I believe accessibility in software is an important topic. Why? Because you would be hard pressed to find a person who doesn’t use electronic devices and the software that runs them every day. Accessibility means these software users can obtain, utilize, or understand this software easily, but it’s a fact that accessibility is not always equal. Each user is constrained by their individual capabilities and, possibly, their disabilities.
As developers, we have the responsibility of building an inclusive experience so that every user can use our product equally. This is particularly relevant as we celebrate the International Day of Person with Disabilities on Dec. 3, which promotes the “full and equal participation of persons with disabilities and to take action for the inclusion of persons with disabilities in all aspects of society and development.”
In addition to this commemorative day, we can thank the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which celebrated its 30-year anniversary on July 26, 2020. The ADA provided us with examples of how inclusivity through accessibility (over adaptability) in the workplace benefits everyone.
Intuit®, a global company with around 10,000 employees spread across offices in nine countries and active in many more markets, celebrates diversity, equity, and inclusion, which is why it empowers global teams to deliver accessibility-first design through centralized accessibility teams.
Building a local accessibility community
Intuit’s core accessibility team is based in California. To maximize their impact, this team scales via a three-tier accessibility champion program, creating the opportunity for accessibility leaders to emerge from within global teams.
When I joined Intuit, there was limited accessibility expertise within the UK organization. However, I was thrilled to see how open and determined everyone was to improve these issues for our customers. I read an interview by our tech culture team with Intuit’s accessibility leads, Ted Drake and Sagar Barbhaya. In their interview, I discovered the global team’s accessibility champions program and became the first champion in the UK.
Within a year, I had led several training sessions, and every engineer in the UK was an accessibility champion. Six months later, inspired by an accessibility week event run by the centralized team, I and four other engineers dedicated our global engineering days week to focusing on QuickBooks’ tax center and making it as accessible as we could. We took a customer-first mindset, becoming comfortable with using a screen reader ourselves to deeply understand the issues our customers face. With the perfect blend of product and accessibility expertise, we were able to find and close a number of issues over the week. This testified to the transformative accessibility journey the UK organization had been on.
The framework put in place by the centralized team enabled us to rapidly deliver change. With the framework, I had a ready-made training session to deliver to other engineers, introducing them to the world of accessibility in software, and providing the knowledge and focus to fix our issues.
I am now an internally recognized accessibility leader, and there are three other employees across marketing, design, and customer success currently pursuing the next level of the champion program. Ultimately, this localized culture of accessibility developed, to a large extent, thanks to the framework.
Distribution of local/central responsibilities
Other partnerships between teams within Intuit include autism awareness and hiring outreach, which started in Intuit Bangalore and extended to the United States. Also, the team in Boise, Idaho, has created a thriving accessibility culture and a popular workshop program initiated by a central team visit.
Intuit’s Central Accessibility team is responsible for projects that impact the entire company. This includes training; automated testing; audits; liaising with human resources, legal, and marketing; and conducting design and engineering reviews. Their goal is to provide the support for local leaders and products to own their unique aspects of accessibility and inclusive design.
Local leaders, such as myself, have the opportunity to build a community of empathetic engineers and designers, lead a chapter of the Intuit Abilities Network (an internal employee network), conduct customer interviews, work with local charities, and drive accessibility changes specific to our products. Local leaders also understand the importance of regional laws and opportunities, such as the HMRC certification for QuickBooks® Online.
This distribution of roles allows the company to have a consistent voice, but also the flexibility and efficiency of individual ownership and accomplishment.
Centralized accessibility teams key to success
Centralized accessibility teams and leaders are key to success in large companies. To cause meaningful change across the entire organization, they must create a framework that supports other employees to deliver for accessibility in software, including setting priorities for accessibility issues.
To learn more about providing accessibility in software, read Ted Drake’s 5 tips for making your app accessible and Sarah Margolis-Greenbaum’s explanation of how to find valuable accessibility feedback in Slack.