Accessibility champions

Jamie Knight debunks the myth that accessibility is a dark art, and shows you how you can build it into your projects

Accessibility has a reputation for being a black art that’s best left to specialists. Large documents like the WCAG don’t tend to dispel this myth. Additionally, for those who don’t know the ‘right’ language to use when discussing impairments and disability, talking to users can be awkward and intimidating.

This leads to the belief that accessibility is somewhat unknowable. However, what if the black magic is not real? Can we get ‘most of the way, most of the time’ ourselves? In a nutshell: yes and yes. Here’s how we are attempting to do just that at BBC Digital.

Enter the champions

Setting aside this notion of magic, there are three main areas in which audits do fall down. They are too late in the process, too slow to make a difference and undertaken by those too distant to have empathy with the product team.

In our experience, making many small tweaks from within the team along the way results in a better outcome than one big push at the end from outside. To do this, we focus our time on adding more small touches, and ensuring each small touch is as good as it can be.

We recruit from within product teams, asking them to identify a number of champions across different roles. We have designers, developers, product owners, testers and editorial all acting as accessibility champions. We train the champions and provide them with tooling and resources so they can better understand accessibility. Finally, we network the champions together with events, meets and group communications. This helps build contact and peer support.

Unlike audits, champions start early and act often. From the start of the project to the end, there are champions involved. The small touches could be asking a question at the daily standup, or adding a scenario on some requirements. Champions are also timely. They are embedded in the team and focused on the project, so they can answer common questions quickly. A chat across the desks can replace a long and complicated email chain.

Finally, champions are part of the project. They have empathy. They are the implementors and so they have the best understanding of the project and its goals. The champion model is refocusing accessibility on making the ‘doing’ better, rather than marking what has already been ‘done’.

Jamie is a senior accessibility specialist at BBC Future Media, and former frontend lead for iPlayer Radio. He is slightly autistic and has a plushie companion called Lion


This article originally appeared in issue 273 of net magazine.