Verbit created a new role for the company when it recently named Scott Ready its Global Head of Accessibility & Inclusion. The position highlights Verbit’s continued commitment to accessibility and hopes to inspire others to invest more in leadership committed to inclusivity.
Although Ready has been with Verbit for four years, he will now focus more intently on improving access for employees, partners and customers across the organization.
When discussing his new position, Ready remains adamant that when a company invests more in accessibility, it isn’t about changing its culture.
“Verbit’s culture, IBM’s culture or Netflix’s culture is still their culture. But we need to take that culture and infuse accessibility into it. The result is a more holistic, inclusive culture,” said Ready.
As a lifelong accessibility advocate, Ready has actionable advice for other companies that want to infuse accessibility and inclusion into their cultures.
Appoint a leader with an experienced background
While many companies are creating similar positions or adding Chief Accessibility Officers to their C-suites, it’s important to consider the significance of who you appoint to the role. As a child of deaf adults (CODA), Ready grew up in the Deaf community. Both of his parents taught at the Missouri School for the Deaf, and his first language is American Sign Language. Given his background, Ready is able to speak with expertise and authenticity on the needs of the communities that Verbit serves.
Ready provided some insights on what other companies should be thinking about when they choose to create similar positions or build out a department with an accessibility and inclusion focus.
Exploring the role of an Accessibility & Inclusivity Officer
Roles specific to accessibility and inclusion are relatively new to the corporate world. Here are some ways Ready is looking to impact accessibility at Verbit, internally and externally, that companies can learn from.
Internal accessibility concerns
When a company selects a new software, business partner or method of communication, decision-makers may look at the benefits and prices. However, they often overlook accessibility considerations. For instance, who in the business is checking that a platform like Slack or Asana is offering equal access for all employees?
Ready says that, in many cases, no one is performing that check. Although business leaders may know they must accommodate employees with disabilities due to legal regulations, they often neglect to take a wider approach toward inclusivity. Instead, Ready says that accessibility needs to become fused within the company culture and a sticking point for anyone contracting with a new business partner.
Ready will be working to check that Verbit’s partners and the tools its employees procure and use are accessible. The goal is to go beyond accommodating individual requests by employers and incorporate Universal Design principles into Verbit’s business model.
External accessibility touchpoints
While Verbit focuses on accessibility solutions like closed captioning, transcription and audio description, all companies must consider how they’re engaging with their clients and customers with equity. The need to offer positive user experiences and accessible solutions to consumers extends well beyond companies working in the accessibility space.
Ready explained that many innovators are developing new products or technologies. When they do, they might not factor in accessibility at first. This issue can lead to problems like a product going to market with serious accessibility-related flaws.
“Who is responsible for saying, ‘no, that’s a major enough barrier that it is not ready to be released?’” asked Ready. Unfortunately, companies often fail to designate that responsibility to anyone.
As a result, many businesses end up needing to retrofit their products with fixes that are less than ideal, labor-intensive and potentially costly.
Instead, people in Ready’s position work to ensure that “accessibility is part of the initial design. At the very beginning, somebody has to own that. Someone has to be the one that wakes up every morning thinking about how to make this happen.”
Now, “more companies have realized that this is not just a one-time project. Accessibility is an ongoing development,” he said.
Additionally, when companies take these steps, they are bound to benefit far more than they initially imagined.
Understanding the business benefits of accessibility
Accessibility professionals aren’t just focused on avoiding barriers and obstacles, they’re helping their businesses build better products and offer improved services. For any company on the fence about the importance of these roles, Ready points to Nike.
Nike’s FlyEase shoes are easy for customers to put on without using their hands. The product started as an accessibility solution that a clever designer presented. Interestingly, like many accessibility tools or accommodations, the usefulness of that product extended beyond its target audience.
Nike’s accessible shoes are useful for people with disabilities, elderly people and anyone who enjoys being able to slide on their sneakers. In creating that product, Nike didn’t just make life easier and better for many consumers, it also opened itself up to new customers.
“I think that’s just an awesome example of how somebody from within the company has said how can we be more accessible? And then the result enables them to further expand into a new market,” said Ready.
Innovations from audiobooks to electric toothbrushes were also initially developed out of the need for accessibility solutions but are now used by everyone.
What should companies look for in an accessibility officer?
Here are a few things Ready suggests that businesses look for when they’re trying to find their own accessibility leaders.
Professional background in accessibility
Understanding the world of accessibility is a critical part of the role. For instance, Ready has in-depth knowledge about the Deaf community, but he’s also worked in accessibility for more than 30 years and has collaborated closely with advocates and professionals who are blind or have other disabilities.
The perspective of a person with this professional background is invaluable when trying to identify the accessibility issues that matter most. Additionally, working in this space highlights a passion for building a more inclusive world. The best accessibility officers will believe in the importance of their work and approach it like a mission, not just a job.
Accessibility leaders in companies need to understand the business goals of a corporation. An accessibility officer needs to be able to see opportunity in accessibility, not just obligation. Identifying accessibility solutions that are economically wise is critical. Also, a business savvy accessibility leader may be able to identify areas where accessibility solutions can help a company gain a foothold in a new and profitable market.
A strong network of peers and colleagues
Heads of Accessibility & Inclusion are operating in uncharted territory.
“We’re change agents,” said Ready. “You must spend a lot of good quality time building that network of others that are in the same arena.”
Connecting with peers in similar roles can help your accessibility officer understand how to get buy-in from the top levels of the business, which is often a struggle.
Having a strong network to discuss these topics with gives someone a chance to ask, “how did you communicate this value-add to your C -levels? Being able to share that among others in a similar role is very critical.”
Companies should ask potential candidates about their networking practices, communication within their field and connections with other accessibility professionals.
Gain greater insights from Verbit to boost accessibility
In addition to building out its own accessibility force, Verbit is helping other companies improve accessibility by providing tools like captioning, transcription and audio description.
Contact us to learn more on how your company can approach today’s challenges and opportunities to promote an accessible and inclusive environment for everyone.