The dentsu A11y Accessibility initiative is an international effort to clarify and standardize digital accessibility across our organization, positively impacting projects from conception to delivery. Our goal is to ensure accessibility on all digital products that we build and sell.
Ensuring Digital Accessibility
Our mission has been to create an international accessibility program at dentsu.
Dentsu has a very fragmented approach to accessibility in general, and so far accessibility has been implemented in an ad-hoc manner, dependent on the client’s desire for it and the team’s accessibility knowledge. Increasingly, clients are requesting digital products that meet American Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements. With lawsuits rising, we want to protect our clients and ourselves from legal risk and must adapt to ensure compliance of the digital products we sell. This shift at dentsu requires training, processes, and a business model to sell accessibility. As an internal SME team, the A11y team has been advancing internal accessibility knowledge and supporting internal DEI strategic planning.
The A11y program holds a competitive advantage for our clients and dentsu. Inclusive design is a cost-saving model and a profit-builder. The cost of non-compliance is three times higher than that of compliance. When a company prioritizes accessibility, they are exposed to a larger potential market – 1 in 4 people suffer from a disability in the US, 1 billion people globally. Currently, we are the only digital marketing agency focusing on accessibility, so we will lead fearlessly.
Insight and Strategy
Digital accessibility lawsuits are increasing in industries we serve at dentsu, especially e-commerce. According to Hub Spot, there were 4061 lawsuits in 2022 (nearly doubled from 2018), with as many as 100 lawsuits filed per week. This is why our clients express interest in meeting accessibility requirements. However, at dentsu there has never been a framework to sell or intake digital accessibility projects properly. The A11y group is changing that completely. We are creating estimation and pricing structures, and providing resources on a microsite to help our teammates do accessible work from the start.
The A11y team’s efforts improve the digital user experience for everyone. As an experience agency, the human element is at the heart of everything we do. A person using assistive technology on an inaccessible website may experience annoyance, frustration, and confusion. More seriously, a user’s failure to successfully navigate a poor experience can result in service interruption, fees, and wasted time. When accessibility is a barrier to interacting successfully with essential services or on a repeated basis, the harm has lasting and systemic impacts. To get an accurate sense of their experience, we’ll be sourcing disabled test users, while continuing to learn the screen reader ourselves.
Execution / Solution / Innovation
The dentsu A11y project is an active international collaboration between colleagues of several different practice areas and service lines. Our inclusive group has been working on defining different roles on a digital project, the accessibility responsibilities for each role, and how we can best be partners for our colleagues. It’s everyone’s responsibility on a project to deliver compliant work, and the A11y group is building the process from the ground up. We are building an internal microsite to host materials, education, and resources, in order to train our colleagues quickly and efficiently. With training, colleagues will be equipped with the skills necessary to build fully accessible digital products.
Every accessible website that we produce will eventually set the standard in our industry. Someday it will simply no longer be acceptable, or the norm, to have an inoperable website for assistive technology users. The demand for accessible rebuilds and remediations will only increase, just as the lawsuit frequency doesn’t seem to be slowing down. Accessibility laws recently being passed and movement on accessibility guideline updates indicate that the demand for our services could be so high, that it would require a dedicated branch at dentsu.
Result / Business Effect
Members of the A11y group are already working on digital accessibility projects. An accessibility review was performed for a client in early 2022, in which we evaluated over ten websites against success criteria through automated, manual, and screen reader testing. The deliverables included the results, data interpretation, actionable reports, checklists, and a playbook detailing how typical issues are fixed. We realized that dentsu colleagues could benefit from our resources and discovered that there were similar accessibility-focused groups within dentsu. That’s when we became unified and unstoppable.
This year we’ve been developing a process for accessibility annotations on a large-scale project with a global client. Annotations are an important tool to help designers and developers communicate and collaborate about how assistive tech should present information, and it’s being key to the overall process.
The dentsu A11ys are transforming both society and business. Accessible websites give users independence that many of us take for granted, while providing a better user experience for everyone. We are also delivering a more robust product to clients. According to the W3C, accessible websites have better search rankings, reduced maintenance costs, increased audience reach, and more. For dentsu, ensuring our work is accessible champions diversity and inclusion.
“They taught me so much since the beginning”
– Aurore Gisclon, Senior Adobe Solutions Consultant, Merkle Switzerland
The A11y Accessibility Initiative received a special mention at dentsu’s Northstar Awards in the dentsu Transformation category. There were over 600 entries, and our work stood out as “inspirational, delivering growth through good and pushing the boundaries of the never before.”