W3C Accessibility Maturity Model

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Why Does Accessibility Need a Maturity Model?

It’s not enough to get a product accessible. The entire product experience should be accessible, and organizations need to implement processes and systems that can objectively measure whether the correct steps have been taken to keep the product experience accessible. This maturity model additionally includes employee-facing communications, training, documentation, and tools. Incorporating Information and Communications Technology (ICT) accessibility into an organization’s workflow and quality governance can be a complex process. While some organizations have individuals or departments that support accessibility, many do not yet recognize the importance of ICT accessibility as a requirement or the need for accessibility governance systems. This can limit these organizations’ ability to produce accessible products and services and their associated training and documentation on an ongoing basis.

In an organization of moderate or large size, no one department can be responsible for accessibility. It takes a collaborative effort from numerous departments to establish and implement accessibility governance systems throughout the organization. These systems integrate ICT accessibility criteria into policies, key business processes, organizational culture, and management structures in a consistent, repeatable, and measurable fashion. Only then can organizations address the complexities related to enabling ICT accessibility on an ongoing basis.

Maturity models have been around since the 80s. They generally contain a number of levels with increasing levels of maturity. Each level contains a definition, controls, a list of processes, and proof points that can be produced for an organization to legitimately claim that they are at a particular level of maturity.

This proposed W3C Accessibility Maturity Model describes an overall framework for establishing a robust, repeatable ICT accessibility program and identifying areas for organizational improvement. The W3C Accessibility Maturity Model is a tool that:

  • helps people, groups, or organizations assess their accessibility practices
  • identifies gaps between the current capabilities and the next level of accessibility maturity
  • encourages improving overall accessibility performance over time

Accessibility Conformance Reports / Voluntary Product Accessibility Templates (ACR/VPATs) look at a snapshot of single version of a product frozen in a point of time. There are no guarantees about the accessibility of that product later in the product release timeline because ACR/VPATs don’t assess whether accessibility can be repeated.

Organizations know when they are doing well (or poorly) with product accessibility using audit reports and bug counts. However, these metrics don’t indicate how the organization is doing operationally to continue to produce accessible products. Examining key corporate processes is critical to making this determination, and ACR/VPATs, audits, and defects don’t do that. The W3C Accessibility Maturity Model is a big part of a “shift-left” methodology of preventing problems from recurring, not fixing them after they have happened.

Accessibility maturity modeling is very different than accessibility conformance testing

  • Conformance testing provides information about the level of accessibility conformance of a particular product at a particular time. The results of a conformance test provide a picture of a particular version of a product (or a subcomponent of a product).
  • Maturity modeling provides information about the ability of an organization to produce accessible products over the long term. The results of a maturity modeling assessment provide a holistic picture of an organization’s accessibility initiatives; where the organization is doing accessibility well and where improvements can be made to remove barriers.

We encourage people and organizations who could benefit from implementing the W3C Accessibility Maturity Model to review the Group Note and provide comments back to help us refine and improve the document.

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