Constructing an accessibility elevator pitch

Everyone in accessibility needs an accessibility elevator pitch

Bank of elevator buttons G, M, 2–6 with braille, 6th floor is lit up
Bank of elevator buttons G, M, 2–6 with braille, 6th floor is lit up
Photo by Arisa Chattasa on Unsplash

Accessibility elevator pitches are essential for two reasons:

  1. Introducing yourself and explaining what you do.
  2. Immediate, pre-programmed come-backs to people who express disinterest in accessibility.

What is an accessibility elevator pitch?

An accessibility elevator pitch is a quick summary of who you are and what you want the person you are speaking with to engage in with respect to accessibility. Like a regular elevator pitch, it should be shorter than the amount of time it takes to ride an elevator which makes it roughly 30 -45 seconds or 75–90 words.

Why are elevator pitches important?

Elevator pitches are amazing ways to start a conversation with anyone, anywhere. You can use them at the airport, at a conference, at an interview and with strangers or friends. An accessibility elevator pitch can quickly help new contacts understand why they should connect with you or care about accessibility. I’ve even used them at Starbucks.

How to construct a compelling accessibility elevator pitch

Your accessibility elevator pitch answers the following questions:

  • Who are you?
  • What do you do with respect to accessibility?
  • What do you want?

Start by introducing yourself

As you approach a stranger to pitch to for any reason, you need to begin at the beginning. Provide your full name, do whatever the socially accepted greeting is. In the days of Coronavirus, I am currently using the Spock Vulcan greeting “live long and prosper” for contact-less but friendly greetings. If your title doesn’t immediately connect you to accessibility, state what you do and what your background is.

For example: “Hi, my name is Sheri. Live long and prosper ! I’m the head of accessibility for VMware.

Or: Hi, my name is Beth. Namaste ! I am a customer support representative with a degree in public relations.

Give a brief summary of your connection to accessibility

For example: “Hi, my name is Sheri. Live long and prosper ! I’m the head of accessibility for VMware. I have a special focus on including disability and accessibility in VMware’s diversity and inclusion efforts.”

If you don’t have a position in accessibility yet, you might say something like:

I am looking to get into accessibility because of <Y>

For example: “Hi, my name is Beth. Namaste ! I am a customer support representative with a degree in public relations. I started thinking about a career change to accessibility after I realized how important it was after volunteering with children with disabilities.

Explain what accessibility is

Many people don’t know what accessibility is. The rest of your pitch will be unintelligible to the person you are talking to if you don’t explain accessibility up front. You can consider skipping this part if you know the person you are speaking with is accessibility-fluent (or at least accessibility knowledgeable).

Let’s go back to my pitch: “Hi, my name is Sheri. Live long and prosper ! I’m the head of accessibility for VMware. I have a special focus on including disability and accessibility in VMware’s diversity and inclusion efforts. Accessibility is how people with disabilities interact with technology. Just like Steven Hawking did.

I personally love the Steven Hawking example. In my lifetime, most people will have a mental image of quite possibly the smartest person on the planet who communicated through moving his eyes and using his one functioning muscle.

You can do whatever you want here. But please don’t get into descriptions of the ADA, EN 301 549 or WCAG. Elevator pitches are supposed to be engaging. Talking about regulations is anything but. In general, acronyms, buzz words, and technical phrases should be avoided.

“The ask”

If there is no ask, you can end with the previous pitch component, or end with a generic ask such as “Would you like to know more?” But if you have a specific ask (interview, budget, commitment to fix bugs) you should end your elevator pitch with a specific call to action identifying you want to happen next. Because accessibility is a somewhat complicated topic, the best example is to ask for a commitment to a meeting where you can go into what you need in more detail.

It’s easy to get intimated by making a request, but it’s important to end your accessibility elevator pitch with an ask if you have one. Otherwise when the ask comes up later, the person you are speaking with might think “why didn’t they ask for that earlier.”

Building on my pitch: “Hi, my name is Sheri. Live long and prosper ! I’m the head of accessibility for VMware. I have a special focus on including disability and accessibility in VMware’s diversity and inclusion efforts. Accessibility is how people with disabilities interact with technologies. Just like Steven Hawking did. It would be great if we could get together to discuss how accessibility needs should be addressed in your department. Who should I contact to get time on your calendar?

See how I phrased the ask so the person I was talking to doesn’t have to option to say no? Good technique.😊

Closing

  • If they didn’t tell you to get lost, a good closing is “Thank you for your time, I’ll send you a follow-up email. Have a great day!”
  • If they did tell you to get lost, a good closing is “I understand you are busy, but accessibility is really important because X. Would there be a good time for me to reach out to discuss this with you further?

For X, use a business goal that resonates with your organization:

  • We are going to start losing public sector sales.
  • A lawsuit by people with disabilities could cost us a great deal of money.
  • Blocking people with disabilities from getting jobs because they can’t use our software doesn’t further our brand as an inclusive company.

To be the most effective, X should be linked to the business goals of the person you are speaking with. It’s called persistence. And to be a good accessibility manager, you need a lot of it. This is the piece of the accessibility elevator pitch you should be trotting out at work when people refuse to give it the attention it is due.

Delivering your accessibility elevator pitch

You can’t deliver a flawless elevator pitch without practice.

  1. Develop and refine language that you think you like in written format. Leave it a couple of days and look at it again. You may think differently after you’ve let it sit and stew in your head for a couple of days.
  2. Practice the accessibility elevator pitch aloud. Repetition can create variation that may result in better wording or tightening your message. If looking into a mirror or having someone video you doesn’t make you uncomfortable, you should do that to.
  3. Get feedback from someone you trust.
  4. Watch your body language when practicing. The pitch isn’t isolated to what you say. Your pitch also includes how you say it and facial cues and body language that does with it. You can’t convince someone of the important of accessibility if you sound bored, use a completely monotone voice, or look at your feet the entire time you are delivering your pitch. If you are neurodiverse, this will take a lot of practice and more feedback from others.
  5. Try not to rush when you are giving your accessibility elevator pitch for real. In the end it should sound like conversation and not something rehearsed to death.
  6. Deliver the pitch with confidence. The worst thing that can happen is someone says no.

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve given my accessibility elevator pitch. Last week when I was speaking at ConveyUX, it was at least a couple of times per hour. In the speed networking session, it was more like once every five minutes. Having a well thought out and practiced accessibility elevator pitch can save you even in the most stressful of situations, which is why I recommend that everyone I know in accessibility craft their own.

Written by

Accessibility Architect @ VMware. W3C Silver, ITI & IAAP GLC committees. Degrees in CS, law, business. Wheelchair user w/ a deaf daughter.

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