8-Step Implementation Model
Step 3: Organize a Web Accessibility Committee

"Lone Rangers" Don't Fare Well

Photograph of the lone ranger on his horseIs it possible for one person at a large organization to implement a full-blown accessibility initiative? It is possible, yes, but this sort of "lone ranger" approach can backfire if other people at the organization do not share the vision or commitment that this one person has. Other people may resent the constant badgering of this individual, or, just as likely, this one person may tire of always trying to drag everyone else along for the ride.

Committees can be slower than the "lone ranger" approach, but their effect is usually longer-lasting because committee members have invested time and effort in the process, coming to agreement on important issues.

The key is to form a committee that is representative of all of the stakeholders in an organization, and to ensure that each committee member performs the tasks that correspond to them.

Identifying Stakeholders

Involving key groups

Once the leadership at your organization supports the importance of web accessibility, a group should be formed to draft accessibility policies and to see the process through its implementation. It is vital that this group be comprised of other key individuals at your organization. Those chosen should be respected in their individual fields and have the ability to influence change with their colleagues. They must also be able to commit the time necessary to see the process through. In some instances this could be a substantial 2-year commitment.

So, who should be part of this process? It is important to remember that every organization will need to approach this process in a slightly different way, thus membership of this committee should reflect these differences. It is important that this committee be constructed in such a way that all members will work constructively toward the goal of helping to create a fully accessible web for their organization. Please remember that these individuals will report back to the larger groups from which they came. As such, it would be helpful to the process if they were respected within their own groups. Representation and support by all parties is essential if implementation is to be widely accepted. The implementation of web accessibility at your organization will be much easier and when all of these pieces fit together.

Questions to Ask Yourself

Take a moment now to select the members of this committee for your organization.Some questions you might take into consideration as you move through the selection process include the following:

  • Is the selected member well-respected in their field of influence?
  • Will others listen to them?
  • Will the selected member help the committee address the concerns of their peers?
  • Will the selected member devote the time and energy necessary?

Take a moment to write out a list of the persons you would consider viable choices for a web accessibility committee at your institution. When you have compiled this list, consider the following questions:

  • What issues did you consider as you completed this process?
  • What issues seemed key in your decision-making?

Postsecondary education as an example

Although this example is specific to postsecondary education, there are parallels to other types of organizations. Postsecondary institutions will want to involve the administration, faculty, students, the Section 504/ADA coordinator, and the webmaster. Businesses will want to involve upper management, marketing, customer service, the legal team, customers, programmers and developers. Government entities will want to involve agency or department leadership, individuals from the various focus areas of the entity, and the developers. Other types of organizations will need to adapt the recommendations presented here to fit their organizational structure and needs.

In postsecondary institutions, there are typically at least 5 groups of stakeholders who should take part in this process. These groups include: the administration, the faculty, the Section 504 and ADA coordinators, web designers, and students with disabilities. At least one member from each of these groups should participate in a web accessibility committee, although it may make sense to have more than one representative for certain groups.

It is important that all members of the committee understand their roles and responsibilities within this committee. The role descriptions below may reflect the needs and concerns your own committee will address. As you read each role, consider who will fill the respective role. Will they be able to carry out these duties successfully? What help and support could you offer to those on the committee in their respective responsibilities?

Roles of the administration:

  • Oversee entire web accessibility process
  • Break down the University into manageable chunks by forming a committee consisting of key players in the University: faculty, designers, students, Disability Service Center (DSC) coordinators and legal representation
  • Oversee all administrative details of the committee including meetings, discussion, delegation, parley between committee members, holding members accountable for their responsibilities and meeting projected completion dates

Roles of the Faculty:

  • Represent faculty concerns in committee discussion and planning
  • Carry committee decisions to faculty and gather their support and cooperation in the process of web accessibility

Roles of the Section 504/ADA Coordinator and Students with Disabilities:

  • Represent the student perspective and promote an understanding of their personal frustrations and concerns with the web for other committee members
  • If necessary, explain in detail, assistive technologies which interface with the web and the problems which must be addressed in their effective use
  • Assure that accessibility issues across the spectrum of disabilities are addressed appropriately

Roles of the Webmaster/Designer:

  • Represent institutional designers by mediating their concerns, questions and frustrations with the accessibility committee
  • Help institutional designers to better understand the issue of web accessibility; including both the concept as well as the specific techniques and strategies for effective coding and design
  • Represent institutional designers in overseeing, creating or choosing web accessibility training methods and resources
  • Carry out all delegated responsibilities of the web accessibility committee which may include; cataloging institutional web sites, conducting baseline studies of these sites, and learning the ins and outs of validators for purposes of evaluation, participating in monitoring of progress and accountability of institutional designers

Identifying Challenges

One of the first tasks of the committee will be to identify potential obstacles or challenges to maintaining a consistent accessible web presence. This task may be all too easy in some organizations, but here is a list of challenges that we've come up with, along with a few potential solutions.

Decentralization

Some large organizations are so decentralized that it is difficult to maintain any kind of control over all of the people and parts of the organization. Postsecondary education institutions are a prime example. Universities often have a main web site, then several other sub-sites, such as the sites for the different colleges, for the school newspaper, for student registration, and so on. Rarely are these different sub-sites designed and controlled by a central person or team, though some institutions have a set of standards that must be adhered to in terms of "look and feel." At Utah State University, it would be a difficult task just to find out how many web servers there are on campus. Any computer can be a web server, and many computers are. Sometimes faculty members create their own, semi-autonomous web servers for the purposes of their classes. University projects and grant initiatives often have their own sites as well, which may not even be hosted on university servers.

Potential solutions:

  • Create an email list of all of the web developers of the important web sites of the organization. In educational settings, you may include faculty members on this list, but a separate list for faculty may also be appropriate.
  • Send out a monthly email newsletter from the head webmaster to all other webmasters. Include tips on how to make a site more accessible, as well as other development tips.
  • Hold monthly or quarterly meetings of all web development personnel across the organization, to inform them of what's happening in different areas of the organization, in terms of the web.
  • Create an accessibility monitoring team that periodically checks different sites for accessibility. You could enforce compliance by saying that all non-compliant sites will be removed from the organization's servers (this is a harsh approach that may end up harming the organization more than the individuals who don't comply, but such an approach may work for some organizations)

Lack of training

Many web developers are unaware of disability access issues at all. Even if they know that it is an issue, they may not know any of the techniques on how to design for accessibility. This is one of the biggest initial barriers.

Potential solutions:

  • Designate a person or a group of people as web accessibility trainers. These people may already be a part of the organization, or it may be necessary to hire them.
  • Hold quarterly workshops on different aspects of accessible web design.
  • Buy books that teach web accessibility.
  • Encourage or require individuals to participate in training events such as the WebAIM Web Accessibility Trainings

Non-professionals as web developers

K-12 schools often have teachers, secretaries, or students who are novice web developers post content to their web sites. Sometimes these individuals make the effort to learn the web skills necessary to prepare high quality web content, but more often than not, they never learn the technical aspects of web development, either because it does not interest them, or because they do not have the aptitude for it.

Potential solutions:

  • Train inexperienced developers in all aspects of web design, including accessible web design
  • Consider making web development a higher priority--hire a professional web developer
  • Provide books or other training materials to those who develop web content.

Apathy

Outside of educational and governmental realms, the legal mandates are a bit more vague, and some businesses may feel that there is no need to make the extra effort to make their web content accessible, since there are no clear consequences. Even within education and government, there are many who do not see disability access as an important issue. They may think that it does not apply to them, or that it does not make sense to incorporate changes that benefit a minority of their site's visitors.

Potential solutions:

  • Have an individual with a disability give a presentation to web developers, so that they can appreciate that person's perspective
  • Train web developers in the issues and techniques
  • Require compliance to accessibility standards by including it in performance reviews of staff. Many times, apathy and resistance are overcome as they learn more about accessibility

High turnover

How can an organization keep a consistent "look and feel" on their web site, let alone maintain a high level of accessibility when webmasters come and go ever few years, or even every few months? Educational and governmental entities are especially hard-hit by high turnover rates among their web development staff. Many times, students or interns develop the site, then they graduate or move on to more lucrative jobs. There is little continuity in the web development cycles over the years in situations like this.

Potential solutions:

  • Provide incentives for web developers to stay, including competitive salaries and benefits.
  • Consider consolidating web development responsibilities across organizations, so that the organization can eliminate one or more of the other positions and raise the salary of the main web developer position.

Other

Your organization may have a unique set of challenges not represented in the above list. Have the committee identify these challenges and their potential solutions. This will allow the committee to begin to implement the appropriate solutions.