Why Project Managers and Leaders Should Prioritize Accessibility

Accessibility is no longer a niche concern but a fundamental aspect of inclusive design that should be at the forefront of every project manager's and leader's agenda.

in accessibility , a11y ,
Estimated 7 minutes reading time

As a principal engineer with over twenty years of experience in the tech industry, I've seen firsthand the transformative impact that accessible products and services can have on millions of users worldwide. Accessibility is no longer a niche concern but a fundamental aspect of inclusive design that should be at the forefront of every project manager's and leader's agenda.

The Moral and Legal Imperative

At its core, accessibility is about ensuring that everyone, regardless of their abilities or disabilities, can access and use products and services effectively. It's a matter of basic human rights and equal opportunity. In many countries, accessibility is also a legal requirement, with laws like the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) mandating that digital products and services be accessible to individuals with disabilities.

Failing to prioritize accessibility not only excludes a significant portion of the population but also exposes organizations to potential lawsuits, fines, and reputational damage. Project managers and leaders have a moral and legal obligation to ensure that their products and services are inclusive and compliant with accessibility standards.

The Business Case for Accessibility

Beyond the ethical and legal considerations, there's a compelling business case for prioritizing accessibility. According to the World Health Organization, over a billion people worldwide live with some form of disability, representing a substantial and often overlooked market segment.

By designing accessible products and services, organizations can tap into this vast and underserved market, expanding their customer base and revenue streams. Furthermore, accessible design principles often lead to better user experiences for everyone, improving overall usability, customer satisfaction, and brand loyalty.

Accessible products and services also foster a more diverse and inclusive workforce, enabling organizations to attract and retain top talent from a broader pool of candidates. This diversity of perspectives and experiences can drive innovation, problem-solving, and a better understanding of customer needs.

Perhaps most importantly, prioritizing accessibility benefits not just users with disabilities but everyone. As Steve Krug, a renowned usability expert and author of Don't Make Me Think: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability, put it, “And not just the right thing; it’s profoundly the right thing to do, because the one argument for accessibility that doesn’t get made nearly often enough is how extraordinarily better it makes some people’s lives. How many opportunities do we have to dramatically improve people’s lives just by doing our job a little better?” Accessible design principles, such as clear navigation, consistent layouts, and intuitive interactions, enhance usability and create a better overall experience for all users, regardless of their abilities.

The Technical Importance

From a technical standpoint, accessibility should be an integral part of the design and development process, not an afterthought. Retrofitting accessibility into existing products and services is often costly, time-consuming, and prone to errors.

Project managers and leaders should ensure that accessibility requirements are clearly defined from the outset and that development teams have the necessary knowledge, tools, and resources to implement accessible solutions. This includes adhering to accessibility standards, conducting thorough testing and validation, and fostering a culture of continuous improvement and learning.

Moreover, accessibility should be a shared responsibility across all teams and disciplines, from design and development to quality assurance, marketing, and customer support. Cross-functional collaboration and open communication are essential to identifying and addressing accessibility challenges throughout the product lifecycle.

The Competitive Advantage

In today's fast-paced and highly competitive market, accessibility can be a significant differentiator and a source of competitive advantage. Consumers are increasingly conscious of accessibility and inclusive design, and organizations that prioritize these aspects are more likely to stand out and earn customer loyalty.

By embracing accessibility as a core value and integrating it into their products and services, project managers and leaders can position their organizations as industry leaders and pioneers in inclusive design. This not only enhances brand reputation but also fosters a culture of innovation and forward-thinking that can attract top talent and drive long-term success.

Where to Start

Now that we've established the importance of integrating accessibility tools into the development workflow, let's touch on some of the technical aspects of how to get started.

Automated Testing

Automated accessibility testing tools can help identify common accessibility issues and provide actionable insights for improvement. Tools like Lighthouse, Axe, and Wave can scan websites and applications for accessibility violations, such as missing alt text, color contrast issues, and keyboard navigation problems.

For example, if you're working with a web project, you could integrate axe DevTools (a browser extension) into your development environment to catch accessibility issues early. Alternatively, you could leverage frameworks like Playwright and @axe-core/playwright to run accessibility tests alongside your integration tests.

Manual Testing

While automated testing is a valuable tool, manual testing is essential for uncovering more complex accessibility issues and validating the user experience. Manual testing involves using assistive technologies, such as screen readers, magnifiers, and voice recognition software, to simulate the experience of users with disabilities.

Using tools like silktide and axe DevTools highlights the importance of combining automated and manual testing approaches. Visual inspection and hands-on testing can often uncover issues that automated tools may miss, ensuring a more comprehensive approach to accessibility testing.

Tools and Approaches to Consider

  • Screen Readers: Tools like NVDA (NonVisual Desktop Access), JAWS (Job Access With Speech), and VoiceOver can help simulate the experience of users with visual impairments and test the accessibility of websites and applications.
  • Color Contrast Checkers: Tools like WebAIM's Color Contrast Checker and Contrast Checker can help identify color contrast issues that may affect users with low vision or color blindness.
  • Keyboard Navigation: Testing websites and applications using only a keyboard can help identify navigation issues and ensure that users can interact with content without a mouse.
  • Semantic HTML: Using semantic HTML elements and ARIA (Accessible Rich Internet Applications) attributes can improve the accessibility of websites and applications for users of assistive technologies.
  • User Testing: Conducting usability testing with users of varying abilities can provide valuable feedback on the accessibility and usability of products and services and help identify areas for improvement.
  • Accessibility Audits: Regularly conducting accessibility audits and reviews can help identify accessibility issues, track progress, and ensure that products and services meet the necessary standards.
  • Training and Education: Providing training and resources for designers, developers, and content creators on accessibility best practices and guidelines can help foster a culture of inclusivity and ensure that accessibility is a priority throughout the organization.


Accessibility is not just a box to check or a set of guidelines to follow; it's a fundamental principle that should guide every aspect of product and service development. Project managers and leaders have a crucial role to play in championing accessibility, fostering a culture of inclusivity, and ensuring that their organizations remain competitive, innovative, and socially responsible.

By prioritizing accessibility from the outset, organizations can create better products and services, tap into new markets, attract and retain top talent, and ultimately drive business success while positively impacting the lives of millions of users worldwide.

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