3. The Committee and the Champion
Having learned about how people with disabilities use digital content and the Web, and knowing about the local and international digital accessibility regulations, you now want to determine what led to the customer’s complaint in the first place.
The person who submitted the complaint has identified that he is blind and uses a technology called a screen reader to access content on the Web. From your research on how people with disabilities use the Web, you know that screen readers read out the text content from web pages.
The complaint mentions two particular issues. First, many images in the shopping area of the company’s website are announced as file names, such as “rt-004.jpg”, rather than something meaningful like “add to shopping cart.” You discover the problem is the result of images in the shopping cart application not having a text description. You know that “alt text” is the way to provide a text description for images on the Web.
Second, the buttons in the shopping cart cannot be activated with a key press; rather, they require a person to click the buttons with a mouse. Since people who are blind typically cannot use a mouse (not being able to see a mouse pointer), you have learned that they usually rely on their keyboard to navigate through content and to press buttons or activate links. When these website elements cannot be accessed or operated with a key press, they are inaccessible to anyone who relies on a keyboard to navigate.
You first approach the content developer who set up the products in the shopping cart application, and ask that she go through the product list and add the missing text descriptions. But, she tells you the shopping cart editor does not have a way to add text descriptions, or alt text, for product images.
You then approach your company’s web developer to see if it is possible to add an alt text field to the editor used to add product images. As it turns out, the shopping cart application is a third-party proprietary application, and, apart from simple changes to brand the shopping cart, there is little that can be done to make changes to the editor without going back to the vendor. You also ask your web developer about the keyboard access problem, and he tells you this cannot be modified either without going back to the vendor.
You wonder how the company ended up purchasing this shopping cart application given its limited accessibility support. The next stop in your investigation is your purchasing department. You ask about the accessibility requirements that were included with the request for proposals (RFP), and discover that no accessibility requirements were outlined in the RFP. The purchasing department did not know about the requirement to purchase accessible technologies when they are available.
Through this investigation, you begin to realize that accessibility knowledge needs to be weaved through many roles in the company. The next area you focus on is understanding what types of digital accessibility knowledge is needed for various roles in the company, and the potential training that might be needed to ensure various roles understand their accessibility responsibilities.
The roles you identify include:
- Retail store staff
- Retail store managers and assistant managers
- Web developers
- Web content editors
- Communications and marketing staff
- Procurement and purchasing staff
- Telephone support staff
- Video support staff
- Graphic artists
- Senior managers and directors
- Human resource staff
- Distribution centre staff
- Office support staff
Depending on a person’s role in a company, different types of accessibility knowledge may be needed. The following is an example of the different knowledge various roles may need, though depending on the size of a company and the nature of the business, this knowledge could be adapted across roles. For instance, if a company does not have a human resource (HR) department, then knowledge of accessible hiring practices and accessibility knowledge requirements for various roles may shift to senior managers responsible for hiring new staff.
Retail store staff: Since retail staff often do not use digital tools or content beyond perhaps a web-based checkout, the main focus of their knowledge should be disability sensitivity, so they are able to interact comfortably and appropriately when people with disabilities are shopping in the retail stores.
People are often unsure how to interact with a person with a disability, if they have little experience with it. They may feel uncomfortable and wary of saying the wrong thing. In general, people with disabilities should be treated like anyone else, though this may be difficult for some, for instance, who have never met a person who is blind or deaf or uses a wheelchair.
Retail store managers and assistant managers: Like other retail store staff, store managers should also receive disability sensitivity training, and they should be able to provide training to other store staff.
Managers should also have a general overview of the business’s accessibility requirements as a whole, so they are able to identify and potentially resolve any accessibility issues they may encounter through the day-to-day retail store operation.
A web developer may also be a good person to oversee the company’s digital accessibility efforts, as they have a good understanding of the technologies involved and the ability to evaluate and remediate accessibility issues. An accessibility lead should have both understanding of accessibility technology, and an understanding of disability and related accessibility barriers. This combination of expertise can be difficult to find, so it would be more effective to educate a web developer on disability and accessibility issues than training a disability expert on the technical aspects of implementing digital accessibility.
Web content editors: Those who develop the content for a website should have basic understanding of WCAG 2.0, though they typically do not need the level of understanding that web developers need. Among the many potential accessibility issues in digital content, web content editors should be aware of things like including text descriptions for images, structuring content with the proper use of headings, and creating links in content that describe in a meaningful way where the link leads.
Communications and marketing staff: Marketing staff should also have the basic understanding of WCAG that content editors have, though there are some other guidelines that may be relevant, such as effective use of colour when developing promotional materials (e.g., having sufficient contrast between foreground and background and ensuring that colour alone is not used to represent meaning).
Marketing staff may also produce documents that are distributed both internally and externally to the public. They should also have an understanding of how to use accessibility features in various document authoring tools such as Microsoft Word or Adobe Acrobat Pro, among others. Most current document authoring tools should have features for testing and authoring accessible documents. Upgrades may be necessary to take advantage of those features, if older software is still being used.
Procurement and purchasing staff: Those who buy products and resources for a company need to have a good understanding of WCAG 2.0, or at a minimum understand that when purchasing, software in particular, and choosing between comparable products, the more accessible one should be purchased. Purchasing agents may make use of third party accessibility evaluation services to report on the accessibility of potential purchases. The company’s web developers may also be a good source for evaluators, assuming they have acquired the necessary expertise with WCAG.
Procurement staff also need to know how to ask for accessibility features from vendors and how to critically evaluate the responses to those requests, ensuring vendors are being honest about the accessibility of their products. Some vendors may tell you what you want to hear, which may not necessarily be the whole truth, while others may not know about accessibility, which is a good indication that there products are not accessible.
Telephone support staff: These staff should have similar disability sensitivity training, though typically, unless a person identifies themselves as having a disability, they may not be aware of such facts. Nonetheless, if they are interacting with a person they know to have a disability, they need to know how to interact in an acceptable way.
Telephone support staff should know how to use a TTY (Teletype or Teletypewriter), used by people who are deaf to communicate with hearing individuals by phone. If your support services do not include TTY access, telecommunications providers can typically provide the service.
Video support staff: Video production editors need to know about captioning and audio description. Captioning provides access to the audio track in multimedia content for those who are deaf, and audio description provides access to meaningful visual elements or activity in a video that are not obvious by listening to the audio track, for those who are blind.
Graphic artists: Similar to marketing staff, graphic artists need to be aware of the basic WCAG guidelines and issues around the use of colour.
Senior managers and directors: The senior people in a company need to have a basic understanding of digital accessibility as a whole, as well as a good understanding of the accessibility regulations that govern a business’s accessibility requirements. They also need to be open to change and to understand the business arguments for creating an inclusive business. Ultimately, it is the senior management in a company that make or break a company’s accessibility efforts.
Human resource staff: HR staff need to have a good understanding of the local accessibility laws, and related accessible hiring practices. They also need to know about the required accessibility knowledge for the roles described here, as well as other potential roles. HR staff also need to be able to ask the right questions to determine, for instance, if a web developer has expertise with WCAG, or to perhaps assess the marketing department or office personnel’s understanding of accessibility features in the authoring tools they use.
HR staff may also be responsible for training efforts. While having accessibility knowledge for a given role should give applicants an advantage over others, in reality it is often difficult to find candidates with both expert understanding of the job they are being hired for, and knowledge of accessibility elements for that role. Fortunately, for many roles, accessibility training is often quick, like training office staff to use PDF accessibility features. With a few hours of training, staff can acquire all the skills they need to get started creating accessible content. However, for other roles, like web developers, it can take a significant amount of training and time to develop their expertise.
Distribution centre staff: These staff members may need little accessibility training. These people may include inventory control staff, a shipper/receiver, truck drivers, or a warehouse manager, among others. They may have no interaction with the public, and may not be involved in activities that produce digital content, but should be aware of their company’s accessibility obligations.
Office support staff: These staff members are likely to use various document authoring tools, and should be aware of, and use, the accessibility features tools such as Microsoft Word and Acrobat Acrobat Pro provide.