Leading accessibility initiatives wasn’t something I expected when I joined Peloton as a software engineer.
As Engineering Manager for Peloton’s Web Members team, my responsibilities revolve around maintaining and improving the web experience of Members using the Peloton App, which allows you to access Peloton content on your phone, tablet, TV, or the web. Outside of my official role, I’ve also become someone people across the company reach out to with accessibility questions, and am currently Engineering Lead for Peloton’s growing Accessibility and Inclusion workstream, working with teams across the organization to improve the accessibility of products for Members.
I’ll share my journey to these roles, and offer some advice for championing initiatives like accessibility in your company. Working collaboratively outside of engineering teams presented me with leadership opportunities, allowed me to have a larger impact, and let me see product development from new perspectives. I’ll use this story to illustrate three ways you can use cross-functional collaboration to have more impact on your organization.
Be willing to dive into something new by stretching outside of your role
I became interested in accessibility because I wanted to help improve the accessibility of the Peloton App for all Members, including those with disabilities. As a software engineer, I was excited to learn how screen readers work, allowing blind or low vision users to interact with screens via audio instead of visual input. I soon learned from someone on the Member Support team that we had blind and low vision Members who loved their Peloton Bikes, but needed the help of someone sighted (a family member or friend, for example) to find and start a class. They wished the tablet had a screen reader so that they could use their Bike independently!
At the time, there wasn’t yet an official accessibility team. So, I set up a monthly meeting series called ‘Accessibility Updates’ and invited people from different departments, including Engineering, Legal, Design, Product, Member Research and Member Support. We used this time to keep the conversation going, and eventually, these meetings turned into planning what would ultimately bring a screen reader to the Bike. Having got to know about my background and enthusiasm through these meetings, a director of product asked me if I’d like to lead the project to bring TalkBack, a screen reader developed by Google, to the Bike. At that point, this was outside of my usual role as a software engineer. However, I recognized it was an exciting opportunity, and with the support of my manager, I took on a product manager role on the project.
The opportunity to work closely with people across different teams and functions let me see software development from a new perspective. After we launched the feature, I continued to be involved on the product side of accessibility but moved back to my web engineering role. I realized I wanted to keep working with more teams and stay involved in earlier stages of feature development, which is what led me to my current role as an engineering manager.
Stretching outside of your role can allow you to have more impact, and also discover new strengths and interests.
Make your work stronger by involving more perspectives
Bringing the screen reader to life required insights from blind and low vision Members, external specialists, and blindness advocacy groups. In turn, these conversations required collaboration with many internal teams.
When we initially launched the TalkBack screen reader on the Bike, I worked with teams including Member Support, Legal, Community and Communications on communication and messaging. I learned about the importance of public messaging about accessibility features from talking with the American Council of the Blind, who collaborated with us in planning the feature. To make sure our blind and low vision Members were aware of the features, we launched an accessibility page with a statement of commitment and set up a dedicated accessibility Member support email address. These teams also wrote a blog post with supporting social media content.
After launch, our user research team worked closely with an external accessibility specialist, Deque, to design a usability study with our blind and low vision Members. We learned what was working well as well as pain points, and got to work on improvements. For example, we implemented a metrics auto-read feature that automatically reads out metrics at periodic intervals so that you don’t have to figure out where to tap while cycling, a challenge if you can’t see the screen. This idea came directly out of Member suggestions during the study, and involved collaboration between the User Research, Product, and Engineering teams.
Working with multiple teams as well as external stakeholders strengthens products and creates feedback loops that enable continual iteration and improvement.
Pay attention to what motivates your organization
However ‘flat’ your organization strives to be, working for a corporation means that goals are prioritized by the leadership team. People in your organization are incentivized to align their priorities with the values leaders express. That means it’s worth paying attention to the factors that influence change and decision making, and how leaders communicate the values underpinning change.
At Peloton, for example, the values ‘Members First’ and ‘Together We Go Far’ are frequently cited. The ‘Members First’ value means that member stories, pain points and insights are often shared to inspire, and drive decisions. And ‘Together We Go Far’ means that we are stronger collectively when we help each Member be the best version of themselves.
Because we had involved Members and advocacy groups in the process of bringing a screen reader to the Bike, we were able to share impactful stories of how it was making a difference in our Members’ lives. Being able to put these stories in front of the leadership team made everyone involved proud – including the leaders. By connecting results to existing values, we told a story that resonated with our audience. For example, when I presented on our team’s product accessibility progress at a company-wide meeting by sharing Member impact stories, one of our instructors spoke up during my presentation to say how excited she was about making workouts more accessible to people with disabilities.
Tapping into your company’s existing values and ways of talking about successes lets people see the initiative you are championing in a new light, tied directly to goals embraced by leadership.
Efforts like these empower people in organizations to ask how? instead of why? when thinking about making products more accessible. Getting there requires the work and perspectives of many teams. I’m excited about what you can accomplish by collaborating with different functions in your organization!