Why Accessibility? Motivating Learners To Bring About Change
Types of Motivations
There are many reasons why people choose to design with accessibility in mind. These motivations can be roughly categorized into the following:
- Ethical motivations
- Legal & standards-based motivations
- Business motivations
Each of these motivation types are vital and no one type of motivation is more important than any other. Circumstances and the environment in which your training participants are working may influence their motivations. Not only will you need to answer the question, "How can I help motivate change in the training participants?" but you must also answer the question, "How can I help motivate sustained change?" For it is that change over time that is the real measure of the impact of your training. It is far easier to get someone to demonstrate a new skill than it is for him or her to use that skill in new settings over time. Most trainers confront two separate issues. The first is teaching a new skill to a level where it can be used fluently. The other is helping the trainee use that skill in the future. How many trainers have said, "well, they CAN do it – so why AREN'T they doing it?" When this is an issue, a careful examination of trainee motivation is warranted. Even though most aspects of web accessibility are straightforward and fairly simple, you will benefit those you train when you help them identify their motivation for change. If you are successful they will learn and master these new accessibility skills AND use them well into the future.
I have found that the one motivation that tends to drive people to design accessible content is the sense of moral responsibility gained when they understand the perspective of individuals with disabilities.
Let's discuss each of the three motivation types and why each is important for you to teach as an accessibility trainer.
Accessibility is the right thing to do. People tend to want to treat others as they would like to be treated. However, many people are unfamiliar or perhaps even uncomfortable with people with disabilities. Their lack of experience and interaction may result in a lack of understanding. Sometimes people falsely assume that people with disabilities just don't or cannot use the web. Quite often in my own accessibility trainings at least one participant will be surprised that someone who is blind or is paralyzed from the neck down can use the web. It is just something they have never contemplated before. Providing education and information about how people with disabilities use the web is one of the most important tasks of accessibility trainers.
When people gain some perspective of individuals with disabilities, they are more likely to want to make their content more accessible to those who may have difficulties accessing it.
By denying them access, people with disabilities are the only group you can discriminate against on the web. You cannot bar access to online content based on race, religion, age, sex, or national origin. Only individuals with disabilities can be denied access to information.
Few of us would feel comfortable if we knew we were discriminating against any group of people. As soon as someone understands the importance of accessible design, they then must willingly decide if their content will be designed accessibly or not. For most of us, this ethical dilemma will provoke us to do the right thing.
Few developers would create a web page that will only work in a particular web browser, such as Internet Explorer. Despite the fact that one browser may maintain a predominant browser market share, one usually wouldn't design a page that won't work for users of other web browsers. Ask your training participants if they would design content that would only exclude 10% of their potential audience. The answer will be "no". Why? Most people want their content to be accessible to as many people as possible, regardless of the browser they may be using.
When discussing web accessibility, many people argue that it is not worth their time or money to implement accessibility because they are dealing with such a small percentage of their potential audience. However, in the 2000 U.S. census, nearly 20% of the population reported a disability of some type. Yes, 20%. That is 1 in 5 people. No less than around 9% of the population has a disability that directly impacts computer use. Though a large portion of these disabilities may be attributed to age related processes, the implications are enormous. No sensible person could make an ethical (or economical) argument for potentially excluding 20% of their audience.
Legal and Standards-based Motivations
Nearly all countries have laws regarding discrimination. Many of them have addressed the issue of disability access on the web. Even more far reaching are accepted standards for web technologies. The World Wide Web (W3C) consortium is an international body that determines protocols and standards for how the web works. Part of the W3C is the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI). The WAI establishes standards regarding accessibility and web technologies. The WAI has established a comprehensive set of rules about web accessibility called the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). So, we have the WCAG which were developed by the WAI, a part of the W3C. A lot of acronyms to remember, but ones with which accessibility trainers ought to be familiar.
Both laws and standards are driving forces for people to design accessibly. Regardless of the laws and standards that may be applicable in specific situations, it's important to understand why they motivate people.
In many cases, businesses, institutions, or government bodies may feel legal pressure to make their content accessible. In the U.S., the advent of Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act has sent government institutions and organizations scrambling to ensure they meet the specific regulations. Though there is much left to do to allow individuals with disabilities access to online government services, the legal pressure and the possibility of complaints or lawsuits has brought about tremendous change in U.S. government web sites.
Often, web developers are unsure about what laws apply or do not apply to them. And sometimes the answers to their questions are not clear. Regardless of the confusing aspects of the application of law to the web, it is important that your training participants have at least a basic understanding of the laws that may apply to them.
I learned long ago that guilt is never a very good motivator. When teaching about the legal implications of inaccessible web content--including specific accessibility and discrimination lawsuits--do not use the law to threaten your participants or make them feel guilty. Never use statements like, "You'd better get your content accessible or someone's going to sue your pants off." Such an approach often lends itself to frustration. The last thing we want is for our training participants to feel that it is them against people with disabilities. Accessibility laws are in place to give people guidelines by which they can know how to make their content accessible. Teach the details of the law so individuals know what to do, not to make them feel guilty because they may not yet be doing it.
Many people, especially those in industry and education, are driven by technology standards. There is appeal and clout in being able to say that you are standards compliant. On the web, there are many sets of accessibility standards to which people might be held - Section 508 compliance, Web Content Accessibility Guidelines conformance, etc. Individual organizations may also have their own set of policies or standards. These can all be very powerful driving forces for accessibility. As a trainer, you should be familiar with the standards and laws that apply to your training audience and teach them why they are in place and what they must do to comply with them. I would also challenge accessibility trainers to become very familiar with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. They are the most comprehensive set of rules available for web accessibility and if you can understand and apply them, you are certain to understand what true web accessibility is.
It is the opinion of WebAIM that if your trainees are concerned about US laws and requirements for accessibility they should begin their efforts by applying the Section 508 standard, since Section 508 is the only instance in US law in which web accessibility is explicitly defined. Of course we do not really know the direction the government will take on this matter, neither do we know the direction of the courts. Using the existing Section 508 standards does seem to be at least a good-faith effort to comply with basic requirements for web accessibility.
Please remember, however, that Section 508 standards were intended to be an absolute minimum standard for web accessibility. Make sure you discuss with your trainees ways they can expand their own accessibility efforts. For example, they could add some of the guidelines from the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, which are more comprehensive than the Section 508 guidelines.
There are many business motivations for designing accessibly. Besides the ethical, legal, and standards-based motivations that predominantly drive businesses to make their online content accessible, there are also technological and economical reasons why accessibility makes good business sense.
First, accessible design is technologically sound. When content is designed with accessibility in mind it is much more accessible to emerging technologies, such as mobile phones, tablets, and other web enabled devices. Because accessible content usually adheres to web standards, it is much more likely to be cross-compatible across computer platforms, operating systems, and browsers. Accessible pages typically load into the browsers and display faster. Developers usually spend a lot of time addressing the differences in the way their content appears in various browsers. Accessible design usually solves many of these cross-browser problems. Also, the content is more useable to their audience and increased web traffic often means more exposure and income to businesses. Just think of all of the businesses that are thriving today because they took advantage of the web.
There are 49 million Americans with disabilities. They control an estimated $175 billion in discretionary income. Of the 69.6 million families in the United States, 20.3 million have at least one member with a disability. What business would not want to have a share of that money? How many businesses potentially exclude 1 out of every 5 customers? The economic potential of accessible web design is tremendous. Few people have realized the benefits that an accessible web site could have in marketing to a large population on the web. Imagine having a share of the market that almost exclusively purchases your products because it is impossible for them to spend their money at your competitors web site due to accessibility issues. For many individuals with disabilities, shopping online may be the primary way in which they spend their discretionary income.
Motivating for Change
One of the most difficult tasks accessibility trainers face is motivating learners to continually apply accessibility principles and techniques they have learned after the training concludes.
Being a motivational speaker
Whether we like it or not, the role of an accessibility trainer in not just to provide the information necessary to make web content accessible. We also have to play the role of motivational speaker. You probably wouldn't be reading this if you weren't yourself enthusiastic and motivated about accessibility.
The first step to motivating your training participants to make accessibility an integral part of what they do and how they think, is to make accessibility a key part of your own life. The excitement and enthusiasm you have about web accessibility will rub off on your learners. If web accessibility is something you enjoy and love to share with others, your training participants will sense your devotion.
Previously, we talked about things that motivate individuals to design accessible web content. These include ethical motivations, legal & standards-based motivations, and business motivations. Each of these are important, positive motivations. There may be other things that are positively motivating your training participants. As a trainer, it's important that you encourage your training participants in a positive way. Here are a few things I have found to help encourage continued application of accessibility principles and skills:
- Web accessibility is important. Although this sounds overly simplistic, I always stress how vital I believe web accessibility is to individuals with disabilities.
- Web accessibility is easy. Once one understands how important web access is and learns the techniques for making content accessible, it is relatively easy to do.
- Web accessibility is a challenge. This seems to contradict with the previous item, but does not. I often challenge or dare the people I train to design accessibly. All developers have had to learn design principles and techniques, and sometimes that comes through some trial and error. For instance, it is often difficult to design a web page that looks and functions the same in Netscape and Internet Explorer, let alone other browsers. But, having a page that works in multiple browsers is important, so developers learn the tricks and techniques to make content that is supported across browsers. It takes some trial and error testing, and is a bit of a challenge, but is very much possible. Think of accessibility the same way. It may take some time and effort to learn everything you need to know to make your pages as accessible as they can be, but the rewards are very fruitful. Once you know how, designing accessibly becomes second nature. In fact, I wouldn't think of intentionally designing important content without accessibility features implements. Challenge your training participants to do the same.
- You will never know all there is to know about web accessibility. This doesn't sound very positive, does it? It's important that people understand that there is a lot to web accessibility. I have been doing this for some time and still learn new principles of accessible web design almost every day. Don't let your training participants give up on web accessibility because there is too much to learn and do!
- Web accessibility is a process. An accessible web site doesn't happen overnight. We at WebAIM are continually finding new things we can do on our own site to make it more accessible. I think of web accessibility as something you never achieve, but continually strive for. In fact, you can probably find things on this page that could be done better or differently to promote accessibility. If your learners feel overwhelmed, remind them that most content only lives on the web for a year or two before it is either discarded or retrofitted. How many design changes has your site had in the last two years? If your learners do nothing more than fix the most prominent pages (including the home page), then ensure that all new content is designed with accessibility in mind, chances are that the majority of the site will be accessible within a year or two. After that amount of time, they will have learned enough to make the remaining pages more accessible.
A dramatic change in the level of accessibility of web content at institutions or organizations is sometimes only possible when everyone 'buys into' accessibility. As a trainer, you might be training only a handful of web developers or administrators from an organization. If you do your job well, they will be designing accessible content from the moment they leave your training. However, to be truly effective in bringing about positive accessibility change, you also need to train those few individuals to take their knowledge with them and share it with others. In fact, that's why these workshops have been developed.
As WebAIM has done on-site trainings in the past, we have found that the people we train usually apply what we have taught. But the few people we train typically are not enough to bring about accessible change at a system wide level. Just because you train a handful of web developers for a university, does not mean that their university will suddenly have an accessible web site. We are providing this information to you, so you can be more effective in sharing it with others.
As a trainer, you should encourage your training participants to share what they have learned with others. Teach them about the process for implementing accessibility policies and procedures in their institution. Provide them resources that they can share with coworkers, employers, web masters, or others. As an accessibility trainer, one of your greatest achievements will come when the people you train bring about system-wide change in their organization or institution.
- There are many motivators as to why people design accessibly.
- The ethical motivators are often the most compelling and usually bring about the most change. When people design with accessibility in mind because they want to, they are more likely to continually produce accessible content.
- Approximately 20% of the population has some type of disability.
- Teach your training participants which laws and standards are applicable to them. Become familiar with accessibility laws and web accessibility standards, especially Section 508 and the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines.
- There is a potentially huge economic advantage to having an accessible web site because consumers with disabilities have a large discretionary income.
Tips for Trainers
Here are some additional ideas for teaching about the motivations for designing with accessibility in mind.
Promote a discussion among your training participants. Ask them what things would motivate them to design accessibly. Why are they taking the accessibility training? Are they there voluntarily or were they compelled to be there? Find out what drives them and share with them your own motivations.
Laws and standards quiz
Put together a quiz that tests your training participant's knowledge of the laws and standards that apply to them. Perhaps you could list many accessibility laws (i.e., Section 508, ADA, Section 504, IDEA, etc) and have them select which ones apply to them. Most people do not know enough about the laws to answer correctly. Be sure to address in detail each of the laws and how it may or may not apply to them directly.
A discussion on U.S. laws on web accessibility
You may find that one way to wrap-up this part of your training will be to help participants articulate if they are compelled by US law to provide accessible web content. If the answer is yes (most cases) you could help them determine what they should do next. The first step is to determine the web accessibility standard they will use for their web design practices.
For example, Section 508 has a clearly defined set of principles and practices for creating accessible web content. If they do so, they will comply with programs and activities that fall under the Rehabilitation Act. The Americans with Disabilities Act does not have such a standard. In fact it is a misnomer to say that a site is accessible according to the ADA, since they do not publish standards for web access. If your trainees are trying to comply with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act to insure that students have access to the general education curriculum, how do they do this since the US Department of Education does not publish web accessibility guidelines?
In those and other instances, what guide can you give your trainees you use? Great question. Remember that when you are discussing web accessibility, you always need to keep in mind "accessibility for whom?" The needs of a consumer who is blind will be different from someone who is deaf, or someone who is deaf-blind, or someone with Cerebral Palsy.
A discussion on business motivations
If applicable, start a discussion with your training participants about how an accessible web site makes economic sense. You might ask questions such as:
- Is your site currently accessible to a potential audience of individuals with disabilities?
- Would an accessible site allow (or perhaps drive) more traffic to your site?
- Are you currently marketing to individuals with disabilities? Could you in the future?
- Would an accessible web site result in additional economic benefits for your organization?
Ask your training participants how they can take what they are learning and share it with the people at their organization who can most effectively bring about accessibility policy and change. Encourage them to introduce their boss or manager to the principles of web accessibility. Ask them if they have an accessibility policy in their workplace. If they don't, encourage them to be an advocate in their workplace for people with disabilities to help bring about a web accessibility policy. In many places of employment, web accessibility is little more than an afterthought, yet one person that truly understands the issues of web accessibility can bring about tremendous change.