UX Design Innovation and Accessibility

Scaling Accessibility — VMware’s Advocates Program

In a recent virtual conference, Judith Heumann, an American disability-rights activist, said something that stuck with me: “Movement is never one person…it’s groups who fight together to improve their lives and the lives of others.”

VMware is relatively new in its accessibility journey. In less than two years, our team launched multiple programs, trainings, and resources and provided our company and colleagues with knowledge and tools they could use to design and build products that are accessible to all users.

But as Judith said, a movement is never composed of just one person or one team. To create systemic change, we needed to embed accessibility into VMware’s fabric: across multiple teams and regions and into our core culture. We needed employees who would be our eyes, ears, and voices — to sprinkle the spirit and knowledge of accessibility across our company. We needed a village of advocates.

So, we started building our village to scale our accessibility efforts. We’re still in our infancy, but we’ve had a few key learnings along the way. Let me share those learnings with you, in the hopes that they will inspire your own journeys as builders.

Define your target audience. VMware’s Advocates program is geared towards engineers, designers, QA testers, content creators, and product managers, but is open to anyone interested in accessibility and disability inclusion. We started with a focus on product-related roles, but as we know — accessibility is everyone’s job. As the program grows, we will be looking to expand our audience base. Focusing on targeted audiences allows us to learn and improve the program and to provide the customized learning and support required for employees new to the field.

Remember that anyone can become an advocate. People have full plates and finding time to be part of a new program can be challenging. We created three levels of advocates to allow employees to get involved to whatever extent works for them:

  • In Level 1, Advocates develop the basic understanding of accessibility.
  • As they advance to Level 2, they become Accessibility Leads in their teams.
  • In Level 3, they become subject-matter experts and get involved in projects that have a larger impact across the company.

Employees can choose whether they want to stay at Level 1 or advance to subsequent levels, depending on their interest and bandwidth.

Make it day-to-day relevant. We want to get the most out of the limited time employees can spend on the program by providing content that is relevant and useful and that complements the advocates’ daily work. To achieve this, we partnered with a third-party vendor to create seven different role-based learning paths that enable employees to engage in the content most relevant to their specific role.

Develop careers. In each level, we list criteria that employees need to complete to qualify. When they complete the requirements, they receive a badge they can add to their email signatures and social profiles. The badge and tools they collect in the program stay with them — even if they leave VMware. Adding this knowledge to their tool belts and résumés may differentiate them from others.

Keep advocates engaged. Continuing education is key. Employees who participate in our program join our Accessibility Community, where they can find the latest news on accessibility at VMware, learn about upcoming events, connect with VMware’s disability community, find resources, chat on different topics, share best practices, and attend quarterly accessibility meetings. In short, it’s a one-stop-shop for all things accessibility at VMware.

So here we are. Nascent and curious. Grateful for what we’ve learned and excited about what we will uncover next. I’ll share more as we unpack further learnings, in hopes this will inspire other builders walking a similar path. I would love to hear from those of you who are part of more mature accessibility villages, too, so we can draw from your experience. Let’s get the conversation going!

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