Shift left.

That was the advice from Scotiabank’s Director of Enterprise Accessibility and UX Design Monica Ackermann during a virtual event organized by Disability:IN’s Inclusion Works, a program that provides member companies with opportunities to share best practices in disability inclusion.

Ackermann was explaining to the virtual audience that building inclusive customer and employee experiences is often a regulatory exercise where digital accessibility is an afterthought, and retrofitting can be costly and time consuming. Instead, she recommended integrating accessibility at the outset so that it’s intentional and by design.

“The solution for us was to shift left to the beginning by incorporating accessibility into existing processes. That way, it’s consistent, repeatable and easily discoverable,” said Ackermann. “The goal is to create a culture of embedded inclusivity in which product owners and designers understand their role in creating accessible products.”

At Scotiabank, Ackermann leads a human-centric practice that advocates for the principles of digital accessibility and inclusive design. Her team trains and mentors colleagues to build the capacity and confidence to meet this goal. Ackermann’s presentation at Disability:IN’s Inclusion Works shared this philosophy along with guidance on how to actually make it happen.

One piece of advice from Ackermann was to place the “voice of the customer” centre stage. “Be deliberate about asking for feedback and about taking action on that feedback. And do this with the assistance of your customer advocacy team and analytics team,” she said.

The role of partnerships came up again in Ackermann’s response to an audience question about what organizations should prioritize as they embark on their accessibility journey. “Meet people where they are,” she said. “If people are beginning to learn, you want to make sure they’re not afraid to ask, or that the accessibility police aren’t going to come in and say you’re doing terrible work. Figure out what might motivate them, what their constraints are in their work, and be partners in problem solving.”

For any organization, mature or nascent, digital accessibility is a journey and there are lessons to be had. For her own team at Scotiabank, Ackermann recalls the early days when the accessibility practice was situated “too far from the beginning and a little too far away from the customers.”

That’s since changed. “Now, we’re able to jump start, move really quickly and develop great products,” she said. “It’s a long and sometimes convoluted path with starts, stops and signposts to success. But there’s still more work to do given evolving customer needs.”

Watch the full Disability:IN session here.

Watch Monica Ackermann’s presentation here.