The Accessibility Domino Run

A woman pushes the first in a series of standing dominos arranged end to end in a row.
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Why EPUB is Just One Branch in the Larger Design

This is a guest post from Christina Volpe, Accessibility Manager for Wiley’s Academic Publishing group explains how the application of compliance maturity models can be used to identify and build an accessibility strategy in publishing that extends beyond EPUB files.  


How many of us were gifted domino sets as children and built elaborate — or in my case not so elaborate — domino runs?

Just remember (or imagine) the time and coordination required to place each domino upright — making sure that they were lined up squarely one after another and that there was just the right amount of space between each.

Now consider those attempting the more elaborate designs with turns, branching, diamonds, etc., and the effort that it took to angle each domino properly. If this seems tedious, it definitely is. However, something can be said for the level of satisfaction felt while watching (and hearing) the dominos fall one after another without interruption.

Accessibility in publishing is no different from a domino run. While the end goal is to knock over the final domino (or in our case, deliver equitable products and work environments), how we get there involves an entire ecosystem that needs to be designed and aligned “just right”.   

The Accessibility Domino Run

If you are wondering, “What do domino runs have to do with accessibility?” the answer is relatively straightforward. At a young age many of us were exposed to the domino effect through this simple game and learned how chain reactions can set off a series of events. Accessibility in publishing is no different from a domino run. While the end goal is to knock over the final domino (or in our case, deliver equitable products and work environments), how we get there involves an entire ecosystem that needs to be designed and aligned “just right”.   

It’s getting to that “just right” that can be a challenge. Publishing companies consist of multiple layers of colleagues and departments. Whether you work in procurement, legal, HR, product development, editorial, etc. we all have a stake in accessibility outcomes. And the decisions made at various stages of the process will impact others along the way.

Essentially, we are creating our own accessibility domino runs. But instead of a straight line, this run is complex and has multiple branches, twists, and turns. If one part of the design is not properly engineered, it prevents us from completing the full run once that first domino is knocked over.

Maturity models are self-assessment tools that can be used to evaluate the state of an organization’s compliance efforts.

Maturity Models: A Brief Primer

So how do we do this successfully? Like a domino run blueprint or tutorial, we can create our own accessibility plan by leveraging compliance maturity models. Maturity models are self-assessment tools that can be used to evaluate the state of an organization’s compliance efforts. They not only help to identify strategy gaps, but can also be used to develop techniques, best practices — and ultimately — inform roadmaps and project plans.

They are not a new concept and date back to Carnegie Mellon University’sCapability Maturity Model (CMM). Within the last decade or so however, the application of maturity models have been making their way into the accessibility space as a way for organizations to develop and measure the success of their compliance programs. Level Access’s Digital Accessibility Maturity Model (DAMM) and the working draft of the W3C’s Accessibility Maturity Model are just two examples.

Regardless of the model used, they all share a common structure, beginning with a series of top-level categories. As an example, at the time of writing this article the draft W3C model consists of the following categories (or dimensions). Notice how many of these dimensions explore accessibility facets beyond the final product itself.

  • Communications: Information as it relates to an organization’s accessibility, as well as accessibility of all internal/external communications.
  • Knowledge and Skills: Ongoing education, and outsourcing practices to fill gaps for accessibility operations.
  • Support: Accessibility assistance provided to internal employees and external customers with disabilities.
  • Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) Development Lifecycle: Incorporation of web, software, and hardware accessibility considerations in development processes — from idea conception, to design, development, testing, ACR production, user research, maintenance, and obsolescence.
  • Personnel: Job descriptions, recruiting, disability-related employee resource groups necessary to provide lived-experience to accessibility efforts.
  • Procurement: A strategic process that concentrates on finding and acquiring accessible products required by an organization. Activities may include sourcing, negotiation, and selecting goods and services.
  • Culture: The attitudes, sensitivity, and behaviors around accessibility, including internal interaction, perception, and decision-making.

The models do not stop at the dimension level. Each category is then further organized into a series of proof points or activities that are rated against a maturity stage. The maturity stage is a sliding scale with a series of outcomes and processes for improvement, usually beginning at an inactive stage and ending in an optimized stage.

More than Just a File

While maturity models are great for measuring project success, they are also incredibly useful for identifying interdepartmental dependences and tasks that need to occur in parallel. Take EPUB as an example. You need to not only consider how ICT development processes like design, development, user experience, and quality assurance impact your final product, but you also need to align these tasks with requirements that fall under the other dimensions. For instance, you cannot build an accessible file if you lack:

  • A formalized accessibility standard that can be applied to all files
  • Author/subject matter expert (SME) authoring guides or documentation
  • Colleague, SME, and external partner training/onboarding requirements
  • The ability to support colleagues with disabilities who are working on your products
  • Consistent contract or RFP language when hiring/evaluating a SME or external partner
  • Executive level support for allocating budgets to complete this work
  • And so on

Once you have a EPUB process that meets your accessibility standards, your efforts do not end there. Consider:

  • Do you have a customer-facing accessibility statement that communicates your efforts?
  • Do you have support documentation available for your sales teams and customers, such as a FAQ knowledge base?
  • Have your support teams completed training to assist customers who require accommodations or additional help?

How to Start

Before jumping straight into an audit, you should begin your journey by picking a model and customizing it for use within your company. Many of the models can be scaled up or down depending upon how you want to use them. Do you want to focus on a specific product, department, overall organization, or maybe all three?

  • Review the model and adjust it to align with your company’s terminology, departments, and processes.
  • Get buy-in from multiple people and think about how the audit can result in business analytics.
  • Test it as you go to close any gaps before you are ready to use it.  

Once the audit is complete, consider where you want to be 1, 2, 3, or more years down the road. Activities can start out small, and then build in scope to align with business priorities. Each year, a new activity can be introduced with the goal of improving maturity levels across the applicable dimension(s) until the optimize stage is met.

Let’s explore an example of a multi-year EPUB strategy that factors in multiple maturity dimensions. This is by no means a complete list, but it serves to identify some of the key activities to consider.

Year 1: Start with Requirements and Documentation

  • Define and document the standards, authoring requirements, testing methodology, and user acceptance criteria.
  • Identify and approve a process for evaluating all external partners that will be contacted to participate in the project.
  • Agree on contractual requirements, budgets, and KPIs.

Year 2: Build the Development Workflow and Training Strategy

  • Select the external partners and collaborate with key internal stakeholders to develop production workflow and activities.
  • Identify the training requirements and begin planning the strategy that will be made available to those working on EPUBs.
  • Review the success of year 1 activities and adjust as needed to address any gaps.

Year 3: Implement Development Workflow and Training Strategy; Start Considering Communication and Support Needs

  • Implement the development workflow.
  • Rollout the training strategy to support current employees and partners. Your plan should also include the onboarding of future employees/partners.
  • Consider what your communication strategy should consist of. What is your customer-facing message, what is your internal message, do you need to develop additional sales documentation or accessibility conformance reports?
  • Identify your support needs. What do you need to do to support your customers and how can their feedback influence future product decisions?
  • Review the success of year 1 and 2 activities and adjust as needed to address any gaps.

Year 4: Extend Efforts to Communication and Support Requirements

  • Roll out the communication strategy.
  • Develop accessibility-focused support FAQs and train your support colleagues.
  • Review the success of year 1-3 activities and adjust as needed to address any gaps.

One last point to end on: EPUB is just one of many branches in a larger accessibility domino run. While this is where you may begin your efforts, it is not the only section that needs to be engineered. The same thought and planning applied to your EPUBs must also be applied to all other products (e.g., courseware, libraries, and career solutions) and corporate activities. Whether you choose to build these branches in tandem to the EPUB branch, or after,  is up to you. But once complete, your domino run will be all the more meaningful.   

Photo Credit: Photo by Bradyn Trollip on Unsplash

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