iQ 360’s Interview Series asks leaders in our network to share their experiences, expertise and insights on the future of communications.
In part one, senior accessibility product designer, Omar Bonilla, shared his thoughts on accessible design and what corporate communicators should prioritize to reach all stakeholders effectively. Here, he provides actionable next steps for businesses to improve accessibility moving forward.
How can businesses start becoming more accessible? For brands that want to at least take a first step, what is the one thing they should do immediately?
Much of what an organization needs to do to best create accessible products is dependent on the landscape in which they operate, but at a high level there are a few things they can do in the short, medium, and longer term to improve in this area.
- Research and implement accessibility testing steps for quality testing. This is a bare minimum safety net to find and understand accessibility issues.
- Incorporate dedicated time for accessibility consideration in your design and development processes. Even if you do not have the accessibility knowledge within your organization right away, having that space and rhythm helps push accessibility leftward, further up the decision-making process where the most impact can be made.
- Engage with a 3rd-party accessibility consulting firm for an audit. Their specialized knowledge can give you valuable insights into the state of your products and clues as two where the gaps in your organization are that are contributing to those gaps.
- Document and size the accessibility issues found, then devise a plan for remediating them; if full remediation isn’t possible right away, you can map out where additional resources might be needed. You’ll want to take the context of your current development stage into account as well, asking questions about which products are in active development or support, and which are due to be deprecated or replaced, so that you may allocate your resources most effectively.
- Invest in a centralized accessibility center within your organization, staffed with dedicated accessibility professionals of various functions (design, development, legal, leadership).
- Examine your hiring practices to ensure people with disabilities can be equally competitive for roles.
- Hire people with disabilities both as dedicated accessibility specialists and for other roles that are not fully dedicated to accessibility; this is to ensure that disabled representation is distributed throughout your organization, and not simply contained within one space.
What accessibility tools do you use?
It depends on the job function that I’m supporting, but in a general sense I use color contrast analyzers, color blindness simulators, screen readers, automated code checkers, and virtual machines to test in both macOS and Windows.
What do you think the future of the web should look like?
The future of the web should be focused on customization. Each disability presents its own considerations, and even within a single disability there is a diversity of needs and preferences. The ideal web of the future allows anyone to take the information presented and transform it into a format that works best for them, whether that’s in audio format, verbally, or visually, and in the exact way that they want or need.
What brand do you feel is at the forefront of accessibility design?
Microsoft has invested considerably in accessibility across its many divisions, including its gaming division with the Xbox Adaptive Controller, that allows gamers an incredible amount of customization for controller inputs, opening up games to people who previously faced significant barriers to enjoying them. They also make considerable investments in hiring practices specific for people with disabilities.
Another organization with a long history of investment and attention to accessibility is the BBC. Gareth Ford Williams, former Head of Accessibility within various functions at the BBC, has a great write-up of their history of accessibility and inclusion.
What will it take for companies to act with an accessibility-first mindset?
There has to be a genuine understanding of why accessibility is important, and the impact that it has. At the core of it, there needs to be genuine dialogue with people with disabilities, whether that is a customer, employee, leader, general community member, or ideally all of the above.
In case you missed it, read part one of our two-part interview series with Omar.