Embedding accessibility into the complexities of your organization’s procurement is made easier with a culture of accessibility.
A culture of accessibility helps ensure that the next software update does not break accessibility and that the next new purchase works for all employees. It sets the expectation for both purchasers and vendors that accessibility is a baked in (not bolted on) aspect of technology and not an optional feature.
A shift to a culture of accessibility can make sure that money already spent does not need to be spent again (or spent on lawyers) because accurate accessibility information was not asked for, received, or validated as part of the procurement process.
A long lasting, cost-effective accessible procurement program demands a cultural shift. A change in mindset so that everyone in the organization knows “this is how we do business around here. We do everything we can to have an inclusive workforce, and that means we do everything we can to ensure that our technology is accessible.” A change in mindset means accessibility is not a bargaining chip in conversations with vendors, but an inherent aspect of everything purchased to the greatest extent possible.
In the not so distant past, the technology world went through a similar systems change when businesses in every sector came to deeply understand the importance of cybersecurity. Security became a non-negotiable must-have quality of every piece of technology, every workflow, every process and policy.
Organizations baked security protocols into their systems in different ways, all with the same goal: that no technology be procured or deployed without ensuring in every way possible that data will be and remain secure.
A similar effort is needed to ensure that technology used in today’s workforce can be used by everyone in it. In fact, accessibility is closely tied to security. When a disabled employee cannot independently interact with technology and has to ask for help – particularly where financial, health, and personal information is involved – security is compromised. And as with security breaches, accessibility barriers potentially expose organizations to legal and reputational risk.
Just as every team member is expected to know not to disclose private data, so too must everyone in the organization understand that accessibility matters. To do this, there needs to be an awareness that not everyone in a diverse workplace or applicant pool can see a screen, hear audio, or hold a mouse. That not everyone reads the same way, processes information the same way, or can do things quite as quickly, in quite the same order, as others might expect.
Building a culture of accessibility is not an easy task. It may be among the biggest change management projects your organization undertakes. And it won’t happen overnight. There are many ways to build the roadmap that will lead your organization to an accessibility culture, many places to start, and many roles that can contribute.
This portion of the Accessible Technology Procurement Toolkit offers these suggested actions that can help build and grow a culture of accessibility to support your accessible procurement program:
- Educate and communicate across roles and teams.
- Give employees learnings they need.
- Support champions and become part of the local and global accessibility communities.
Educate and Communicate across Roles and Teams
- Bring the Right People together
- Aspects of accessibility typically live in many different parts of an organization. Does everyone know each other? Are your IT accessibility specialists aware of ERGs and the role they can play in accessible procurement? Are Accessibility SMEs part of the ERG? Does the ERG know how the Accessibility SMEs can assist with usability and accessibility barriers?
- Consider how the following parts of your organization can interact to advance accessible workplace tool procurement goals: Diversity and inclusion HR, IT, Procurement/Supplier Diversity, Community Relations, Recruiting, Talent Acquisition, Benefits, Accessibility, Government Relations, Communications, Legal/compliance, Marketing, ERG chair, ERG executive sponsor.
- Monthly or quarterly meetings of representatives of all parts of the organizations that touch disability inclusion and digital accessibility is a best practice that can both aid accessible procurement efforts and minimize risk and reputation damage caused by the lack of access.
- Ask yourself: Who needs to be connected and what channels do we have to get these groups talking with each other?
- Use all available communication tools and channels.
- What tools does your organization have to get the accessibility message generally, and the accessible procurement message specifically, out to everyone? Webinars, trainings, libraries, informal and formal meetings, conferences and summits may all be places to talk about your organization’s accessibility program and commitment to purchase accessible workplace tools.
- How can your organization best communicate the basics of accessible technology? Some organizations create Digital Inclusion Empathy Labs to share the message of digital accessibility in an interactive way. An empathy lab might allow visitors to try assistive technologies such as a screen reader used by blind employees or voice input software used by people who cannot hold a mouse or type on a keyboard. The lab might offer opportunities to learn about built-in accessibility features of every day technologies like the iPhone, Android, Amazon Alexa, or Microsoft PowerPoint. While these environments can help share the message of accessibility, care must be taken to avoid simplifying both disability and accessibility. Align accessibility with other high priority initiatives within the organization. For example, if an employee experience panel is being convened to introduce new technology, include information about accessibility features into the existing conversation and include an employee with disabilities on the panel. An empathy lab should not attempt to simulate what it’s like to have a particular disability. Think of it more as a tool lending library providing people with an opportunity to interact with assistive technology they would not otherwise be familiar with. It is critical to include disability talent in the formulation of this type of project. Employees with disabilities will ideally staff the empathy lab and be able to share experiences with the tools presented.
Read an article about the UK government’s accessibility empathy lab.(External link)
Give Employees Learnings They Need
- Determine who in your organization needs to be educated to ensure the success of your accessible procurement program. What do they know now about disability, diversity, and accessibility and what do they need to know as a contributor to your organization’s accessibility program?
- Don’t be afraid to start with basics: What is digital accessibility? Why does it matter to your organization? Why is accessible procurement key to a diverse workforce? Merck used it’s “Tech Talk” initiative to begin a conversation about the basics for those who needed it:
“This session will introduce the term “Accessibility” and how Technology is helping us to enable Accessibility. Digital Accessibility refers to the ability of a website, mobile application or document to be easily navigated and understood by a wide range of users, including those users who have visual, auditory, motor or cognitive disabilities. We will also discuss various steps are being taken at Merck and MSD for Digital Accessibility enablement.”
- Establish teaching goals to support accessible procurement. Common goals may include
- increasing awareness of ongoing accessibility projects and commitments
- understanding the scope of third-party technology in accessible procurement efforts.
- understanding policies impacting accessibility, diversity and inclusion.
- sharing technical information.
- identifying role-based involvement.
- providing opportunities to ask questions and provide feedback about how employees with disabilities use and interact with technology.
- Build culture by providing opportunities for people with disabilities in your organization to share their stories. Your employee resource group can add richness to your program. Stories about disabled employees and the technology they use every day drive home the value of accessible procurement.
- In addition to stories from your own workforce, consider the resources offered by the Web Accessibility Initiative in Section 5 of this Accessible Technology Procurement Toolkit.
- Leverage accessibility efforts already underway. Whatever steps your organization has taken, turn those steps into teaching opportunities. Share your accessible procurement policy and explain the roles needed to make it successful. If you are undertaking an inventory of your technology, let employees know why.
- Find your “Microsoft Box”: When Microsoft built a fully accessible adaptive controller so people with disabilities could enjoy video games, the company was faced with the question: How will its new customers open the box that contains the new controller? This led to the development of an innovative box design that could be easily opened by people with limited mobility.
You can read the full story in this Wired Magazine article. Your organization too might have its “Microsoft Box” – an accessibility initiative (large or small) that can be leveraged to grow your next initiative and your culture of accessibility.
Support Champions and Become Part of the Local and Global Accessibility Community
- Identify and recognize accessibility champions / subject matter experts.
- Develop accessibility allies across the organization and among senior leaders.
- Identify key leadership and get executive buy-in. Who in your organization makes change or manages change? Who can offer help with communications, reinforcement, executive buy- in around the culture shift you are seeking?
- Grow champions by becoming part of the accessibility community – both locally and globally. Many cities have accessibility and inclusive design MeetUps, and there are conferences throughout the year where people in various roles can deepen their accessibility expertise. Find ways to tap in through accessibility
conferences and local MeetUp groups focusing on accessibility(External link), inclusive design, user experience and other similar topics.
- Build relationships with the local disability community. Relationships with local disability organizations can be a valuable aspect of growing a culture that supports robust accessible procurement. Local organizations can help find people with disabilities for user experience testing, or simply offer opportunities for connection. We recommend leveraging local Disability:IN Affiliates(External link).
- Celebrate Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD). Since 2011, the third Thursday in May has been celebrated as Global Accessibility Awareness Day around the globe. Growing each year, the day offers an opportunity for your organization to focus on aspects of its accessibility program to motivate your teams (and your suppliers), advance your brand, and leverage efforts within your organization. Learn more about Global Accessibility Awareness Day(External link).
Know that you are not doing this alone. Over the last several years, organizations have begun to step forward to share their journey in building a culture of accessibility.
- Here are links to articles about building and sustaining this culture(External link) by global corporate leaders and others.
- You can read about the scope of Accenture’s commitment to a culture of accessibility in:
“Amplifying Accenture People, How Accenture is Enabling Technology Accessibility in the Workplace.(External link)”
- One of several articles written by Microsoft employees about the organization’s accessibility culture shift is “Doubling down on accessibility: Microsoft’s next steps to expand accessibility in technology, the workforce and workplace.”
Sharing these resources and others with your teams can help make everyone feel they are part of a global momentum to create an accessible digital environment for all employees. And when you are ready, write your own story. Accessibility is a brand differentiator, an internal motivator, and a spark for innovation. Writing about your journey can itself be part of the roadmap of getting to the finish line.
Make Vendor Relations Part of Your Accessibility Culture
The culture shift you seek in your organization must embrace your suppliers. How can you plug suppliers into activities designed to create an accessible culture? How can you get vendors in the same room with your organization’s disability talent so accessibility is no longer just a legal mandate or an abstraction but something that impacts people and workplace opportunities?
Social events, lunch and learns, co-authoring a blog post, sharing a podium to talk about accessibility efforts are all possibilities for building vendor relationships based on a shared understanding that technology needs to work for everyone.
General communications with vendors can underscore your organization’s commitment. Charter Communications has created a Vendor Accessibility Letter to encourage partnership and collaboration and is shared externally with vendors to show the organization’s commitment to accessibility while contract language is being modified or added to contracts.
Including disability-owned businesses in your supplier diversity program can support your organization’s vendor accessibility efforts. Make sure teams involved in supplier diversity are part of building accessibility culture. Disability-owned suppliers may be able to offer expertise and resources throughout the procurement process. Learn more about Disability:IN’s Supplier Diversity program(External link).