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Q&A: McGraw-Hill’s Roadmap Towards Greater Accessibility

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Through their Roadmap to Accessibility, McGraw-Hill is steadily incorporating its accessibility initiatives into their products. As a result, McGraw-Hill is becoming a leader in accessible publishing.

While they are the first to admit that it’s not always a clear road ahead, McGraw-Hill’s steadfast commitment to providing equal access to education keeps them moving forward.

In the webinar How MCGraw-Hill is Formulating a Unified Approach to Digital Accessibility, Lin Mahoney, Accessibility Lead, and Scott Virkler, Senior Vice President, from McGraw-Hill, discuss the company’s accessibility journey.

Below is a snippet of the Q&A, where they dish on how to get senior leader support and best practices for collaboration.

What did you do to get the attention of senior leaders?

SCOTT VIRKLER: We gave an overview of, here’s what’s going in the marketplace, and the trends.

Frankly, it comes from customers. If our customers at the universities are asking about accessibility and/or requiring it, we’re going to react to that.

It’s really that simple.

The customer behaviors are what drove our behavior. We’re building the stuff, and not all students can use it, and here are the reasons why. That builds empathy. And then that by itself… drives these things forward.

We treat accessibility just like we would treat privacy and security.


So a combination of those two things, the customer requests, as well as people just understanding we’re not serving the needs of all of our customers the way we’re currently doing it.

LIN MAHONEY: And I have to say that having senior-level sponsorship is absolutely huge because accessibility can require some big trade-offs. Do you want to have this fancy new feature? Or do you want to make it accessible? How do we really meet those in the middle so that we’re able to really address all of our business needs?

…Having a senior level business stakeholder who truly believes in the mission is critical. If support comes from the top, it really has to flow down at every single level to successfully execute.

How do you think about the accessibility of legacy content, legacy product, legacy software, versus new versions?

SCOTT VIRKLER: For any new software development, for it to come out of release and go into production, it’s got to pass the accessibility criteria. There was some discussion about the pros and cons of that, but that became basically a must-have.

We treat accessibility just like we would treat privacy and security. There are some other things around user experience that fit these criteria where they’re absolute must-haves for the teams to be able to release a software code. We’re applying that same methodology for new content being developed.

Having a senior level business stakeholder who truly believes in the mission is critical.


We’re going back to look at the old stuff. And we have to look, quite frankly, at the cost-benefit of, is it worth making the investment of trying to fix something that we know is going to be retired in 24 months? Obviously, every one of the situations is going to be slightly different.

Another key part of this is ingraining this in our product managers and ingraining it in our user experience groups so that they live and breathe this. It just becomes something that’s part of our day-to-day, of how we develop a product.

Do you have written processes for your teams in terms of giving them instructions, including how to do things in regards to accessibility?

LIN MAHONEY: Yes, and they’re constantly evolving. We’re always looking to improve our documentation because we know that teams have different needs, but that we can all share and learn from our baselines of what has been successful for other groups.

Accessibility cannot land on one person’s shoulders.


…This is an area where we are constantly developing and making stronger and more stringent improvements. We’ve talked about the need to be accessible. But now we’re focusing on how can we really guide people more and more and be more stringent about how they’re going to build the accessibility into their authoring. Style guides are a part of it.

What recommendations do you have for increased collaboration and promoting accessibility best practices?

SCOTT VIRKLER: I think, as an industry the more we can drive to crisp clarity on what exactly meets the different criteria, that that’s going to be much better. Because if you can remove that ambiguity, then that will allow organizations to organize that and say, “Here’s the goal and the task at hand. If we do these things, we can say we’ve now met criteria.” That will be immensely helpful to allow people to scale up.

LIN MAHONEY: Accessibility is messy. Assistive technology support is messy. But the more that we can standardize and work towards the specs is where we’re going have the best alignment and making sure that we’re all playing on the same level.

Who owns adherence to WCAG 2.0 AA? Is it individuals? Is it McGraw-Hill? Is it me?

LIN MAHONEY: I have to say, it is end-to-end because it can’t fall on one person’s shoulders. Really, it’s as strong as the weakest link. We have an accessibility team. We have a core team that works across the different parts of the group that includes content, every single stage of development. But it can’t be one person. Accessibility cannot land on one person’s shoulders, and I say that as the Accessibility Lead.

SCOTT VIRKLER: The teams know they’re not supposed to put out anything new that’s not meeting the accessibility requirements. There are always going to be exceptions. There might be something that’s happening for a variety of different reasons, but they have to request an exception to that.

Watch the full webinar below!