Hiring people with disabilities is critical to the success of the accessibility profession
WSJ reports that there is an increase in the number of accessibility (a11y) job openings. They attribute this to Covid, increase in lawsuits, diversity initiatives. Great, I am glad that companies are making room for this. BUT, as usual, I have to share my POV on this “trend”. Please hear me out before you respond, you may not like some or all of this but I am gonna say it anyway.
We cannot make huge shifts in building inclusive products WITHOUT including people with disabilities. PERIOD.
Most articles on this topic completely miss this very important point. If you truly care about building inclusive products then you have to start by HIRING people with a broad range of abilities into your product teams. I am not referring to hiring one blind person to “test” your app. A one off usability study doesn’t count either. That’s not inclusion. Hire them into pivotal roles to co-create products that work for everyone.
Hiring an a11y “specialist” “manager” “leader” whatever the title maybe has it’s shortcomings.
You run the risk of the organization choosing to throw accessibility over the fence to the “central a11y team” that becomes the sole entity that is constantly policing the org or chasing bugs. You DO NOT want to do this. This means you have to find and hire the RIGHT person for the job. One that is not afraid to make himself or herself obsolete over time. The goal is to teach the org to take ownership and be self reliant. Build a11y into your existing product design and development lifecycle. The last thing you want is someone who is interested in building an a11y empire creating internal dependencies that will not help make a11y more mainstream.
Accessibility benefits EVERYONE because disability impacts EVERYONE.
I know I can be repetitive but this one has it’s benefits! If we can internalize this then it becomes easy to make accessibility everyone’s priority. Being inclusive in the workplace is not something that only a few people should be tasked with worrying about. It should be on everyone’s mind and to do list.
I am glad the accessibility profession is rising to a greater level of importance but I worry that by creating these kinds of jobs we are not addressing the root cause. All this hiring is great but I feel like it is distracting from the real issues!
Here are some real issues we need to focus on.
- How do we make it drop dead simple and easy to get started on a11y (without demanding a huge investment in time, effort and money) ?
- How does a product team get started without an “a11y audit” or “hiring an expert”?
- How do we shift the emphasis on compliance with guidelines to thinking about a11y as part of a great user experience?
- How do we hire people with disabilities into pivotal product development roles as co creators of the next wave of tech innovation? To do this, how do we bridge the skills gap that exists in the disability community today?
- How do we create a clear path to execution and tie accessibility to revenue goals?