Accessibility is going to be part of business-as-usual, let's just get that out there.
But it won't happen overnight; changing culture is a long-term endeavour and it will take time for everyone to accept it and integrate it into their processes.
If you've been tasked with making sure that your document, website or product is accessible, you'll probably be familiar with the grumbling, heavy sighs, confusion and sometimes the digging in of heels that comes with the mere mention of 'accessibility compliance'.
Frustrated over why people don't 'get it'? Feel like you're part of the few in your organisation who know it's the right thing to do but are up against an ocean of resistance?
We all know that resistance to change is practically stamped into our DNA and is part of what makes us human – but change can occur smoothly if it's introduced the right way. Teams and organisations can go from sheer resistance to proactively wanting to deliver inclusive, quality products and services with a smile.
If you decide you're going to take an active part in (or already are) making accessibility part of your organisation's culture, we love you. So this is for you, culture changer.
Figure out what you're dealing with
First up, you'll need to figure out what types of attitudes you're dealing with. By breaking up what seems to be a massive sea of resistance into groups you can identify and deal with, you'll be glad to find that it's actually not a big solid wall you're banging your head against.
From all the attitudes we've ever come across, we've identified seven main ones:
- Educated & aware
Technically, some are more like states than attitudes, but you get the drift. They're not all linear or sequential either – someone can jump from 'ignorance' straight to 'committed' if given the right experience.
Adjust those attitudes
Each attitude has its own characteristics and can be addressed, changed or sustained through various strategies and techniques of communicating, relationship-building, behaviour-influencing, and occasional butt-kicking.
The Attitude Adjuster cards are our way of helping you remember these strategies, so you can *ahem* keep them up your sleeve.
Each strategy or 'adjuster' can be effective in certain situations or for certain attitudes – in many of them work well for multiple attitudes, in fact.
They're freely available and you can print your own set of Attitude Adjuster cards.
So you can determine what to use and when, we'll walk you through what the attitudes actually are so you can understand your audience a little better.
Attitudes 1, 2 and 3: precursors to change
The initial stages of accessibility awareness often begin with Ignorance, Apathy or Denial.
There's a difference between the three attitudes that ranges from someone having a genuine and innocent lack of awareness – to thinking it doesn't apply to them – to being overwhelmed and wanting to ignore the issues. We all start with this attitude at some point in all parts of our lives; we can be experts in something but newbies or uninterested in other things.
At this stage, telling people what to do and how to fix things (long to-do lists, compliance deadlines and legal implications) may not stick. If they don't understand why accessibility is important, how access issues affect people or even how good design can change lives, they won't change how they think or behave. Over time they can even become cynical about all the fuss over accessibility.
Once you get them with the why, you give them the insights and empathy that can turn even the hardcore denier into a champion. Empathy is one of the most powerful attitude changers there is.
Attitudes 4, 5 and 6: when change starts to happen
You know you're doing well when you see people in organisations and teams start to take action. Hopefully, you see the attitudes of Bargaining, Educated & Aware and Commitment start to manifest.
If they're agreeing to make even small changes to the way they write, spec, design, code or test, this is the beginning of change. Sure, it may be done begrudgingly and they won't be able to do everything you're asking, but take what you can get and ask for more later on.
It's much better to achieve small wins and progressively build accessible solutions rather than demanding the 'perfect accessible solution'. This keeps the momentum going!
Attitude 7: build champions
Champions are those rare breed of people who do something for the love of it. If you find these guys, or are one yourself, take care not to burn out. Champions are often tired and out of sorts from looking at designs with blatant usability and accessibility issues, and they may feel like they are constantly fighting an uphill battle.
Help them build allies in other teams, spread the knowledge and the skills, and build relationships that turn them into the assets they are, rather than the knuckle-rappers they may be perceived to be. As Karl Groves has beautifully emphasised in his blog on taking a pragmatic approach to accessibility, it's better to be the fireman, not the cop.
Culture change takes time. Be patient, but don't lose momentum.
Once people know why accessibility is important, they inherently want to do the right thing. They often don't have the time or energy to figure out what they need to do, so this is where you can help by providing encouragement and support, and put processes in place for them to make their road ahead easier.
So, dear culture changer, our final words for you: thank you and rock on!