accessibility can be seen in two ways. A set of rules and guidelines which say ‘Thou shall do x and thou shan’t do y’ or a way where we consider the needs and situations of the people who will be using our products and develop our products to ensure that we don’t disable them.
By focusing on guidelines, standards and processes you build compliant products, but if you focus on people and fostering a culture of inclusion, you recognise that standards and guidelines are merely the start line and not the finish line. My taking this approach you recognise that accessibility isn’t about legal compliance, it’s about creating a brilliant experience for everyone.
The culture of our organisations is what drives us to choose one or other of these ways of viewing accessibility and if we want to move between these different views we need to change the culture of accessibility away from a compliance box ticking chore to an inclusive, open minded mindset focused on creating excellent experiences.
Sounds easy right? Of course, it’s not that simple. Culture is what helps people in organisations make decision about the best course of action to take. It’s the way we say and do things and as a result can be a difficult thing to change as it’s both hardwired into people in the organisation but also not generally something that’s written down – a lot of the time it’s the things we don’t communicate.
This matters for accessibility because if it’s the culture of an organisation to not include or prioritise accessibility or to just ‘do things the way they’ve always been done’, then we’re never going to progress and improve accessibility and the inclusion of everyone.
So, how do you start to change the culture? In all honest, it’s much like any type of change management. You need to focus on three areas: Hearts, Minds and Hands. In other words, you need to pull the heart strings, engage the rational brain and give the hands something to do.
Over the last two years we’ve been following this approach to pivot Barclays away from seeing accessibility as a ‘have to’ to seeing as a ‘want to’. This fundamental shift moves us from a compliance driven approach to one where we see accessibility as integral to our customer experience.
As a broad overview, here’s what we’ve done in each of the three areas:
- The heart – the heart is all about the emotional buy in that you need to get before the rational brain kicks in. It’s the bit inside us all that says ‘this is just the right thing to do’. Essentially it’s about building empathy. For us this included an element of storytelling- showing our colleagues how customers have been disabled by things we’ve done as well as helping them to understand the wider elements of accessibility and how it’s more than just people with permanent impairments.
- The head – this is the rational bit. It’s very rare that you’ll get full support or buy in with just the emotional elements of accessibility – because doing this right takes time and money and then you need the rational drivers to support the argument. Here we worked hard to identify new statistics on the size of the market and the scale of the possible. For example, we asked managers if they knew that there are 12.8 million people in the UK with a disability. That’s like the population of London, Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds, Bristol, Cardiff, Sheffield and Glasgow combined. We wouldn’t ignore all of these customers in any other context and cold, hard facts like this feed the rational brain.
- The hands – there’s very little point in creating engagement and buy in with people in your organisation if you can’t then get them to do anything. The hands area looks to articulate the ‘ok…what now’ element of culture change. For us we focused on four areas – Tooling, Controls, Learning and Components with each one serving a distinct purpose.
What’s great about this approach is that when it starts working you’ll see it and hear it. You’ll see the focus change and the mindsets of leaders and individuals alike change because we’re no longer talking about another compliance thing we’re talking about enabling people, about creating amazing experiences that work for everyone and, fundamentally, creating sustainable commercial results because we know that when customers have great experiences they become more loyal.
Working in accessibility can be tough. It sometime feels like a daily battle to be heard. From my own experience I can honestly say that this approach and our focus on culture change makes my job more interesting and enjoyable. It breeds creatively and forces accessibility professionals to rethink our dialog and our approach.
Culture change isn’t easy but it’s really worth it and you’ll reap the benefits.