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The carrot, not the stick

When motivating and persuading people to make things more accessible, I prefer the carrot approach to the stick approach.

Intrinsic motivation (where we enlighten and inspire people) is better than extrinsic motivation (where we offer rewards). Extrinsic motivation is better than external control (we where apply guilt and punishment). I think of this as a heirarchy for motivating change.

By “better” I mean more effective at making change and having that change last for the longer term.

Positive instead of negative

Whether we’re talking about positive reinforcement of good behaviours or a generally optimistic outlook, what I’ve read on the psychology of this seems to suggest that a positive approach is better than a negative approach. Positive reinforcement of good behaviours is more effective than punishing bad behaviours. An optimistic (but realistic!) outlook helps us to spot opportunities and connections.

Usable and accessible instead of technically accessible

The stick tends to be used for compliance. This can lead to people rules lawyering it. They’ll find ways to game the system, to meet the criteria / the rules, that don’t quite result in the outcome that we want.

Related is that it people may confuse the rule for the thing. Our goal is not a WCAG 2.1 AA compliant product. Our goal is a usable and accessible product. The WCAG 2.1 AA Success Criteria are pointers that say “here’s a bunch of stuff you can do that’ll get you going in the right direction.”

The carrot usually addresses people’s values and beliefs. It doesn’t fit well with corporate management models, though. It’s indirect. It’s hard to measure. It’s more about people than processes.

Fluid, not fixed

Using the stick also tends to produce static outcomes. An ACR (Accessibility Conformance Statement, often referred to as a VPAT (Voluntary Product Accessibility Template)) is a snapshot of a product’s accessibility at the time of the statement.

This is useful! But it’s a fixed, static, thing and the product is a fluid, changing, thing. We can use the stick to meet WCAG Success Criteria for an ACR. But better is helping teams find ways to tweak their thinking and processes so that the ongoing process of updating the product includes making it ever more accessible.


Carrot good, stick bad.

Intrinsic motivation is better than extrinsic motivation is better than external control.

The outcomes from using the carrot approach are harder to measure. But they are more effective at making change and making that change last.

Having said all that: we do usually need both! 🙈 It’s another flavour of crab claw / “why can’t it be both?”. But I believe we need a lot more carrot than we need stick.