Applying the Growth Mindset to Accessibility (A11Y)

The power of ‘not yet’​. Here is a closer look at how product teams can develop and apply the growth mindset to their work on Accessibility (A11Y).

When faced with a challenging problem, have you thought to yourself, ‘This is going to be fun. I love a good challenge’?

figure, puzzle, last part
In the Growth Mindset, a person is aways excited when faced with a challenge. Image of a figure holding the last piece of a puzzle.

When I came across Carol Dweck’s work on the ‘Growth Mindset’, I was blown away. Professor Dweck is a Professor of Psychology at Stanford University and one of the world’s leading researchers on motivation and mindsets. Her work focuses on why people succeed and how it is possible to foster their success.

Before you read on, I suggest you take 10 mins of your time to listen to this thought-provoking TED talk.

Professor Dweck talks extensively about her research on developing a mindset that focuses on enjoying the journey of learning versus focusing too much on the outcome. I have applied her teachings to my life, my work, and most importantly as a parent of two young children. My children enjoy the process of learning new things. In our home, we celebrate effort instead of grades. We tackle challenges with gusto. Sometimes it can be hard work but we are very committed to enjoying the process.

How the Growth Mindset has shaped my approach to my work.

A few years ago, after a fulfilling day at work, I penned this article linked below on my approach to my work. It was informed by my spirituality and teachings from my childhood. This is what I wrote, “When I was in school, my mother would say something to me every time I had a big test. She would say ‘Do the best you can, don’t worry about the outcome’. The emphasis was always on ‘doing your best’ and never on ‘getting a good grade’. I was a very studious kid often finishing at the top of the class but a nervous wreck before every exam. I remember how my mother’s words would help calm my nerves and shift my focus on effort vs the outcome. No wonder I ended up doing so well in school. I was always encouraged to focus on effort vs the outcome. I guess my Mom was the first to recognize the importance of The Growth Mindset, a concept developed by Stanford Professor, Carol Dweck.” The article is linked below.

A copy of the book, Mindset is a constant fixture on my desk. I refer back to it several times and apply the ideas in the book to my work on Accessibility. So it got me thinking. Can we help product teams apply the growth mindset to their work on Accessibility? The answer is a resounding yes. But first, let me summarize for you the basic premise of the Growth Mindset.

In the words of Professor Dweck, people with the Growth Mindset have the following characteristics,

  • believe in the idea that abilities can be developed.
  • say things like, ‘I love a challenge’
  • engage deeply.
  • process errors.
  • learn from it and correct it.
  • Their brain is on fire with ‘yet’ or ‘not yet’.

Can product teams develop and apply the Growth Mindset to their work on Accessibility? Absolutely, yes!

I believe that developing a growth mindset on Accessibility would require the following mindset/behavior shifts. These are my top 11.

FROM (Fixed Mindset) –> TO (Growth Mindset)

  1. From Accessibility ROI and business case (“show me how many people will use this”) –> To Accessibility as your company core value (“let’s build inclusive experiences that enhance the lives of our Employees. Customers. Shareholders”).
  2. From Always chasing a number (% compliance, # of bugs).–>To Rewarding the teams’ effort, strategy, and progress on the Accessibility journey (It’s not a destination!).
  3. From Accessibility always fighting for prioritization (“We don’t have the time and resources to do it”).–>To Accessibility as a unique challenge for ALL product teams to embrace (“We will figure out a way to make it happen”)
  4. From Rework and kickbacks (New features break accessibility).–> To Do it right from the get-go (Accessibility is built into new features).
  5. From Focus on legal and compliance (“What can we do to avoid getting sued”).–>To Focus on customer journeys (“How can we improve our customers’ experience with our product”).
  6. From A ‘boil the ocean’/waterfall project plan and approach.–>To Agile Accessibility. Start small. Start now.
  7. From Accessibility as a bug (that lives and dies a slow death in a product manager’s backlog).–>To Accessibility as amazing UX for everyone (supported by design systems, toolkits, training resources available to all).
  8. From Accessibility is a product owner’s responsibility.–>To Accessibility is everyone’s responsibility.
  9. From Accessibility as a roadmap item (“We will get to it in Q3”).–>To Accessibility as a design principle (“It’s how we build products”).
  10. From Engaging people with disabilities ONLY to seek usability feedback and test your products.–>To Engaging with people with disabilities as CO-CREATORS who build inclusive products with you (hire and grow product, engineering, design leaders who are also people with disabilities).
  11. From Believing that Accessibility only benefits a small subset of people.–>To Believing that Accessibility benefits everyone.

A call out to product leaders,

  • Can we work together to build the bridge to ‘yet”?
  • Can we work together to view the effort and difficulty of the work on accessibility as an opportunity to learn something new, an opportunity to build a more inclusive online community, to build experiences that celebrate our unique differences?
  • Can we apply the ‘power of not yet’ to start our journey on accessibility with the intention to enjoy the process versus focusing on the outcome?
  • Can we develop a growth mindset where we look at Accessibility today and say, “I love a good challenge, I cant wait to get started”?

I encourage you to make that leap, my friends. I hope this inspires you to take the first step (reading this article IS the first step). I have the utmost belief that we (the product community) can make a big difference by applying this mindset to our work on Accessibility! I promise you that it will be a rewarding experience.

I would like to leave you with the words of Professor Dweck,

Let’s not waste any more lives, because once we know that abilities are capable of such growth, it becomes a basic human right for children, all children, to live in places that create that growth, to live in places filled with “yet”. 

Learn more about our approach, The Accidental Ally https://theaccidentalally.com/our-approach/

References:

  1. For resources on how to get started – Follow us on LinkedIn – more to come! – https://www.linkedin.com/company/theaccidentalally/
  2. About Professor Carol Dweck – https://profiles.stanford.edu/carol-dweck
  3. Mindset the new psychology of success – https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/40745.Mindset
  4. Animated book summary of Mindset – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EyIF5VUOJc0
  5. The Growth Mindset – Talks at Google – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-71zdXCMU6A