10 things I learnt by bringing accessibility to my company, what3words

1. Accessibility is a journey, not a goal. Accessibility is not something you ‘reach’. Just like any digital product, there will always be more improvements to make, specially as you continue to release new features.

2. Building an accessibility culture is the key to success. The most successful companies in terms of accessibility are those that have built a culture of accessibility where all employees feel personally responsible for bringing accessibility to their day-to-day jobs. The BBC is a great example of a company that has done accessibility right for decades and one of their secrets is their accessibility advocates army all across the business.

3. People have good intentions. I often found that people want to do the right thing, they just don’t know how. Everyone is very busy and doing accessibility right means going out of your way to learn what you need to do differently in your job. But once presented with clear objectives and guidelines, everyone was more than happy to implement these.

4. It’s an all-or-nothing case. Accessibility will only be successful when the whole ecosystem is accessible. For example, a what3words user wanting to navigate to a what3words address relies on the accessibility of the navigation app as well as on the accessibility of the what3words app.

5. Accessibility user testing is super important. Empathy and automated tools are important but they’re not enough. With user testing, you will find issues you never imagined you had. I have a great example for this. The format of a what3words address is always 3 words separated by dots. During a user research call with a blind user, we realised he was typing the 3 words without the dots in between, which sometimes invalidates the what3words address. He had never seen the dots and we had also never told him there should be dots in between the words. This mistake would have never been spotted by accessibility tools. We had to interact with our users with disabilities to understand failures such as this one.

6. Testing platforms don’t always include people with disabilities. We use a tool for testing which, we realised, doesn’t have an option for testing by people with disabilities. This meant we had to go out and find testers with disabilities. It also meant a different budget altogether. It would be so easy to add filters for different types of disabilities just like they have filters for gender, geography, etc.

7. Automated accessibility tools only detect 30% of the accessibility issues. Even if your accessibility scores on different tools such as LightHouse or Accessibility Insights are perfect, your product might still not be accessible. Hence the crucial importance of user testing.

8. Building accessible products benefits everyone. Building with accessibility in mind leads to better products. Period. And this benefits not just people with disabilities, but everyone. My aunt has zero geographical orientation and cannot use Google Maps, she gets lost constantly. She doesn’t have a disability but working to improve Google Maps for people with disabilities would mean my aunt would find the app easier to use.

9. Doing accessibility from the beginning is easier and more cost-effective. Building accessibility later means going back and reviewing thousands of lines of code and revisiting company-wide practices. It will take longer. It will also be more expensive. It’s all about building an accessibility culture early-on.

10. Perfect doesn’t exist. Or at least I haven’t seen it! No one has ‘nailed it’, we’re all learning. Some companies have made it more of a priority than others and those are leading the way, but there’s always more that can be done.

Let’s chat! I love talking about accessibility! If you’re interested in accessibility or work in accessibility, send me a message, we can have a chat and learn from each other.

Accessibility strategist, keynote speaker and writer