Accessibility Leadership and the Art of Persuasion

Accessibility Leadership and the Art of Persuasion

Headshot of Neil Milliken
Neil Milliken |  04.30.20
Head of Accessibility & Digital Inclusion, Atos

If you are reading this, it is likely because you have a passion for accessibility and are engaged in work to make your organization more inclusive. One of the biggest challenges facing any person leading their organizational change towards accessibility is winning the hearts and minds of colleagues across the organization. 
Often organizations are starting from a very low level of awareness and maturity. Not everyone is going to share your passion and there may be considerable resistance to change and inertia. I would like to look at how as a leader we can effectively respond to some of the common challenges to our requests to implement accessibility.

I’m sure most of you will have had at least one of the following responses below:
“I’m too busy”
“It’s not in the budget”
“We don’t have any disabled people in our user base”
“Surely that should be [so-and-so’s] responsibility?”
“It’s too late now we will put it in the post go live fixes”
“No one else has ever asked me to do this”
“What do you mean it’s a legal requirement?”

As leaders travel along their journey towards making our organizations accessible, they are going to encounter people in many different parts of the organization. Accessibility will mean different things to different people and have different implications depending on context.

How do you switch from presenting to executive leaders to energizing people in delivery roles? In order to be effective we need to match our language and reasoning to organizational and personal context.  Wherever possible conversations need to be framed positively, try and show the benefits that accessibility will bring and how they align to the job that the person that you are talking to is doing and try to match your language and terminology to that which is familiar to the person you are speaking with. Remember that for most people the language of accessibility is new and often when we are talking about standards quite frankly impenetrable.

If you’re talking to an executive leader then frame your arguments based upon broad business benefits, look to find ways to connect what you are trying to achieve with business objectives and the stated purpose of the organization. Don’t get too technical, keep it concise, provide recommendations and concrete actions that they can take a decision on. I wouldn’t suggest going to your CEO and saying something along the lines of “our implementation of the Aria roles on the widget subsite is in breach of WCAG 2.1”

I would suggest saying something like “we have identified an issue with the widget subsite which impacts [X] users in the following way. Fixing the issues that we have identified will enable [Y] percent of our potential customer base to use the subsite instead of calling our service desk at $[Z] per time. This offers you a potential saving of…”

If on the other hand you are talking to the developer then you need to frame your request in technical terms and if possible provide them with examples of how they might implement a fix and how this is going to make their lives easier maintaining the product in the future.

If you’re not sure how best to shape your argument, then the best thing to do is to first listen to the individual.  Try and find out what the important issues for them are, the challenges they face in their role, and then try and relate your request for accessibility to their priorities and issues.

Sometimes despite all the positivity and the role based contextual rational arguments that we may make we will still encounter resistance.  Try not to get disheartened, remember you are engaged in a long-term program of change and sometimes change happens slowly. When there is a rock in the road the only way to reach our destination is to go around it. Don’t be tempted to press the nuclear button and whatever you do don’t mention the compromising photos from the Christmas party!

About the Blogger

Neil Milliken

Neil Milliken is Global Head of Accessibility at Atos. His role is to help make the world a better place by delivering better technology for customers and staff, embedding inclusive practice into the processes of organisations with thousands of employees and turnovers of billions.

Neil delivers strategy and services working with a wide range of clients helping them to develop policies, processes, and technology solutions to meet the needs of their staff and customers. He is the Atos representative on the Business Disability Forum Technology Task Force Neil is also an invited expert for the W3C Cognitive Accessibility Taskforce & member of the Atos Scientific Community & Atos Distinguished Expert . He is co-founder of AXSChat Europe’s largest twitter chat with a focus on Accessibility & Inclusion. Neil is a member of the Board of Directors for World Institute on Disability, a Non Exec at Genius Within & Chair of the Diversity Board for Institute of Coding. Neil was named in the top ten of the Shaw Trust Disability Power 100 list in 2018 and is currently shortlisted for D&I practitioner of the year in the Disability Smart Awards.

Neil also sits on an internal committee for IAAP Strategic Leader in Accessibility (SLiA) initiative.

As part of their investigations and taskforce initiatives to explore the potential of this certification, IAAP has opened a Community of Practice through its IAAP Connections platform to further the discussion and receive direct feedback from its membership. In order to take part in the Community of Practice individuals must be either a professional or organizational member of IAAP. Please visit the IAAP membership/benefits page to review membership options or contact IAAP directly at


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