Scaling Accessibility through LinkedIn Engineering's A11y Champions Program

May 16, 2019

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Today, more than one billion people have some form of disability—approximately 15% of the world’s population. Here at LinkedIn, we have the unique potential to create opportunity for every member of the global workforce, which means that we must work to ensure that every member has access to the information on our platform and the opportunities it presents. This is no easy feat; accessibility (a11y) is a journey, and we work each day to get closer to our end goal.

I have the privilege of leading the A11y Engineering Team that empowers our product engineers to build accessible and usable experiences for LinkedIn’s 610 million members around the globe. Through providing tooling and documentation, training and empathy-building, as well as office hours and technical consultations, we support product teams across the organization. While these have all been positive steps towards improving a11y at LinkedIn, we sought a way to scale our efforts further.

In July 2017, we launched an in-house A11y Champions Program to help meet this need. Modeled after our Security Champions Program, the quarter-long program trains engineers in a11y best practices and equips them to serve as local resources for their own teams. The program is open to any engineer ready to commit to spending 25% of their time looking to delve deeper into issues of accessibility and build their understanding of accessible development. By first taking a comprehensive online training program introducing fundamental accessibility concepts, then being assigned an a11y mentor, delivering at least one presentation to their team, and working on hands-on activities, Champions learn to identify and resolve accessibility issues. They can then incorporate that knowledge into their daily work, all the while improving their own engineering craftsmanship. We’re excited to share that we’re now well into our eighth cohort of Accessibility Champions!

Achieving accessibility across LinkedIn is an ongoing journey. By sharing the progress we’ve made in scaling our efforts, our hope is that the lessons we’ve learned will help others to improve accessibility in their own organizations. We’re excited to continue working to make a11y a key part of development and design from the very outset of any project.

Program details

Getting started
The process of becoming an Accessibility Champion starts with self-nomination to the program and a commitment to spend 25% of your time (with the support of your manager) during a designated quarter on accessibility work. Anyone eager to improve their engineering craftsmanship and become an advocate for all things accessibility is welcome to apply.

Each Champion starts with online, self-paced training via accessibility learning modules offered through the Deque University program. This helps set a shared baseline standard of knowledge on international accessibility standards, guidelines, and best practices. Next, each aspiring Champion is paired with a member of the Accessibility team as a mentor, who they meet with for up to two hours per week. Mentors support Champions by talking through tool training, work plans, best practices, and general support on projects.

Integrated work
The hands-on component of the program can be carried out in three different ways. One option is for participants to own the accessibility of a product or feature on their regular team, and work to audit the project and fix accessibility bugs. Alternatively, Champions can opt to focus on accessibility-related tickets for products or features that are outside of their day-to-day domain. Some Champions elect to pursue a hybrid of both options, devoting attention to their own product or feature while also working on accessibility fixes that may occur outside of their usual team.

Ambassadorship
As accessibility liaisons, our Champions contribute valuable insights from the accessibility point of view to each of their teams. Champions pass on accessibility best practices and the importance of maintaining a proactive mindset to ensure accessibility is considered throughout the development process. During the program, Champions not only acquire valuable accessibility skills, but also grow as leaders and mentors on their own teams. At the end of the program, all Champions are asked to give a presentation to reflect on their work, share their takeaways, and walk their teams through using specific testing tools.

Testimonials and what’s next

To date, the Accessibility Champions Program has graduated over 40 Champions across our engineering organization. Here’s some of what our graduates had to share:

  • Kirsten: “I now have the knowledge and voice to advocate for a11y​ in our product holistically, from product specs, to design, to engineering. I share my a11y learnings with my team in meetings and code reviews, and my teammates come to me before developing something to voice a11y concerns and questions. [We’re now] a team that thinks about and executes on accessibility upfront; it has been a huge change that I feel every team absolutely needs.”​

  • Erin: “Since participating in the program, I’ve given several presentations to my team about accessibility and led web efforts for accessibility. As a code reviewer, I’ve caught many accessibility bugs before they became public and have made efforts to up-level fellow engineers to better identify common accessibility bugs.” ​

  • Andrew: “Being in the program has highlighted the importance of an all-inclusive experience and has brought a11y to the forefront in the development process for my team and me.” ​

I'm very fortunate to have received continuous support from Engineering Managers (who approve champions' participation) and my Accessibility Engineering Team in the implementation of this program. As we strive to improve the LinkedIn experience for all 630 million of our members, the Champions are absolutely helping us scale a11y, extending the Accessibility Team's efforts and amplifying our impact. Looking ahead, we’re excited to explore the possibility of a second level of the program involving formal a11y certification. And of course, we’re excited to watch our A11y Champions Program grow as we increase the number of local experts tackling issues of a11y throughout the organization.

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