Checklists don’t make inclusive culture

Whether it’s digital technology, the built environment, or a tourist destination, checklists don’t make an inclusive culture. When it comes to digital accessibility checklists Sheri Byrne-Haber says, “Just say no”. That’s because general accessibility checklists do more harm than good in establishing a good accessibility program. It doesn’t lead to an inclusive culture.

“… requiring accessibility or guilting or punishing people for failing to provide accessibility is at the bottom half of the accessibility motivation hierarchy.”

Hierarchy pyramid for motivating accessibility change. Starting at the bottom with guilt, then punish, require, reward, enlighten, and at the top, inspire.

According to the Hierarchy, Guilt is about not caring enough. The threat of Punishment is based on, “Do this or you will get sued”. Require focuses on technical requirements – the minimum required by law. Rewards, such as certification statements, awards, and badges can bring about change. However, they are often for the benefit of the maker or designer rather than the user.

Enlightenment comes when people see that accessibility is not just the smart thing to do, or the right thing. When people are motivated for good, that’s enlightenment. This is when they can see the powerful benefits end users gain. A better product emerges and business improves so not being accessible doesn’t make sense.

“Inspiration occurs when you see and experience the distinct impact the accessibility (or lack thereof) of your product can have on the lives of an individual with disabilities.”

A blackboard has the words, It's time to inspire written in white chalk.

Byrne-Haber discusses the issues of checklists from the perspective of digital technology, but her arguments apply across the built environment as well. Indeed, you could also add businesses that are claiming Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) credentials. WebAIM’s effectiveness pyramid, Hierarchy for Motivating Accessibility Change, puts it into perspective.

When are checklists OK?

Once an inclusive culture is established, targeted checklists are appropriate for guiding new people to make sure they don’t “break the system”. In the website world, Byrne-Haber says that people adding material to a website need some do’s and don’ts. But this could also apply in other areas too. Maintaining the inclusive design intent of a building requires all stakeholders to keep to the theme. So, for example, a checklist for interior designers might be appropriate in these circumstances.

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