What It Means to “Bake-In” Accessibility

December 19, 2017 BY PATRICK LOFTUS
Updated: June 3, 2019

Everybody loves cake.

But if you want everyone to eat the cake, you need to bake it with the right ingredients.

The same goes for organizations when designing or introducing new digital technologies like websites and interactive media such as video or LMS platforms. You need to consider the needs of people with disabilities as part of the initial design, procurement, or development process otherwise you risk excluding them.

Baking in accessibility is easy to do if your organization invests in a little planning ahead of time.

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What is “Baking-In” Web Accessibility?

“Baking accessibility in” is an increasingly common phrase among web accessibility advocates that means something is designed, developed, or otherwise acquired with the needs of people with disabilities in mind.

In other words, “baking accessibility in” means being proactive rather than reactive. So, if your company puts a public-facing marketing video on its website, baking accessibility in would mean ensuring it has accurate closed captions and a keyboard accessible video player before being published.

In terms of web accessibility, other examples of being proactive are having a web accessibility policy, budgeting for continued accessibility endeavors like video captioning, or including accessibility requirements on a procurement checklist.

How To Bake-In Accessibility

Here are some ideas, tips, and strategies used by different organizations to help foster a sustainable culture of accessibility and ensure internal and public-facing technology has accessibility “baked-in” from the start:

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Budgeting Tips

It’s pretty difficult to be serious about accessibility unless your organization is investing the right amount of resources.

Tuition Fees and Grants

In higher education, one way to address this problem is through the implementation of a student tuition fee used to fund a grant for an accessibility initiative. The University of Arizona used this strategy to fund a grant for buying accessible technology on their campus.

Dedicating a Budget to Accessibility

Simply setting aside a budget for continuing and arising accessibility needs is a great way to sustain an organization’s commitment to accessibility. Again, at the University of Arizona, a large accessibility is funded by the institution and managed by the Disability Resources Center for things like video captioning, transcritpion, and interpreters.

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Organizational Tips

Here are a couple tips to help you manage and keep on top of your proactive accessibility endeavors.

QUIZ: What Captioning Laws Apply to You?

QUIZ: What Captioning Laws Apply to You?

Take this quick quiz to see which laws may require you to add captions to video.

Have an Accessibility Policy

Think of this as your organization’s own accessibility law, or accessibility constitution. Having all the applicable legal requirements in one concise document, in terms everyone at the organization can understand, is crucial to maintaining a culture of inclusion. The process of designing, or revamping an accessibility at your organization is also educational to everyone involved. For information on how to design a policy for your organization, reference the World Wide Web Consortium’s guide.

Procurement Checklist

Before your organization implements a new system-wide software or technology, it should meet the standards for accessibility set by your organization’s accessibility policy and whichever governing laws implicate your organization.

Keep an eye out for upcoming contract renewals and sneak accessibility requirements into the renewal agreement. Rob Eveleigh, Five College Electronic and Information Technology Accessibility Coordinator for the 5 College Consortium of Western Massachusetts, suggests conducting a contract inventory or audit to see when those renewals are coming up so you can include those requirements in new contracts.

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Success Tips

To help ensure a culture of proactive accessibility is sustained successfully at your organization, keep sponsorship and testing in mind:

Executive Sponsorship

While grass-roots, bottom-up efforts are often needed for accessibility to take-off at an organization, top-down sponsorship from a CEO, president, or another form of executive leadership can ensure things actually get done and sustain.

If you work at a university, Rob Eveleigh also says to get the office of the president to sign a charge, or an executive order, to put together an accessibility team, form a budget, or implement new accessibility measures. Faculty and other departments are much more likely to cooperate if you have support from the top-down, and a charge to prove it.

Rob Carr, Accessibility Coordinator at Oklahoma Able Tech says, “When these efforts begin grassroots and kind of stay grassroots, I think you’re more likely to encounter [resistance].”

George Mason University’s IT Accessibility Coordinator Kara Zyrkle says, “You’ve got to have the buy-in of your highest level of VP or CIO or whoever that may be. If you don’t have the support and buy-in from them, then I’m not really sure how you’re going to get that pushed out much more across the campus.”


Instituting regimented testing of technology for accessibility is essential to making sure your products are accessible before they are offered to the public, or to your organization’s employees and other recipients.

At Amazon, accessibility is taken very seriously and is woven into their company culture. Because the company is so large and there are so many employed people with disabilities, these individuals are recruited for testing and feedback of new products and services.

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Why Colleges and Corporations Should Be Proactive About Accessibility

Colleges and universities in the US — both private and public — are legally required to make their campuses and IT accessible to students with disabilities.

In the corporate world, certain laws also require office environments and public-facing web content to be accessible to people with disabilities. Up to 30% of people in workplaces across the US have a disability.

The reality is that there are millions of people in US schools and workforce with sensory disabilities like vision or hearing loss in the US who need to have equal access to the same goods, services, and tools. And as we’re becoming more reliant on an increasingly digital infrastructure across organizations and society in general, it is imperative that all those internally and externally-used technologies are made accessible. As a result, web accessibility is gaining increasingly noticeable momentum in the legal world.

So, making web accessibility a priority at your organization is in it’s best legal interest and is also just the right thing to do in an increasingly technological world.

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