Strategies for including accessibility in the product development cycle
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Strategies for including accessibility in the product development cycle



Reflecting on 25 years of promoting accessibility inside of industry, Darren Kall shares successful strategies and tactics that he has employed at a variety of companies to get accessibility to be ...

Reflecting on 25 years of promoting accessibility inside of industry, Darren Kall shares successful strategies and tactics that he has employed at a variety of companies to get accessibility to be part of the end-to-end product development process. This talk was an invited keynote presentation to the Learning with Disabilities Ph.D. program's winter conference workshop at Wright State University. This topic is part of Darren's book proposal on a similar topic.



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  • No one strategy works to convince every corporation at every time Every corporation’s culture is different Corporations change all the time Cycle through strategies while learning the situation Use multiple strategies together

Strategies for including accessibility in the product development cycle Strategies for including accessibility in the product development cycle Presentation Transcript

  • Strategies for getting accessibility in the user experience product development cycle Darren Kall Keynote address Wright State University Learning with Disabilities Winter Workshop 3-4 December 2009
  • Early Accessibility Involvement
    • Born into a family with deaf family member
    • In the deaf community I learned my favorite childhood joke riddle:
  • A Deaf Couple on a Road Trip
    • A deaf couple was traveling on a long road trip. Because of delays they were unexpectedly looking for a hotel late at night. They’d been to 4 hotels so far and all were completely booked. Finally at 1:30 a.m. they found a hotel with one room left open. They paid for the room and flopped into bed. An hour later the wife woke up suddenly remembering she’s forgotten her purse in the car. She didn’t want to wake up her husband. She stumbled out the door rubbing sleep from her eyes and wove her way to the car. She retrieved the purse and turned around, saw the huge hotel, only to realize she was too tired to remember what room they were staying in. What did she do?
  • Clever Strategy
    • She leaned on the car horn until all the room lights came on – except one – then she knew which room her husband was in.
  • Lesson Learned
    • People with disabilities have to be strategists to “fix” the world to meet their needs.
    • My deaf family member taught me:
      • The world was not designed for him
      • But, if you were clever, it was possible to create something to make it work for you
  • Personal History My new, unnamed, user experience company.
  • How to Make Change:
    • Understand the situation
    • (Which you already know from your interest in accessibility.)
    • Have the skills to make change
    • (Which you are learning as part of this program.)
    • Choose the strategy and tactics that will allow you to use these skills
    • (The focus of my talk today.)
    • Never give up
    • (Perseverance is up to you.)
  • Accessibility Champions Needed
    • Most corporations don’t naturally invest in designing accessible products.
    • They need someone to champion convincing them they should.
    • That champion is you.
  • What Success Looks Like
    • Getting accessibility into the product development process.
    • Partner with the end-to-end user experience since it is usually already part product development cycle.
      • User and customer research, product concept phase, funding, prioritization, design, building, launching, marketing, sales, installation, evaluation of success, customer support etc.
  • No Single Strategy Works with All Companies
    • One size does not fit all.
    • You have to pick a strategy and tactic to try but if it fails, try another.
    • You may have to combine them.
  • Go to the Top
    • Approach the highest person in the organization that you have access too. CEO, Division leader, SVP, VP, President etc.
    • Aim for the person who has the decision making authority to allow you to design for accessibility.
    • Then aim for the person who has the decision making authority to push funding and a requirement of accessibility to others.
    • Ask them for an edict pushing accessibility throughout the organization.
    • Ask them to measure and hold their organization accountable.
    • It is very powerful to say; “Because the CEO said so.”
  • Logical Argument
    • Approach the decision makers who have the power to include accessibility.
    • Present your argument with facts.
    • Have your arguments solid.
    • Have data to back up your arguments.
    • Don’t be upset – the logical argument rarely works on its own without the use of other, and more emotional, strategies.
    • It is key to make argument at a time when the decision maker has time to respond with meaningful action. If you do not get a positive outcome then wait until the next opportunity.
    • The appeal here is; “Accessibility just makes sense.”
  • You Can Make Money from the Disabled Customer
    • Make an argument for financial success in increasing revenue.
    • Show that the company is currently not taking advantage of this segment.
    • This is usually easy to support with data and a very valuable argument.
    • Prove that accessibility will bring new customers, cause existing customers to spend more money, or that being a company that cares will impress able-bodied customers.
    • Research your competitors and estimate how much they are making from accessible products.
    • Have an estimate of the number of present customers with disabilities.
      • Have a potential market estimate.
    • Approach the person responsible for the product P&L, the business side of the company, product leaders, and anyone who’s main focus is revenue and profit.
    • Your lead in is; “People with disabilities are an untapped market.”
  • You Can Lose Money if You Don’t Do This
    • Appeal to the risks of losing money through missed opportunity, competitors grabbing market, or losing customers who switch.
    • Fear of loss: More people will act to avoid loss than then will act to obtain a potential gain.
    • Have data on competitor accessibility success. Compare government contracts. Compare your competitors’ number of customers with disabilities to your number.
    • If your company sells to the U.S. Government express that the government bureau is required to buy the more accessible product among competitors.
    • Stir attention with: “If we don’t want these customers, our competitor will.”
  • Stand Back: I’m a Superhero
    • Help the corporation out with an accessibility issue. Avoid a lawsuit. Help land a contract with the government. Form the response to the press with an incident.
    • Position yourself as the company expert on accessibility issues. Make sure that people in all disciplines know you can be called on to help out.
    • Offer to save them from compliance checklists, from lawsuits, from embarrassing PR.
    • If you see a crisis internally or externally, this could be your opportunity to volunteer.
    • You become the hero with; “I can help you out of this.”
  • Make it Easy for Them to Agree
    • Take on all the heavy lifting.
    • Make it easy for others to agree to accessibility, to build it, to sell it, etc.
    • Find obstacles and eliminate them.
    • This is not easy and takes lots of work over a long time.
    • You should develop guidelines for developers, processes for product managers, checklists, evaluation criteria and test suites, catalog repeatable solutions, ensure solution portability for reusable code, write objectives for products, and policies for companies.
    • Make your services free so individual products don’t have to budget for it.
    • Other people are too busy to become experts in your area.
    • You must be the expert and give them what they need rather than trying to educate them into experts.
    • People will do anything that looks like big gains with low effort but they need to see this clearly.
    • Open the door with; “Let me show you how easy it is.”
  • Cost Saving Appeal
    • Pitch the inherent cost savings associated with creating accessible products.
    • Pitch the coding efficiency, the reuse, the benefit to other markets, the reduction in customer complaints, etc. Use the curb cut analogy.
    • Most companies have a focus on cost savings. Find out who runs that and work with them to find the areas of attention at this moment and see how accessibility can help them save costs.
    • Gather data showing customer complaints about accessibility. Don’t be surprised if customer support does not have a category for accessibility. You may have to reanalyze the data and create a new category for them.
    • Evaluate where changes to mass-market products will make them more accessible without having to create anything special for people with disabilities.
    • Show how these mass-market changes will also improve by aligning with the big user experience problems of the general population of users – solve both for cost of one.
    • Most will be surprised that; “Being accessible saves money.”
  • Standards Appeal
    • Show that competitive products are standards compliant.
    • Show that compliance is becoming table stakes for sales to the U.S. government and in other countries.
    • Show that standards and guidelines exist so your team does not need to invent solutions thus saving development costs.
    • Use existing standards. What ever your field is, seek out standards and see which will benefit customers with disabilities.
    • Set standards and guidelines as requirements in the product development process.
    • Teach the standards/guidelines to developers and testers.
    • Show that compliance will also increase interoperability should your product need to work with other products.
    • Explain that standards compliance claims are good for your public policy and corporate PR.
    • Contribute to standards. If your company solves an accessibility issue with a unique solution, make it a contribution to the standards bodies. This will impress customers and the rest of your corporate community.
    • Chances are you will be able to say; “There’s a standard for that.”
  • Help from Friends
    • Build friendships with anyone from any department in your company who is a fan of accessibility.
    • Find architects, engineers, mailroom people, business people, legal people, PR people, assembly workers, etc. who are positive and passionate about accessibility.
    • Bond them together and funnel them to advance accessibility projects.
    • Encourage them and involve them in your accessibility projects. Ask for opinions and ask them to recommend accessibility to others.
    • Build a contact list of all your accessibility supporters and call on them.
    • Many doors open with; “I need your help.”
  • Guerilla Accessibility
    • Start a team of employees with disabilities to evaluate where the company products are inaccessible.
    • Because the employees know the company culture they know what is important to the company, who to approach, and what arguments will have the most meaning.
    • Because the employees live with their disabilities they can bridge the gap between the customer and the business by using the internal language of the company.
    • Many of the employees will be technical and can contribute to proposing solutions.
    • Though they cannot replace the insight of true customers with disabilities, they can make internal peers aware of accessibility difficulties.
    • You will find that employees with disabilities are very willing to volunteer time to improve the company products for people with their disabilities.
    • If you make the advice free, product team leaders will welcome it.
    • Truly; “We’ve got experts in the company.”
  • Fear of Bad PR
    • The single worst aspect of being inaccessible isn’t the loss of potential revenue, it isn’t a lawsuit; it is the bad PR associated with the disabled community singling you out for boycotts, lawsuits and praising your competitors.
    • The loss of revenue, trust, and customers follows bad PR.
    • This is the most powerful argument across the executive level of a company.
    • Show from examples in the press of when disability organizations get behind a lawsuit or a complaint and demonstrate the negative semantic impact on the company.
    • Use examples in the media which make the company leaders look like they make bad decisions or worse that they were heartless.
    • Show how companies that respond quickly or anticipate look like heroes.
    • One of the best ways to avoid bad PR and gain insights into what a company should be doing is to establish an advisory board of members of disability organizations. They can also provide a backchannel for complaints to resolve before they become public lawsuits and boycotts.
    • Watch the media for current disability related attacks on other companies.
    • Make sure people understand; “You can’t buy good PR with accessibility but you sure can avoid bad PR.”
  • Charity
    • Appeal to the corporate responsibility team to do the right thing for people with disabilities.
    • This is a great place to start an argument for accessibility but it is not a sustainable strategy within most companies and it does not go far enough.
    • Be ready since charity is also the first weapon of people to dismiss accessibility efforts. “That’s about charity and we can’t afford it now.” Be ready with alternative arguments.
    • While corporate responsibility teams may have little to do with product development, they will have influence on it.
    • Few would argue against; “It’s the right thing to do.”
  • Shame
    • Show leaders how foolish or heartless the company will look if inaccessible products are exposed in the public.
    • Show them examples of past companies that have been publicly embarrassed by their inaccessible products.
    • Call out the company’s inaccessible products in detail at internal meetings.
    • Have fixes or the path to fixes on hand so these products can easily accept the way to redeem their products.
    • Call for support from evangelists inside the company who were the victims of accessibility embarrassment in the past.
    • Show how inaccessible products are easily fixed which will make not doing it from the beginning look silly.
    • Remember; “No one wants to look stupid or heartless.”
  • Ego Appeal
    • Motivate the people who create or design products by giving them a tough problem to solve.
    • Appeal to their skills and show them that you have confidence in their ability to actually make accessible products.
    • Show them that as hard as delivering the new product will be, it will be more challenging for them to make that product work for people with disabilities.
    • You are challenging the smartest people in your company to be smarter.
    • Throw down the challenge; “If you think that is hard, try designing an accessible product.”
  • Advisory Board
    • Leverage the disabled community by forming a corporate advisory board made up of leaders of the disabled community.
    • Use established advisory boards or set one up your self.
    • Chances are if your company is customer-centric you already have advisory boards but the members may not be from accessibility organizations. However ask the members if any of them have disabilities.
    • Ideally you should have an advisory board just made up of local or national leaders of disability organizations.
    • Approach them for advice on how to include accessibility into the product cycle, what to do about inaccessible products, etc.
    • Do this with the business leaders and executives in the room. It has a powerful impact and lends outsider credibility to your message.
    • Support the board often with; “We need to ask the experts.”
  • Legal Appeal
    • Make an appeal based on avoiding lawsuits or meeting legal compliance.
    • Match this strategy with financial argument for the avoidance of financial loss or threat of loss of contracts from customers, and the powerful avoidance of bad PR.
    • A company that sells to the U.S. government should pay special attention to this argument because of Section 508.
    • A company that has been sued in the past for other reasons will be more likely to listen and act on your appeal.
    • A company that wants to manage its reputation by avoiding bad PR will also listen.
    • Corporate legal cares about; “Lets avoid this getting into court.”
  • Don’t Hesitate
    • If you are lucky enough to work at a company where they trust you with the responsibility to completely design the user experience, and vest the authority in you to decide what that includes, please make it accessible.
    • Make it accessible for all the reasons accessibility makes sense for the company, for the products, for the customers, and for the disabled community.
    • Instead of putting all your time into convincing others, you can now use that time to make great accessible products.
    • Make it so simple that no one will have to ask why.
    • If you have the opportunity; “Don’t hesitate.”
  • Experience a Disability
    • Get the people who you hope to influence to participate voluntarily in an experiential learning event where they experience the world with some temporary disability.
    • It will have an impact that no description or photographs will get across to the participants.
    • Steal everyone’s computer mouse for a day.
    • Have blindfolds and canes, wheelchairs, pink-noise canceling headsets, mouthsticks, etc. and people with disabilities to lead your volunteers through their days.
    • Get willing participants from a variety of departments and levels in the organization.
    • Arrange it as a training and learning experience with your corporate training group.
    • It is not much to ask; “Just try it for a day.”
  • Multipronged Approach
    • No one strategy or tactic will work alone.
    • No strategy or strategy mix will work with every company. Every company culture and goals are different. The situations change in a company all the time.
    • You need to have a toolkit of strategies and tactics to use.
    • Cycle through your toolkit.
    • Try one strategy and then another if the previous one does not work.
    • Combine tactics from several strategies to approach change from several angles.
    • Lead with; “There are many reasons why this is a good idea.”
  • To schedule Darren to speak at your company or event:
    • E-mail: [email_address]
    • Phone: +1 937-648-4966
    • LinkedIn: http://
    • SlideShare:
    • Twitter: darrenkall