As developers, we often find ourselves at the forefront of ensuring our products are accessible to all users. However, accessibility should not be the sole responsibility of developers. In this blog post, we will explore the importance of making accessibility a collaborative effort across various teams and why it’s essential to integrate accessibility into your process from the start.
We just want you to know: you simply can’t do accessibility on your own. And you shouldn’t, and that’s okay. As a developer with an accessibility role, it’s often the case that you have the (implied) responsibility to make sure accessibility is accounted for. Of course, you can make sure your implementation is correct and follows WCAG best practices. But if the concept, design or content strategy do not take accessibility into account, there is only so much you can do: If the design of a component you received isn’t accessible, it will never lead to an accessible implementation. You can’t polish a turd.
It’s great if you, as a developer, are the driving force behind accessibility. Every initiative has to start somewhere, but at times, the task can seem overwhelmingly large. This is why it’s crucial to have the right support in place. A lack of support can cause some serious problems: fields that include helping others and advocacy are the highest likely to burn out. This is especially true when you feel your influence is limited or when you have to fight for a seat at the table. And on top of having to prove accessibility is important to the organization, you also must prove it to your coworkers.
Learn more on this topic by checking out the presentation The Accessibility To Burnout Pipeline (PDF, external link) by Shell Little.
So, it’s important to make accessibility a team effort. And moving accessibility up or left in the project cycle ensures that accessibility will be integrated and prioritized.
What does shift left mean for accessibility?
“Shifting left” focuses on starting with accessibility in mind from the very beginning of a project. Instead of waiting until the work is done and then focusing on accessibility, the goal is to integrate best practices and compliance in the early stages of design and development. This is why all teams should work together. It is also proven to be more cost-effective (external link) and it can help help promote an inclusive mindset and a culture of prioritizing accessibility across all teams.
How to shift left and integrate accessibility across teams
To make accessibility a priority, it’s essential to involve multiple teams:
- Designers play a pivotal role. By designing with accessibility in mind, they can create user interfaces that are inclusive.
- Project managers should prioritize accessibility as a feature and set clear goals for its implementation. They can also help allocate resources and track progress.
- Developers should incorporate accessibility testing into their processes.
- Content creators, including writers and marketers, should be educated on creating accessible content, such as using descriptive alt text for images and writing clear, concise text.
- Obtaining the support of leadership is crucial for creating a culture of accessibility. Executives should champion accessibility initiatives.
Shifting left at GRRR
Honestly, our process isn’t perfect yet. Rest assured, we are fully committed to making it work. Throughout our journey, we’ve implemented fundamental changes that have significantly contributed to our progress. While I’ll highlight a few, please note that there are others as well:
Incorporating accessibility in our component library or design system made our projects more inclusive. We’ve taken steps to ensure that every component is tested and adjusted accordingly. This not only streamlines the development process but also sets a solid foundation for accessible components.
Designer and developer collaborate in regular Design Reviews during projects. This proactive approach serves as a safeguard against accessibility issues, ensuring that only accessible work is presented to the client. These are often valuable and educational moments where different roles can learn a lot from each other.
Quick Scans during sprints
Instead of waiting until the end of all sprints, integrating so called WCAG quick scans into the ongoing development process ensures that accessibility issues are identified and addressed right away, minimizing the risk of cumulative errors. This proactive approach not only aligns with Agile principles of continuous improvement but also contributes to the creation of more inclusive work from the outset.
"Accessibility is not a check afterwards. We have made accessibility audits a part of our development sprints" Jelmer Boomsma, Founder
Shifting left can be hard
Getting this process rolling can be challenging, especially when you’re not getting the high-fives you expected. Here are some tips to kickstart things:
Link it to your company values: Show how accessibility aligns with your organization’s bigger goals and values. Being more inclusive and boosting your company’s rep? Who can say no to that?
Create awareness: Collect user feedback and stories from people with disabilities. Real talk, these personal stories are super convincing and prove how important accessibility is.
Team up with allies: You don’t have to be a lone wolf. Identify coworkers who are supportive of accessibility and willing to advocate alongside you. Working together with like-minded individuals can be more effective in promoting change. And it offers much needed support.
Bringing in the pros: Sometimes, it’s wise to get accessibility experts or consultants on board. Their expertise can carry more weight in persuading others, and this might just do the trick.
Legal talk: If all else fails, bring up the legal side of accessibility. This is especially important if your work needs to comply with strict accessibility laws. Non-compliance can lead to legal risks.
Baby steps: Kick things off with small, manageable projects. Small successes can serve as examples and motivate others to embrace accessibility.
Let’s be real
Let’s face it, while it may all sound simple, there are plenty of challenges to overcome. Resistance to change can often emerge as a big barrier to accessibility efforts. If the organizational culture doesn’t embrace accessibility, it can be difficult for a single person to achieve meaningful change.
To protect your well-being, choosing your battles wisely can be immensely beneficial. Sometimes, striving for a perfect 100% score may not be realistic. Embracing the value of compromise can lead to pragmatic solutions and positive outcomes. Moreover, every situation can serve as a valuable learning experience; it’s essential to continually reflect on what can be learned from past mistakes.
But if you’re giving it your all and still hitting a brick wall, it’s crucial to take care of yourself. Reach out to a colleague or supervisor within your company to discuss these challenges.
Accessibility is not just a developer’s responsibility; it’s a collective effort that involves the entire team. It’s about working together, from designers and developers to project managers and content creators, to weave accessibility into the fabric of our projects.
Shifting left, as we’ve seen at GRRR, is about integrating accessibility from the very beginning of a project, and it’s proven to be a step in the right direction. It’s about identifying potential pitfalls early, ensuring that accessibility is not an afterthought but a core principle. Through a shared commitment to accessibility, we can build a digital world that welcomes and serves all users, one step at a time.
- A smooth user experience for everyone (external link)
- The Accessibility To Burnout Pipeline by Shell Little (external link)
- Accessibility roles and hiring survey 2022 basic data (external link)
- Accessibility vs. Visual Design – Why can’t we all just get along? (external link)