Skip to content

Celebrating 1 year of A11y Design Bootcamp: Takeaways and tips

A11y Design Bootcamp is a live educational program that consists of exercises, discussions, and knowledge shares to raise awareness of web accessibility best practices, the role designers play in creating accessible products, and how to advocate for accessibility with cross-functional partners.

Celebrating 1 year of A11y Design Bootcamp: Takeaways and tips

May 16 is Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD), and I’m using the occasion to reflect on one of the longest, if not the longest, projects I’ve worked on throughout my accessibility design career: Web Accessibility (A11y) Design Bootcamp. In talking to fellow web accessibility practitioners and folks who work in product development, I often get asked what the bootcamp is, how we got started, and how they can do the same in their organizations. Let’s break all of that down!

What is A11y Design Bootcamp?

A11y Design Bootcamp is a live educational program that consists of exercises, discussions, and knowledge shares to raise awareness of web accessibility best practices, the role designers play in creating accessible products, and how to advocate for accessibility with cross-functional partners. Topics we cover include: what is web accessibility, assistive technology and how it works, identifying bugs in wireframes and in build, and disability justice, or what I like to call “bringing it back to the people.”

Currently, a cohort meets for four sessions over two weeks. Bootcamp utilizes a reverse classroom model, meaning designers complete pre-work prior to each session, such as bespoke videos, documentation, and articles, so we can utilize our time together through exercise and discussion. Each round consists of pre- and post-bootcamp surveys that allow us to iterate each cohort and ensure it is meeting designers’ needs. Adaptations are made to fit the course material, and breaks are introduced to make sure attendees digest material without overwhelm. Additionally, we use a Slack channel to send reminders and review messages with each cohort.

Since its inception in March 2023, I’ve facilitated four cohorts that mount to 50% of our design organization here at GitHub completing training–and counting!

Building a bootcamp

Having prior experience running live web accessibility education programs, content creation was more or less straightforward. What was more difficult was figuring out how to connect these programs to larger team and organization goals.

In preparation for our first bootcamp, Catharine McNally, a program manager focused on accessibility, led a few stakeholders through an awesome brainstorm that helped us ground our content. Some questions posed included:

  • What will make this training “sticky?”
  • How will we set a good first impression (First impressions are everything!)?
  • What will make attendees excited to come back the next session?
  • What do we want attendees to feel, think, and do differently after bootcamp?
  • When attendees think back to this bootcamp, what will they remember?
  • What does success look like for the facilitation team?

During this time, we also worked through important information, such as:

  • Identifying false narratives that designers might have (such is, “Accessibility stifles my creativity”) and what we could do to debunk them.
  • Tools for being proactive versus reactive in the product development process.
  • The importance of alignment to the A11y Design team’s values of being approachable, helpful, and nonjudgmental.

Bootcamp values

As a facilitator, the best part of the grounding exercise discussed above was establishing A11y Design Bootcamp values. This felt integral because everything we did–every exercise, discussion, slide, and both spoken and written word–was in service to four principles:

  • Relevant. Our material needs to resonate with designers. Otherwise, how is it going to stick? Building “plug and play” modules really helped here as it allowed us to create exercises we could use again and again.
  • Engaging. Let’s face it, no one likes mandatory training, let alone boring training. In providing interactive exercises and discussions, we reinforce what we teach while also developing trust, which is key for encouraging designers to ask questions.
  • Actionable. We asked ourselves “Could a designer apply something they learned in A11y Design Bootcamp 10 minutes after the session ended? A day? A week?” This greatly informed how to present content.
  • Safe. As a facilitator, this is the most important element of bootcamp. Trust must be built to demonstrate that there really is no such thing as a silly question–in fact, attendees are in bootcamp to do just that! It’s my job to ensure every attendee feels psychologically safe and can learn without fear of judgment.

Why live training?

Tangentially related, I often get asked “Why a live workshop? That’s so much work!” I promise it’s not just because I like socializing. In fact, live facilitation is in alignment with all of the our values because it:

  • Is easy to adapt. Especially with new material, live content can be easily adapted and iterated to reflect the most relevant interest of the team with less turnaround time than producing a video.
  • Allows for live questions. Attendees have the opportunity to learn with and from peers through discussions and thoughts that arise from questions asked in class.
  • Promotes community-centered learning. Going through the same content at the same time can help prompt discussion and cross-collaboration within the cohort, building trust. In addition, because GitHub is primarily remote, this is a great time for team building and connection that is reminiscent of being together in an office.
  • Is inclusive of learning styles. Many trainings are essentially long documents that offer no opportunity to engage with others. In live training, we remove barriers associated with reading (comprehension, speed, dyslexia, dyscalculia, and more), and open learning up for folks who retain information better in real time.

Key takeaways

  • Meet teams where they’re at. Start small. Do your research on where teams are at in terms of web accessibility and go the extra mile to make it valuable. In my experience, it’s high risk, high reward.
  • Go where you’re wanted. A manager’s apathy versus advocacy for a program, especially a pilot program, makes a huge difference for both organizers and participants! Bootcamp wouldn’t be in the same place if it hadn’t been for managers advocating to take the time to train their teams.
  • Be adaptable and open to change. While I’m a facilitator, I’m by no means an educator. Having a flexible mind and curriculum allows for surprises and turns that, more often than not, improve bootcamp. For instance, embracing the reverse classroom model came from an a11y engineer during a coffee chat. My seminar on AI, accessibility, and inclusive design, which I created midway through our second cohort because of demand, remains one of the most engaged and commented topics in bootcamp.
  • Collect metrics and write documentation. If we didn’t, we wouldn’t know how much people loved live facilitation and bringing disability back to being about people (Session 4). We iterate every session just a little bit. In addition, documentation helps with sharing responsibility and scaling.
  • Strive for co-creation. When we think about scaling, the goal isn’t for everyone on the team to be a top tier facilitator. It’s to share the load so more folks can participate, including past attendees as a way to level up their skills.

Looking forward

While we’ve made great strides, there’s still a big journey ahead of us! We intend to create boot camps for more product design teams and use the frameworks we have to scale bootcamp to other functions.

I personally want to thank Allie Thu for the opportunity to lead this project, and Catharine McNally for all the ways she’s helped this program grow, and both for their unwavering support and enthusiasm. I’m grateful my job includes fostering designers’ appreciation and dedication to designing accessible products, and that I get to lead a training program that continues to grow with them.

Explore more from GitHub



The latest on GitHub, from GitHub.
GitHub Universe 2024

GitHub Universe 2024

Get tickets to the 10th anniversary of our global developer event on AI, DevEx, and security.
GitHub Copilot

GitHub Copilot

Don't fly solo. Try 30 days for free.
Work at GitHub!

Work at GitHub!

Check out our current job openings.