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?" 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.
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 many 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.
A primary 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.
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 with, or perhaps even uncomfortable with, people with disabilities. Their lack of experience and interaction may result in a lack of understanding. Sometimes people incorrectly assume that people with disabilities just don't or cannot use the web. 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 perspective of both the abilities and unique needs 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 directly 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 people, this ethical dilemma will provoke us to do the right thing.
Few developers would create a web page that will only work in one particular web browser. 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 2010 U.S. census, nearly 20% of the population reported a disability of some type. Yes, 20% – 1 in 5 people. Around 9% of the population has a disability that directly impacts computer or internet 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 a portion of their audience.
It may be worth having a discussion about the time and energy that training participants spend to improve the Search Engine Optimization (SEO) of their web pages. It is not uncommon for them to spend considerable time and resources to raise their SEO by just a few percentage points. If someone would do this, why would they not spend time to assure accessibility which can impact so many with disabilities.
Legal and Standards-based Motivations
Nearly all countries have laws against discrimination. Many of them have addressed the issue of disability access on the web. This legal environment is the standards environment that encompasses web technologies. All developers should want to deliver their work to accepted technology guidelines and standards, such as the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).
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., Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act has motivated government institutions and organizations to ensure they meet these specific regulations. The Americans with Disabilities Act and similar international laws ensure equal access to online information. 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. web sites.
Training participants may be unsure about what laws apply or do not apply to them. 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 and the corresponding technical standards to which they should conform.
For example, Section 508 has a clearly defined set of principles and practices for creating accessible web content. If they must comply with programs and activities that require Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act (e.g., the Federal government, and many states, organizations, and institutions who have declared they will use Section 508 regulation as their own), they need to leave the training with that framework. Don’t forget that the current WCAG AA specification has been deemed to suffice for Section 508 if they would prefer to use that standard.
But what about the others? The Americans with Disabilities Act does not have a technical standard for the web. 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. The U.S. Department of Justice got very close to determining this standard, then in 2017 the work was put on the inactive list. If your trainees are trying to comply with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act to ensure that students have access to the general education curriculum, or the Higher Education Act, 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. It will not come as a surprise that we often recommend following WCAG guidelines as they are the most prevalent and. given their work towards international harmonization, may well be the basis for future adoption under U.S. law.
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 you want is for your 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 are motivated to make these changes and 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.
If your trainees are concerned about US laws and requirements for accessibility they should begin by working toward WCAG A/AA conformance. Meeting WCAG A/AA also meets the technical requirements for Section 508. Of course conformance to WCAG helps with harmonization of other web technologies too, so it is a good idea and at least a good-faith effort to comply with basic requirements for web accessibility as a starting point.
It's important to remember, however, that Section 508 standards and WCAG guidelines were intended to be the floor for web accessibility. We can always do better. Make sure you discuss with your trainees ways they can expand their own accessibility efforts. For example, they could add some of the AAA guidelines from WCAG and conduct user testing to ensure an optimal experience.
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 other 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 and display faster. Accessible design often solves many cross-browser compatibility 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 64 million Americans with disabilities. After taxes, they control an estimated $490 billion in discretionary income. This is similar to other diversity sectors of the market; African Americans control 501 billion in discretionary income, and Hispanics control 582 billion. What business would not want to have a share of $490 billion? 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 competitor's 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.
See A Hidden Market: The purchasing power of working-age adults with disabilities (PDF)
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 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 doable. Once one understands how important web access is and learns the techniques for making content accessible, it is relatively straight forward.
- Web accessibility is a challenge. This seems to be a slight contradiction with the previous item, but it is not. Challenge or dare the people you train to design accessibly. All web authors have had to learn design or development principles and techniques. They have to continue to learn new techniques as the field evolves. Sometimes those new practices come through trial and error. Of course what constitutes good design or development evolves. Think of accessibility the same way. It may take some time and effort to learn everything needed to make pages highly accessible, but the rewards are very fruitful.
- You will never know all there is to know about web accessibility. This doesn't sound very positive, does it? It's important that training participants understand that there is a lot to web accessibility. Don't let your training participants give up on web accessibility because there is too much to learn and do! You could motivate them to take up this new path in their own professional development.
- Web accessibility is a process. An accessible web site doesn't happen overnight. It can be empowering to think of web accessibility as something you never achieve, but continually strive for. 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. 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.
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. Help them understand the criticality of accessible procurement and how their expertise can help their organization procure platforms, software, and systems that are accessible. Help them learn the importance of a diverse workplace and how involving individuals with disabilities is empowering to change. 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 the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines.
- There is a potentially huge economic advantage to having an accessible web site because consumers with disabilities have a sizeable amount of 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. You may get some great discussion content from the WebAIM hierarchy for motivating accessibility change article.
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. This can be done with local or organizational procedures and state laws, nationally, as well as internationally.
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.
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.