At Clique, we believe web accessibility is important. And it’s not just talk. We act on it.
Shara Miller, Senior Engineer, led Clique University sessions 2 years ago to teach our team the best practices of building accessible things.
Fen Slattery, Front End Engineer, travels the country—to conferences, meetups, and other digital companies—to speak about the importance of web accessibility.
Together, they started an #accessibility slack channel for our team to share news, tips, and tools to promote the importance of accessibility in the work we do.
We wrote an article about web accessibility, covering why it’s important, why you should care, and how you, as an individual, can help make change in your company.
But there’s still more we can to do.
“A lot of people are scared of accessibility. They aren’t comfortable doing it themselves. They feel the need to ask ‘an expert,’ which right now, is either me or Shara,” Fen said.
That’s not sustainable. Since Shara’s workshop, our team has almost doubled in size. Two accessibility advocates for our work aren’t enough. It creates a silo in our processes, stealing time away from Fen & Shara building their own things.
*Cue Shara and Fen teaming up to plan accessibility workshops*
Rather than making assumptions about what people on the team knew and didn’t know about web accessibility, Fen and Shara sent out a survey. The goal was to get an idea of Clique’s general knowledge about accessibility.
- What’s your comfort level now with accessibility? [rank 1-5]
- Have you worked on a project at Clique or otherwise that had specific accessibility requirements?
- Have you ever had an instance where you have push back on a dev, designer, or Project Manager in regards to accessibility?
- What resources do you use right now to learn more about accessibility?
- What do you do right now to make projects you work on accessible?
- What questions do you have about accessibility?
The results were in. There were a lot of people who had accessibility questions. Some were vague (ex. “All the topics”) and some more specific (ex. “What is the best practice around alt text?” or “Common HTML hierarchy nightmares?”). There was a lot of learning and teaching to be done.
FIRST STOP: THE DEV TEAM
Why start here? There were three clear reasons.
1. In comparison to other teams, the Development team had the most working knowledge. They asked specific questions and knew some of the basics from their work experience with web accessibility.
2. It’s where they felt comfortable testing the workshop out for the first run. Fen and Shara are engineers. They’re on the team. As insiders, they were able to quickly coordinate with the Head of Engineering to make it a priority.
3. Developers have a lot of power when it comes to accessibility initiatives: they control the code, see the picture come together, and hit the launch button.
“We’re the last line of defense. We actually build the thing. We have power to make sure everyone falls in line,” Fen said.
- Part One: Web Accessibility Overview
- Part Two: Review Results from Survey
- Part Three: Resources and Processes
- Part Four: Open Q&A
“Our philosophy was to make it a conversation rather than a presentation,” Shara said. “We told people ‘interrupt, to ask questions.’”
But at first, no one did. During Part One, Fen and Shara talked, and the team listened. People weren’t engaged. So Fen and Shara took a break, and brainstormed. How could they make people participate? And in the 5 minute window, they came up with an idea.
They asked the team to write down topics they were curious about (work issues, questions, topics, etc.), and stick them to the wall. It introduced anonymity and dissolved the awkward teacher-student barrier. No one was on the spot or trapped under the fear of “looking stupid.”
Together, with the team, they developed themes and patterns. They shared solutions. They asked questions. They were a team.
“It wasn’t rigid, and I think that’s why it worked,” Shara said.
For the rest of the workshop, they answered questions and brainstormed solutions. Everyone contributed. There were a lot of “same!” and “that happened to me, here’s how I fixed it.”
At the end of the workshop, the wall was still speckled with unanswered post-its, but Fen and Shara are happy about it…
“Now, it’s easy to prove that we need to keep hosting these meetings, beyond just the intro workshop. It was a really easy visual way to show people on the team that there was more work to be done,” said Fen.
…and the dev team was grateful for the discussion.
“Shara and Fen put a magnifying gla- no, a telescope on the issue of web accessibility. It’s never taught in web development courses. It’s shocking how much this subject is unknown to aspiring devs and how many websites are being made without accessibility in mind.” said Tyler, Developer Intern.
“After everyone is at the same starting line, we can start the conversation around introducing accessibility into the workflow,” Shara said. “This is just a start.”
In the following weeks, Fen and Shara ran a workshop with the project management, content, and marketing teams. The workshop was adjusted to fit their roles; it focused more on legal and sales issues, rather than building. Next stop? The design team.
At Clique, we’re grateful to have team members who are dedicated to taking web accessibility to the next level. Change starts with the people, not the processes.
“We want people to not only be informed, but to be empowered,” Fen said.