Gratitude for a Poached Egg (an Accessibility and Negotiation Strategy)

poached eggs, grits, and biscuit

Whenever I travel, I try to eat in local restaurants serving traditional foods. That’s how I found myself at 417 Union in Nashville last month eating poached eggs, grits and a biscuit. The eggs were perfect and I asked the waitress to thank the cook for me. She came back later and told me:

His day is going to go a lot better now that he knows he done good.

Her comment sums up my experience as a negotiator in the digital accessibility space. Everyone wants to know they have “done good.” Telling them contributes to forward progress.

Gratitude, expressed as appreciation, has been an important building block of many of the accessibility agreements reached in Structured Negotiation over the past two decades. And it’s a far better motivator than fear when it comes to baking accessibility into an organization’s culture.

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Appreciation, Small Steps, and Structured Negotiation Win-Wins

As I write in my book, Structured Negotiation, A Winning Alternative to Lawsuits, “Appreciation is woven into the fabric of Structured Negotiation.” When the blind community wanted tens of thousands of Talking ATMs, we expressed gratitude for the first handful. Five accessible pedestrian signals were worth cheering about even when we needed hundreds.

Not because we were content with a small number of ATMs blind people could use. Or that we were abandoning our goal of safe intersections across San Francisco. But because we knew that applauding early steps would help our negotiating partners continue on the path towards our goal.

[You can find links to those early Talking ATM press releases praising small steps on the Talking ATM Press Release Topic Page of this website. Find press releases about accessible pedestrian signals installed as a result of Structured Negotiation on the APS Press Release Topic Page.]

Appreciating small steps didn’t just benefit the roll-out of accessible ATMs and accessible pedestrian signals. In the mid-2000s the retail industry tried to eliminate tactile keypads on point of sale (POS) devices. Blind activists used Structured Negotiation to reach agreements with Walmart, Target, Trader Joe’s and other retailers that required tactile keypads so blind shoppers could independently enter their PIN numbers.

Almost all of those agreements contained a phased in roll-out to ensure that all stores had the new POS devices. My clients and I expressed gratitude for the small steps that lead to tactile keypads in thousands of stores.

Gratitude and appreciation are negotiating tools. I know they work to bring parties together because I’ve seen it countless times. A Harry Potter experience is yet another example.

In a negotiation with a major movie chain about audio description, we asked our 10 year-old client to share her excitement after Cinemark installed it’s very first audio description equipment. They agreed to install the equipment, even though none of their other theaters had it, so she could go to a Harry Potter opening.

Like the poached egg cook, we knew that everyone who made that night possible would want to know they had “done good” — from the staff that delivered free popcorn to the corporate decision makers who gave the green light to the equipment.

Over time, installations happened across the theater chain.

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Gratitude is Not a Sign of Weakness

Unfortunately, the legal profession does not typically encourage the expression of gratitude. Had we been in a contentious litigation with Cinemark, praising just one installation may have been considered weak or compromising. It wasn’t. It was a way to tell the company it had “done good” at one theater. A way to encourage them on the road to more.

In litigation, parties are forced into adversarial roles that discourage the expression of gratitude. Even if a plaintiff appreciates something the defendant has done, saying so is frowned upon. In Structured Negotiation, parties have the flexibility to be honest about both the good and the bad.

The Structured Negotiation opening letter seeks to engage a would-be defendant in a dispute resolution process that avoids the courthouse. Whenever possible we try to say something good about the letter’s recipient.

A large company may be lacking a web accessibility plan, but (and) may also be providing excellent in-store service to blind customers. A mobile application may be poorly designed, but the company may be charitable in its donations to disability groups.

With a collaborative instead of a conflict-based mindset, we are free to express gratitude for the positive. When we introduce the legal claims we hope to resolve in negotiation, we’re free to say “you’ve done good” in some areas while falling short in others. The eggs are great; the toast not so much.

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Accessibility Benefits from Appreciation; It’s a Better Motivator than Fear

Last week I heard from a blind investor that a company we had worked with had added useful alt text to an image that helped him understand the information he was looking for. Our agreement in Structured Negotiation was complete, and the implementation period had expired. But I still wrote to the company praising the developer and content provider who had taken care to describe the visual image.

They needed to know they had “done good.” Like the short order cook, their day would be better for it.

Digital accessibility is about disabled people’s ability to use, read, and interact with technology and digital content. If it is not baked into to business processes, gaps in accessibility will appear. How do we do that baking? I think gratitude and appreciation of small steps is key.

Yes, accessibility enhancements can be instigated by fear. Fear of a lawsuit is one of today’s accessibility drivers. Those lawsuits, which disabled people are increasingly winning, are putting a focus on accessibility that I have not seen in my 18 years of negotiating accessibility agreements with some of the largest companies in the United States.

But fear is not a sustainable motivator. Fear can lead to short term solutions and long term resentments. Companies that do accessibility best know that a cultural shift is necessary to ensure accessibility is something more than what you do to avoid a lawsuit. They know that accessibility can be a source of pride, a tool for improving content for everyone, a business differentiator.

Companies that do accessibility best know that culture benefits from the equivalent of gratitude for the poached egg. An appreciation of small steps and accessibility achievements. Everyone is like the breakfast cook in Nashville. Everyone wants to know they “done good.”

When they do, they will want to keep doing good — something that is desperately needed to ensure the digital world is — and remains — available to everyone.

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