GAAD: Carrots, Sticks, and Accessibility in Japan

By May 8th, 2013

With Braille support and wheelchair accommodations prevalent in every major city, inclusive and people-centered design seems to be a way of life in Japan.

(Local time, Tokyo, Japan: 2:00am, May 9th)

Most people are familiar with that old idiom of the carrot and the stick, where there are two methods that can be used to affect change. With the carrot, you use positive motivation and psychological or physical incentives to encourage a person or an organization to adopt a new behavior. And, with the stick, you use negative motivation to reinforce the unwelcome consequences of undesirable behavior. Both methods work, and one tactic is to use them as a combined approach. However, for a lot of people, the desire to increase awareness about accessibility often raises difficult questions. How much does one use the carrot, and how much does one use the stick?

Over the last several years, there’s been a growing amount of significant milestones in legislation to ensure equal access to web content for individuals with disabilities. And, as an advocate who worked within corporate America for years making the business case for accessibility, I’ve often referenced some of those landmark lawsuits as cautionary tales. So, I confess, I used to lead with the stick, and then I’d follow up with a lot of carrots to make the case. But, I ask you, do we always need the stick? Is it possible to affect major change and to see a full cultural shift in individuals or organizations, just by promoting all of the benefits that one gets from inclusive design?

Let’s consider Japan. Many people hold that Japan is one of the most accessible and inclusive countries in the world. With Braille support and wheelchair accommodations prevalent in every major city, inclusive and people-centered design seems to be a way of life in Japan. Likewise, thanks in large part to the incredible efforts of accessibility advocates like Makoto Ueki at Infoaxia, Tokyo has benefited from as many as FIVE accessibility unconferences in about a year and a half. These accessibility camps provide a welcoming and approachable space where people can discuss everything from disability rights to accommodation needs to HTML5 and ARIA techniques. And, it’s all free and open to the public. Each time they host an Accessibility Camp Tokyo, their numbers grow. Makoto is now helping to support the first Accessibility Camp Seoul.

When I asked him about Japan’s perceptions about accessibility, Makoto once told me that several major companies were making concentrated efforts to improve the accessibility of their websites, but unlike many corporate organizations in the United States, “the motivation behind their efforts comes from CSR and/or customer satisfaction.” Makoto said that when Mike Paciello visited Japan in 2002, he once remarked to Makoto that Japan clearly had “accommodation in mind in general.” However, all of this, and there’s no stick, no litigation risk for companies. Japan has no official legislation that governs web accessibility. Instead, they have a set of standards, JIS X 8341 Web Content (Japan Industrial Standard), which provides guidelines for accessible design and development. This is a movement towards best practices and standards, though, not an enforcement.

So, as we’re thinking globally today about accessibility awareness, I’d like to encourage you to look for new ways to achieve success. In this season of responsive and mobile-first design trends, let’s try to cultivate an attitude of “mindful accommodation” with carrots instead of sticks. Who knows? We might just get more allies than we expect.

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