How to build and grow your accessibility champions network

Creating a network of accessibility champions is key to embedding a culture of accessibility, say leaders:

What does it take to build an accessibility network?

A photograph of someone in a Walt Disney Tigger outfit skipping with a kiteTigger-like enthusiasm, being annoying, being cool and being a people-person are all some of the traits considered important by experts from the Department for Education, the BBC, and Skyscanner.

The accessibility leaders shared experiences in a session titled ‘Beyond the Lone Evangelist’ and chaired by Microsoft’s Hector Minto. 

“I think I was the original lone evangelist,” said Charlie Turrell, who manages the BBC’s Accessibility Champions' network

"I joined the BBC and was lured, slowly into the role. All of a sudden there I am in the accessibility team."

Similarly, Skyscanner’s Heather Hepburn “transitioned from a UX role into this wonderful role doing accessibility full time. I'm the only person in their organization in a permanent role in this,” she added. 

How to build a network of champions

It’s essential to build allies to accelerate change. “You don't get culture change unless you scale,” said Microsoft’s Minto. “I think the phrase is ‘If you want to go fast, travel alone. If you want to go far travel together,” agreed Andy Black, Business Change Manager and Accessibility Lead at the Department for Education (DfE).

“It's about finding new friends quite quickly [and] finding the environment that you can have those discussions with people. Having conversations is key”, said Turrell.

Policy is also a driver for change. “Everybody's a license fee payer; so, we have to make sure that everybody gets the same service. 

“Policies create guidelines, those guidelines then need resources.”

Senior support is another important factor, says Hepburn. “We got the word accessible into the strategy. It's one word but that one word is just going to be life-changing. We can have conversations and ideas that we couldn't have had before. We can push training and start people building this into processes that stick”.

How to recruit allies within your organisation

It’s also about changing attitudes. “We ran a few empathy labs,” said Hepburn. 

“We simulated different disabilities and set tasks. Book a flight from here to here or find a hotel that's two kilometres from the city centre. Within minutes, if not seconds, the realization that this is quite hard, made people get on board.”

Black has reached out across directorates to build allies. “I've reached out into our tech directorate and our operations group to be accessible by default. We're Office 365 users, a big Teams user and we turned round to our colleagues and said want all the accessibility features turned on by default.”

Turrell started small. “I asked if somebody else wants to join a five-person working group where we can all chat about what's not working.”

Having mentioned the BBC’s champions network at an accessibility conference she is looking to create a network of networks and 120 organisations are looking to join. 

What does a successful network look like?

Turrell says success means quiet from the outside, and lots of internal noise.

“License fee payers can complain as much as they want. If we're not getting any complaints that's great for us [although] we listen to every single one regarding accessibility and encourage people to tell us exactly what is going wrong.”

Internally, she wants noise about accessibility. “I'll do these catch-ups with people and I'll say, ‘tell me all the things that you don't like because then I can do something about it’. So, when you see almost 300 people on our Slack channel and everyone's having a conversation, loudness, then I know it works”. 

The panellists have this advice to others. 

Turrell said: “Raise the question, put your hand up at a meeting and ask, ‘have we thought about this?’” Keep going. Keep learning.” 

Hepburn said: “Get people to hear it, get people to feel it and get people to do it.”

And for Black the message is simple: “Don't ever apologize about promoting accessibility and inclusivity. Let's get on with it.”

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