This is the third post in a series of posts on Selling Accessibility. If you haven’t already, head on over to Selling Accessibility – An Introduction to get caught up.
As I mentioned in my previous post in this series, Positive Factors are those things that have been found to have a positive influence in moving toward successfully including accessibility in the way an organization operates. Internal positive factors are those things that are within in your control. While some of these may require certain amounts of political capital on your part and also cooperation from others, it’ll be up to you to navigate those areas to exert your influence to make things happen. The internal positive factors are:
- Effective Communication
- Collaboration & Integration
“Make yourself so valuable in your work that eventually you will become indispensable.”
Og Mandino, “The Greatest Salesman in the World”
The very first thing John Foliot said to me when I was interviewing him for this was “Be a Mensch”. This was particularly funny to me because I had just finished reading Guy Kawasaki’s book, “Enchantment”, in which he says the same thing. The word mensch means, literally “man”, but in this connotation what they mean is that you should be someone others can rely on. Being a mensch means having dignity, character, and doing what is right. I believe that most people know what is right and wrong and the primary trait that makes one a mensch is whether or not they choose, always, to do what is right. If people know you’re the kind of person who does the right thing, is reliable, and has dignity, they will trust you in guiding them when they need it.
On a practical and strategic basis, you must also work to build relationships with everyone in your organization who has some role to play in the end result of your product. In the previous post, Selling Accessibility – Positive Factors (External), I mentioned the need to secure executive sponsorship and this must be treated with high priority, but as John Foliot and Rob Yonaitis both mentioned, there are a lot of non-executives who actually have a direct impact on the accessibility of the ICT products & services your organization buys/ builds and they must be on your side as well.
Developing relationships with others isn’t always easy. If you’re like most people, you’re often already busy with other things that have higher priority in the short term. Or, you may be introverted or unsure of your ability to connect with others. Whatever the case is, you’ll have to figure out how to create and foster these relationships anyway. Ultimately, it will often be others who actually make things accessible, so it is up to you to get them on your side. Creating relationships isn’t as difficult as people often think. People appreciate connections. I’m of the opinion that there’s always some shared interest that you can focus on to create a real, lasting connection. Find that shared interest and use it as an ice breaker to form a more solid bond. That bond will assist you in getting that person’s assistance in advancing your cause later.
One trait I think often eludes people in general is their ability to communicate effectively with others. Universally, during the interviews I conducted, effective communication was critical in advancing their cause internally. One of the most important communication approaches is to consider the audience and to speak to them on terms that reflects their perspective. If there ever was a theme to my blog, it would be this: That everyone has their own specific mandate and that we should communicate the accessibility message in words that demonstrate accessibility’s role in helping each person fulfill their own mandate. The “altruism” aspects of accessibility has less real impact than a realistic and clear discussion of things that are concrete and immediate for the audience. As Elle Waters said during our interview, in a corporate environment, everyone has a set of goals used to measure their success. For instance, a web marketing person is measured based upon things like conversions, not their level of accessibility. Therefore the accessibility of their marketing is not something that resonates to them unless you can discuss possible ways that you can help them increase conversions (i.e. organic visits from better on page SEO factors). Presenting the wrong argument to the wrong person can be counter-productive enough to derail your efforts significantly. Effectively crafting your message to the audience can have immediate impact.
Beyond what is communicated is how you communicate your message. Communication tone is something I’ve personally struggled with and have often seen the negative impact of my poor choices in tone. Going back to John Foliot’s frequent use of the fireman analogy, we should keep in mind that our conversations cannot focus on why people are wrong but how they can improve and still meet their goals. Such a subtle shift in communication style and tone may seem silly but can mean the difference between cooperation and rejection. One strong advocate for this style was Cher Travis-Ellis, former Web Accessibility Coordinator at CSUF who frequently made it a point to give out praise to those making any effort at improving accessibility. “Everybody likes to be told when they’ve done a good job”, and this can certainly mean you’re the fireman and not the cop, as John would say.
“Pragmatism” is actually a pretty complex topic, hotly debated among philosophers. What we’re actually talking about is better termed practicalism which is “an action taken or a policy made after detailed analysis and consideration – taking into account all the consequences and repercussions of such action(s) rather than theory, dogmas or creed – ensures successful results”. In short, we must understand that the “ideal” is different than reality and we must understand the organization has concerns other than accessibility. I believe that most people understand this inherently but this understanding temporarily disappears when we’re faced with resistance to our cause.
Typically, complete resistance to accessibility is rare, at least within large organizations. What usually happens is that the concept of accessibility is at least agreeable in most people’s minds but the actual implementation of accessibility is what tends to suffer. Though it may not be ideal, it is important to understand that full compliance with all accessibility best practices can be very difficult, time consuming, and expensive. Furthermore, the actual return on those efforts may be difficult or impossible to achieve. This may mean that some accessibility issues be deferred to a later time or not addressed at all. Your job, as an accessibility advocate, is to accept this reality and take a pragmatic approach to accessibility.
What matters most is that the organization mitigate as much risk as possible and eliminate as many accessibility roadblocks as possible while also ensuring that its projects are on-time and within-budget. This means properly prioritizing your efforts to focus on easy, high-impact wins. While we may not be able to achieve perfection, we can make a large positive impact for users by focusing our efforts in a pragmatic way.
As many people know of me as a trainer, it is probably no surprise that I consider training an important factor in getting people to understand and buy-in to accessibility. Fundamentally, why people “get it wrong” is that they don’t know what’s right. They don’t know much about accessibility in general, and don’t understand how to make things accessible or how to manage accessibility efforts. I happen to feel that once people are trained – even on the fundamentals of the need for accessibility – you’ll begin to see attitudes shift towards it. The people I interviewed for this series had a lot of great ideas about doing training in a large organization. Two ideas that stuck out to me were to keep it painless, and make it integrated.
While at Sunlife Financial, Robert Pearson trained 700 people in 5 years. Over that time he learned a lot about ways to make the training more effective. Among the lessons learned: marathon-style training where people spend all day (or multiple days) in a training room are often disruptive to work. For instance, locking 25 developers and content staff in a room all day is 200 lost man-hours each day. In my own experience, this can cause problems getting people to show up to the training. Clients would often invite large numbers of people to attend training and only a fraction of the invitees actually show up. Robert’s approach was to host lunch-and-learn sessions, which increases attendance, avoids work disruption, keeps the training easily digestible and has the side effect of keeping accessibility top-of-mind.
Training was also very important to Cher Travis-Ellis, who focused on delivering training in a format which makes the training easily digestible, primarily through the use of video training. Another of Cher’s approaches that I found very interesting was her focus on integrating accessibility topics in all training. For instance in a training event on PDF, the training content included training on making those PDF documents accessible. The usefulness of this cannot be overstated. In the higher-ed space, software training is a frequent need. People can avoid taking a specific accessibility training, but if it is integrated into the “normal” training, it is unavoidable.
Collaboration and Integration
Possibly most important in terms of gaining adoption of accessibility across an organization is to become as integrated into the various relevant parts of the organization as you can. Collaboration, cooperation, and integration are key to success in others’ willingness to take on accessibility. “As long as we continue to present accessibility as something separate from everything else, the longer it will remain so”, said John Foliot during his interview. John’s approach while at Stanford was to get involved in special interest groups within Stanford to help bring awareness to accessibility. Over time, John became part of the developer community as a whole. During this process, John was cautious not to focus too hard on accessibility all the time but rather to be available as a resource when needed. When you’re integrated into the community, you can maintain a top-of-mind awareness to accessibility without being a hard sell for it. Because you’re there and because they know you’re
Next up: The Dark Side of Selling Accessibility
After addressing the negative and positive factors, it is time to reach into the bag of persuasive techniques to gain compliance. I hope to combine the dark arts of the 48 Laws of Power with the more ethical-yet-assertive approaches of Zig Ziglar and Joe Girard to discuss techniques and approaches to convince others of the importance of accessibility.