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EY: Embedding Accessibility throughout the Enterprise

Employer Case Study: Ensuring digital access for all is important at EY.

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Ernst & Young LLP (EY) US is a client-serving member firm of Ernst & Young Global Limited, operating in the U.S. EY exists to build a better working world, helping create long-term value for clients, people and society and build trust in the capital markets.

Working across assurance, consulting, strategy, tax and transactions, EY teams ask better questions to find new answers for the complex issues facing our world today. In the 1880s, Arthur Young was completing law school when he lost his hearing. Being deaf and having low vision, he was unable to practice courtroom law. Seeking new ways to leverage his talents, he became an accountant, an entrepreneur and a founder of the modern accounting profession. Arthur Young became an innovator, not despite his disabilities, but because of them. That belief helped shape the global EY organization into what it is today. The firm is committed to fostering an environment where diversity and inclusiveness (D&I) are embedded into all elements of its global business —from hiring, staffing and promotion decisions to teaming and client service—touching more than 298,000 people across 150 countries.

EY launched an effort to increase digital access across their entire organization to level the playing field for all professionals and reinforce messages of inclusion through deliberate action to increase access to tools, resources and information. The goal of this initiative was to make sure that every individual, including people with disabilities, has reliable and convenient access to key tools, resources and information in order to feel like they belong, can succeed and are able to build rewarding careers. Digital accessibility plays a critical role in inclusion of people within organizations today. The inability to access all of the key tools, resources and information available in your organization sends subtle messages of exclusion. This impacts the whole ecosystem of how digital products and services are purchased, created and shared—from procurement, to content and application creation, instructional design and facilitation, to creating messaging and materials. As all EY professionals generate and share digital content every day, it’s important not only to educate functional specialists, but also to teach the entire organization to work in more accessible ways. 

To enhance accessibility and inclusion across the enterprise, a core team with members from IT, marketing, communications, procurement, recruiting, learning, diversity and inclusiveness, career development and change management came together to deliberately drive awareness, create policies and processes and shape mindsets and habits. Collaboration across all of these functions has a broader and more sustainable impact than relying on one or two key groups to drive change. 

The changes EY made crossed many groups. Graphic and instructional designers and procurement professionals were trained on accessibility. Accessibility was embedded into procurement criteria, into branding and learning design principles, into templates and into creative processes. EY built processes for offering materials in alternate formats and/or providing workarounds to job candidates, clients, EY professionals and other stakeholders. 

EY also worked to improve awareness around digital accessibility. The company created enterprise-wide awareness campaigns for Global Accessibility Awareness Day and senior leaders modeled inclusive, accessible communications. Messages about digital accessibility and universal design were delivered repeatedly, in a variety of contexts, and these messages were linked to the tools to facilitate access and universal design. EY built inclusiveness and accessibility into client interactions, too. Using standardized protocols, key messages, peer-to-peer “how to” videos and structured dialogues in all lines of business educated the workforce on how to hold meetings in more inclusive, accessible ways. These “how-to” videos, created by EY’s employee resource group (ERG) members, highlighted why the new protocols were important for teams of people in their everyday meetings. 

This comprehensive digital accessibility strategy leverages internal resources, supplemented by purchased technical training. EY set standards of digital access and then they did the work to make digital access happen. The Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) team, in partnership with EY employees and ERG members, educated, socialized, modeled and repeated these messages during their interactions with colleagues. 

Feedback from EY employees has been very positive. This is a long-term journey, and like all aspects of diversity, equity and inclusion, it requires consistent effort over time to create lasting change. What is emerging from these efforts is both real and deep, rather than a superficial change. It would be easy to have a CEO sign a set of statements or lead a meeting where disability is “out front,” but the nature of EY’s storytelling effort has ensured individual impact. Through peer-to-peer videos and structured dialogues, people shared genuine experiences and asked that their workplace reflect them. These messages connected disability efforts to real life impacts. 

More and more, people who aren’t official disability advocates are the ones speaking up about accessibility. EY has always known that having well-placed sponsors and energetic champions across the organization opens doors and accelerates progress. The great news is that as a result of their ongoing efforts, other EY employees are asking about accessibility and remembering to ask for the best approach to increase accessibility. This shift in attitudes about digital access is an amazing building block toward increased access for all.