Why this matters
Having articulate and generous experts on call to answer questions for teams will remove a great deal of friction in producing accessible experiences.
A single training course for developers and designers will not produce experts in accessibility. The training sets the basics and then points teams toward resources, like your resident experts.
Not all accessibility experts are the same
Many people who claim to be accessibility experts may know how to report defects using automated success criteria tools but cannot describe techniques for remediation.
Be certain a consultant or a subject matter expert can describe to teams precisely how to remediate your code.
For any defect, they should be able to explain:
- What’s wrong
- Why it’s a problem
- How to fix it
Can explain the strategies and tactics
This understanding allows team members to make progress, report impact to leadership and show their effectiveness.
If you can’t report progress to leadership, your team will not seem effective.
Diligently uses a project management tool
There is no one right method of project management. Choose one and make it part of the team’s daily or weekly rituals.
Whether it’s an online to-do board, a workflow builder, or a physical kanban board of sticky notes, a single project management tool is central to the team’s sustained work and collaborative efforts.
These are the traits of a good accessibility expert who will help transform your enterprise.
They must have the heart of a teacher. The ability to happily explain the same concepts to teams repeatedly for months is part of this job. They can’t see education as a one-and-done process.
Able to set clear boundaries
It can be difficult to recognize the difference between coaching and doing someone else’s work, especially for people who genuinely want to help others succeed.
Some developers will absolutely expect the expert to “clean up” their code or add accessibility after they’re done.
However, the expert’s role is to coach, not do other people’s job for them.
Has a backbone
The expert will have difficult conversations with teams. For instance, a common conversation might involve a product owner who doesn’t take accessibility seriously and intends to launch a product without meeting basic requirements.
The expert needs to feel empowered to explain requirements and escalate an issue if a team is not cooperating or collaborating.
Accessibility is a dynamic field of expertise and new insights and techniques are developed daily. Any expert should be able to demonstrate how they are staying up to date beyond attending industry conferences. For example, they could be listening to podcasts, following industry blogs and keeping up on design and software trends.
Not trying to be the police
If your team is seen as an enforcement agency rather than a helpful support, your mission will be more difficult because everyone will hide their work from you. Don’t bring people in who want to be the accessibility police.
Once you have access to experts, be intentional about how they are directed and how they are integrated into your accessibility program.
Lack of prioritization
In the early days of building a team, it’s easy to spread the expert’s time and energy thinly across the enterprise. One of your early strategic goals should be prioritization of remediation and organizational change. Keep your experts focused in those areas.
Scope creep and burnout
In the beginning, it’s common for everyone to enthusiastically take on tasks out of their normal responsibilities to get the work moving forward. It feels good and is indicative of a team with passion for the vision and mission.
However, don’t try to make your experts responsible for providing 40 hrs of coaching, while also expecting them to perform program management and data analysis.
Recognize that being a mentor and teacher to multiple product teams consumes an enormous amount of emotional energy and it’s easy for your coaches to experience burnout.
Micromanagement and burdensome tracking
It might be tempting to introduce processes and tracking mechanisms to follow how expert resources are spent, but don’t treat your experts like customer service representatives who need to be tracked by the minute.
Reduce barriers to getting help
Reduce the number of barriers between the people who need help and your experts. It must be as simple as a chat message, email or sending a calendar invite.
How to make tracking matter
If you do implement any kind of time tracking, that time must correlate to program outcomes.
For instance, if you record time spent with a particular product team, does your defect tracking show a reduction in net new defects produced by that same team? If you can’t correlate data, then don’t force your experts to engage in burdensome paperwork.