Organizations grow over time. Their understanding of accessibility and their attitude towards it change too. Have you seen these five stages of accessibility where you work?

You may have heard of Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’s “Five Stages of Grief” as taken from her book On Death and Dying.

If not, they are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.

If the names of those phases aren’t a fit for what happens in the accessibility world, I don’t know what is. We all progress in our understanding of accessibility—both at a personal level and at higher level within our organizations (at least, we hope so!)

Have you seen these stages of Accessibility in your organization? How do you know which stage you’re at? Here’s some famous quotes we’ve heard over the years that might help you figure out where you are.

Denial

  • “This is a web ‘application‘ so those rules don’t apply to us”
  • “We’re not the government so we don’t have to make this accessible”
  • “People with disabilities don’t come to my site… they just aren’t my customers”

Anger

  • “I can’t believe they’re making us do this!”
  • “Why don’t our team members know how to do this already!?!”
  • “This is just going to cost us money that we’ll never make back!”
  • “This is so unfair!”

Bargaining

  • “What about making it just level A compliant instead of AA?”
  • “Can we just leave that part for later?”
  • “I know we have three web sites, but can’t we just make one of them accessible?”
  • “The mobile site doesn’t need to be accessible because our main site is.”

Depression

  • “Sigh. We’ve done all this work, and its made no difference, and that consultant still told us we did it wrong…”
  • “This is really hard, and there’s so much to think about”
  • “What’s the point? No matter what we do it won’t be good enough”

Acceptance

  • “Lets make things as accessible as we can, in a way that doesn’t compromise our business goals, or the aesthetic quality of our site. And, if we need to make changes later to make it more accessible, then we’ll do that too.”
  • “We can do this!”

Where are you?

So, where are you? It would be great if we were all at the acceptance stage, but that might not be realistic. In which stage is your organization? Have any quotes you’ve heard over the years that you can share from inside your organization or from your clients? If so, please do share (anonymously, if you like!)

18 thoughts on “Five stages of accessibility”

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  1. Sandi Gauder says:

    Great post Derek. I’d venture to add one more stage to the beginning of the list – Awareness. It still amazes me how few organizations are even aware of the concept of web accessibility and even fewer who are aware that there are legislative requirements in some jurisdictions.

    Anger and Denial seem to be the biggest hurdles. Once folks move beyond those stages, they’re already dabbling with Acceptance. They may still be Bargaining or Depressed but at least they’re looking at ways to implement accessibility … and that’s a good thing.

  2. Sveta says:

    Great post! Accessibility needs to be considered before starting the project to save more time and costs – not to be waited till the end when many visitors with disabilities start complaining.

  3. Cliff Tyllick says:

    That’s actually two stages, Sandi: first, Obliviousness; then, Awareness. But, having acknowledged that, it’s important for those of us who promote accessibility to avoid making the mistake of assuming that every new person we meet is in one of the early stages of this process.

    Lately I’ve heard a number of complaints that presentations about accessibility almost always begin with the justification of the cause: why accessibility matters, why people with disabilities shouldn’t be discounted, the business case for accessibility, and so forth. So imagine a person who attends a series of 90-minute presentations:
    – the first might be on creating accessible forms
    – the second, on creating Web templates that support accessibility
    – the third, on using ARIA to create highly accessible interactions that also improve usability dramatically
    In each of these presentations, they might hear 45 minutes to an hour of justification of the cause. In other words, they’ll hear the same 45 minutes to an hour of information three times. Two to three hours on “why.”

    And the stuff they came to learn? You know, the “how” – the methods they can use when they get back to their desks to implement accessibility?

    They get 30 to 45 minutes each on them.

    We need to give our audiences more credit than we often do. When they come to learn how, we need to assume that they know enough of the “why” that we don’t need to cover it. Just pointing them to a resource where they can learn more on their own is likely enough. At this point, harping on “why” is likely to encourage folks who are already on board to jump ship.

    We don’t need everyone to have a Ph.D. in accessibility engineering. We just need for everyone to know how to make the information and applications that they produce accessible.

    Sorry for hijacking your blog, Derek. Your observations are absolutely on target based on our experience. But perhaps if we are more considerate in selecting the information we present to our audiences, we’ll make more progress.

    If we help more people get a practical appreciation for accessibility faster, perhaps they will join us to convert those still in a stage of denial, anger, bargaining, or depression.

    1. Sorry for hijacking your blog, Derek. Your observations are absolutely on target based on our experience. But perhaps if we are more considerate in selecting the information we present to our audiences, we’ll make more progress.

      This is an entirely separate blog post in itself, Cliff. I agree with you to an extent. You know my methods and my approach though. I teach a lot of how, and I use that to teach the why. The practical leads to people understanding the theoretical why better, because they’ve learned the why in context of how.

      They feel it more deeply because they see real examples, and real solutions in action, and my hope with that is that people do just “get it” and move to acceptance. It isn’t always the case though, and depending on a person’s role at a company/organization, they may need more why than how.

      Who knew you could have serious discussion on a blog on a light-hearted, Friday-afternoon blog post? :)

    2. Cliff, this has been described by Katheryne Lynch in her blog post: 5 Teaching Mistakes Accessibility Advocates Make, ranked #5. Basically, the idea is to find the right balance between nothing and the whole shebang, depending on the audience, context, and goals. She also gives a tip to circumvent the issue nicely.

  4. My company is somewhere between Bargaining and Depression. But I see signs of Acceptance every day…its a journey…

    1. Joshua—it is definitely a journey, and I’m happy to hear that you see signs of Acceptance! Keep working at it… Cliché as it may sound, we’re all in this together!

  5. Marissa says:

    I personally have worked through the 5 stages of grief (loss) living with a disability. Those of us living with disabling conditions are doing the hard work by living and fighting through denial, anger, bargaining and depression. I am hoping designers, developers and organizations realize that the work you do to move into acceptance may help a disabled person move closer to acceptance. Don’t be a barrier, be the bridge!

    Much love,
    Marissa

  6. JulieG says:

    My little team is at acceptance, and only worries that we aren’t doing it right. Our partner team (responsible for content) are bargaining, but coming around. The department we’re part of though, is firmly in denial. And some days that drags my team back to depression!

    From our bargaining team ‘Why can’t we just include a plain text alternative in a Word doc?’ I’m always tempted to reply ‘Why can’t black people just sit at the back of the bus?’ but I don’t really think sarcasm is as persuasive as explanations, even if it’s accurate :)

  7. Ruth Ellison says:

    Great post Derek! We must be on the same wavelength – in a few weeks, my friend and I are presenting on a similar topic at OZeWAI (the Australian Accessibility web conference).

  8. Right on, Derek. I especially like the fact that you use real quotes – and that I’ve indeed heard some of them numerous times.
    I posted once my personal Top 5 (in French), a collection of excuses people use to justify their website not being accessible. I know you read French, but for your readers who don’t, here’s an approximate translation (ordered from wrong to awful):

    Our website is graphically too rich to be made accessible;
    Our stats show that blind users do not visit our website;
    We’ll do it if someone sues us;
    We don’t have to do it, we already pay the AGEFIPH fee (in France, it’s what orgs pay annually for not employing enough persons with disabilities;
    If our website is made accessible, we take the risk of having disabled folks wanting to apply for jobs here.

    I swear they are all true…
    You might also like some of the tweets from @A11yFAIL. Again, in French, but there are some gems that are definitely worth the effort!

  9. Vivienne says:

    Hi Derek
    This is a great post and if it’s okay with you, I’d like permission to share it with organisations I speak to. It would be a good starting exercise to have people self-assess where they’re at.
    I agree also about not spending too much time on the ‘why’ and more on the ‘how’. Many people have heard so many presentations on the statistics of people with disabilities, and not enough on how to make websites work for those people.

  10. Like others in the field, I might find this amusing except for the fact that it is true… :(

  11. Interesting post and responses. The JISC TechDis website has a similar perspective – http://www.jisctechdis.ac.uk/techdis/keyinitiatives/supportingthesectors/higher_education/technological_maturity

    Vivienne – you may like to look at http://www.jisctechdis.ac.uk/techdis/userneeds/auditing/onlineassessmentservices. Please feel free to publicise as you see fit.

    Lisa

  12. Justin Brown says:

    Derek,

    Excellent comment.

    From my experience the Denial stage also includes ‘yes, we are very concerned about Accessibility – now, call our lawyers to make sure we do not have to do anything….’

    BTW – really enjoyed your talk when you came to Perth earlier this year.

    Justin

  13. Karla says:

    This is so true. I have heard some form of all of these comments. Right now, I am definitely in the Acceptance stage, I usually try to be a cheerleader. It helps keep me and fellow colleagues motivated to reach our goals!

  14. I’ve liked your article very much. I’ve shared it in my website:

    http://www.tothomweb.com/bloc/2011/12/les-5-etapes-de-laccessibilitat/

    with the 5 stages translated into Catalan.

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