Scaling Accessibility — VMware’s Advocates Program

Tamar Savir
Sep 14, 2020 · 3 min read
Illustration of four people around a table conversing.
Illustration of four people around a table conversing.
Illustration by Stela Stamenkova

In a recent virtual conference, Judith Heumann, an American disability rights activist, said something that stuck with me:

“Movement is never one person…it’s groups who fight together to improve their lives and the lives of others.”

VMware is relatively new in its accessibility journey. In less than two years, our team launched multiple programs, trainings, and resources, and provided our company and colleagues with knowledge and tools they could use to design and build products that are accessible to all users.

But, as Judith said, a movement is never one person or one team. To create a systemic change, we needed to embed accessibility into VMware’s fabric: across multiple teams and regions, and into our core culture. We needed employees who would be our eyes, ears, and voices, to sprinkle the spirit and knowledge of accessibility across our company. We needed a village of advocates.

So, we started building our village to scale our accessibility efforts. We’re still in our infancy, but we’ve had a few key learnings along the way. Let me share those learnings with you, in the hopes that they can help you in your journey as builders.

Target audience. VMware’s Advocates program is geared towards engineers, designers, QA testers, content creators, and product managers, but is open to anyone interested in accessibility and disability inclusion. We started with a focus on product-related roles, but as we know — accessibility is everyone’s job. As the program grows, we will be looking to expand our audience base. Focusing on targeted audiences allows us to learn and improve the program, and provide the customized learning and support required for employees new to the field.

Anyone can become an advocate. People have full plates and finding time to be part of a new program can be challenging. We created three levels of advocates to allow employees to get involved as much as they can.

  • In Level 1, Advocates develop the basic understanding of accessibility.
  • As they advance to Level 2, they become Accessibility Leads in their teams.
  • In Level 3 they become subject-matter experts and get involved in projects that have a larger impact across the company.

Employees can choose if they want to stay at Level 1 or advance, depending on their interest and bandwidth.

Making it day-to-day relevant. We want to get the most out of the limited time employees can spend on the program by providing content that is relevant and useful, and complements the advocates’ daily work. To achieve this, we partnered with a third-party vendor to create seven different role-based learning paths that enable employees to engage in the content most relevant to their specific role.

Developing careers. In each level, we list criteria that employees need to complete to qualify. When they complete the requirements, they receive a badge they can add to their signature, and their Twitter and LinkedIn profiles. The badge and tools they collect in the program stay with them even if they leave VMware. Accessibility is the future, so adding this knowledge to your tool belt and resume could differentiate you from others.

Keeping advocates engaged. Continuing education is the key. Employees who participate in our program join the Accessibility Community, where they can find the latest news on accessibility at VMware, learn about upcoming events, connect with VMware’s disability community, find resources, chat on different topics, share best practices, and attend quarterly accessibility meetings. In short: it’s a one-stop-shop for all-things accessibility at VMware.

So here we are. Nascent and curious. Grateful for what we’ve learned and excited about what we will uncover next. I’ll share more as we unpack further learnings, in hopes this will inspire other builders who will be walking a similar path. I would love to hear from those of you who are part of more mature accessibility villages about your learnings, and draw from your experience. Let’s get the conversation going!

VMware Design

The VMware Design team | Transforming enterprise user…

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