As we launch into 2017, begin with the end in mind. Where will you be in December? What will you have accomplished?

With the spirit of the new year fresh on your mind, you imagine yourself, almost a year into the future… It’s the end of 2017 and you’re on top of the world.

Why? You rocked 2017 in terms of accessibility and inclusion. Your site and your systems are humming along, more accessible than ever, and you did it in just under a year. Everyone keeps saying it was like rocket fuel, and they still don’t understand how you were able to do so much in just 11 months.

Think about that for a moment. You really did it.

You got the support you needed at every level. Your leadership team called out diversity and inclusion at their annual shareholder meeting (that was amazing!), and even those old school IT managers started attending sprint planning sessions and demos to show their support. Your designers and developers started sharing the things they learned in each sprint with all the other teams, and even put together open lunchtime sessions to help teach the rest of the company how to start thinking more inclusively in their work. Sure, there were times when there was unrest (more likely felt like it was bordering on upheaval, am I right?) but you stuck it out through the difficult times and it made you stronger.

Your devs said that their defining moment in 2017 was when they saw the accessibility issues that we logged in two different ways: yes, there were 173 problems that had to be fixed in that mobile app you just rolled out (boo). But, as part of the bigger picture, each of those 173 issues showed you a hole in your learning process as a team. It was that moment when they knew that fixing all the “accessibility bugs” would be wasted effort if you didn’t prevent them from happening again. The best part was when the team who fixed the issues put together a deep tutorial on “how to do it right.” Three months later, that new team of product managers, designers, developers and QA staff that joined you, said “Thank you SO much for being there for us… you saved us 12 weeks of work!”

The epiphany

In June, your BAs, Product Owners and Product Management team had that slightly painful epiphany when they saw that it was literally impossible to list all the accessibility requirements for an individual story. Remember when your brightest PM stood up in the middle of the work day and kind of freaked out? “There’s over 200 accessibility things we need to do with this one screen alone!” and later, when trying to solve the problem, she complained, “if we listed them ALL, the story itself would be so large it’d be impossible to close!” Your team got to work, broke things down, and figured out what requirements to put where in the project lifecycle.

Once they really understood their role in building inclusive interactions, your designers looked like they were given an early holiday. They were so on board — they talked with each other more than ever before. They talked with the engineering teams… in ADVANCE of starting the project. They even made you an honourary unicorn badge for all your help last year.

Everyone is pointing to all the success stories that made this such an incredible year for accessibility, but no one is looking at the one game changing thing that you did to make it work. How did all this happen? There’s a lot of detail that went into it, but here’s the bottom line.

You showed up.

Yes, it’s that simple. You showed up. Even with the extra workload and added pressure you felt, you were SO much more than a warm body. Those meetings that were scheduled with that consulting team? Not only were you there, but you came prepared with thoughtful questions. When others were talking about something that wasn’t directly related to you, you didn’t tune out and check your email on your phone. You did the opposite — you tuned in and looked for a connection to your work, an opportunity to represent accessibility as a solution to their different challenges.

You knew accessibility would be a challenge… but a worthy one rather than an onerous one. You saw the importance of the work, and you didn’t try to sweep it under the carpet. You didn’t go hunting for shortcuts. You didn’t let that little voice in your head ask “what’s the minimum I have to do to make this go away?” Instead, you heard the call: “How can I help others here believe in this as much as me?” You heard it proclaim: “Let’s do this!” And you didn’t do this alone. Your team couldn’t have done all of this without you in 2017, but they succeeded because you contributed the most important thing first: yourself. None of the techniques, criteria, or test cases will ever compare to your support and commitment.

Because you know… you could battle and do all of this with long nights and tireless days of pushing others into the work. But accessibility isn’t going away — it’s a way of thinking, a compassionate and inclusive way of thinking about everyone, and when you work like that, you pull people in. And here, at the turn of a new year, you’ve realized this is how you wish you had been working all along.

Show up.