Accessibility Debt — What is it? How to pay it off ???

Sheri Byrne-Haber, CPACC
6 min readJun 11, 2019

Sometimes, accessibility isn’t important until suddenly it is.

Cartoon young man kicking a can

The accessibility paradigm shift from “yeah, eventually” to being included as part of “business as usual” usually derives from one of the following occurances:

  1. a lost sales opportunity over lack of accessibility compliance
  2. an EEOC complaint alleging discrimination based on disability
  3. a lawsuit filed over lack of accessibility
  4. Negative impact to brand reputation over a lack of inclusion

At many companies the “accessibility can” has repeatedly been kicked down the road (it’s not important … it’s not important) and then suddenly, it’s the most important thing for your company and your company needs it now. That can result in your accessibility effort getting kicked into overdrive, when it was previously stagnating or non-existent. The steps identified below are one way of accomplishing this.

National Debt Clock and federal spending information overlayed in front of a government building

Step 1: Stop Increasing Accessibility Debt

“Tech Debt” is the phrase used to describe development work that arises when code that is easy to implement in the short run is used instead of applying the best overall solution which might take more effort initially to deploy, but in the long run is the better choice.

Continuing to code and release inaccessible components creates more “accessibility debt”, not less. No one really wants to put code into production where the first thing they have to do after it is released is spend time, effort and money fixing it.

The only way to avoid allowing accessibility debt to grow is to draw a line in the sand.

“As of <date>, all new <designs, code> will be accessible”

  • Some companies that have a formal project kick off process will be able to choose a cut-off date that projects go into intake.
  • Others will have to use other formalized steps such as when project goes into design.
  • The final group will be forced into a date that has…

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Sheri Byrne-Haber, CPACC

LinkedIn Top Voice for Social Impact 2022. UX Collective Author of the Year 2020. Disability Inclusion SME. Sr Staff Accessibility Architect @ VMware.