Today is Global Accessibility Awareness Day, a day meant to get people talking, thinking, and learning about digital access and inclusion. We're excited to celebrate the occasion this year and announce that Ubisoft's Diversity and Inclusion team and Accessibility team have merged to form the Global Diversity, Inclusion, and Accessibility (DIA) team. Under the leadership of VP of Diversity and Inclusion Raashi Sikka, the team will work together to ensure that the company embeds inclusion and accessibility into its design processes and serves its employees and players alike. To understand more about the team merger and how it helps strengthen all their initiatives, we spoke with Sikka and Senior Manager of Accessibility David Tisserand.
Why did you make the decision to merge the accessibility team and the diversity and inclusion team?
Raashi Sikka: In the context of Ubisoft, which has been around for 36 years, the Global Diversity and Inclusion team is still fairly new, having been established in 2021. As we shared in an article in April, over the past year we've focused on planting the seeds for the future. Since I started at Ubisoft, I've had the opportunity to learn more about the work that David and his team have been doing in the accessibility space and it is a real north star. Our Accessibility team is respected both internally and externally for their work and the value that they've added to the industry at large. It is admirable and something that we aspire to from an overarching diversity and inclusion perspective as well.
David Tisserand: Accessibility has been a grassroots initiative for quite a while. We've been collaborating with almost every team at Ubisoft over the past five years, but we've had to grow very organically over time. From the onset, our vision has always been that accessibility needed to be universal, but our position in the company's structure didn't reflect this global mandate. Collaborating with Raashi's team, whose mission is to foster inclusion for all our teams and communities around the world, is a great opportunity for us.
We also believe that there is a lot of knowledge-sharing to do between the two teams. For example, we are starting to collaborate with the multiple ERGs that have formed since Raashi came on board, like the Neurodiversity ERG, to understand their needs and how we can support them better through our expertise in web accessibility, tools accessibility, and understanding disabled people's experience in general.
It seems that, at their core, Accessibility and D&I have common goals and intersections. Is that why the teams have come together?
RS: Absolutely. We share some of the same goals and work with many of the same stakeholders, which makes this merger all the more obvious in some ways.
Diversity very simply is: who is in the room (and not in the room), what are the demographics of the organization? Diversity captures all the different dimensions of our identities, whether that's gender identity, race, ethnicity, your social background, your socioeconomic background, disability, all of that and more, as well as the intersection of our various identities.
Inclusion is: how do all those differences interact and work together across systems and processes? How do you ensure that the folks in the room feel a sense of belonging, have access to opportunities, can thrive and reach their highest potential? When we talk about inclusion, we talk about action and intentionality.
In the world and in a diverse workplace, differences exist, and people have different needs and requirements. Equity asks us to acknowledge that everyone has different needs, experiences, and opportunities - and different starting points.
When we think about equity and inclusion specifically for people with disabilities, we talk about accessibility. We talk about designing for inclusion, or designing for accessibility. How do we make sure that the systems, the processes, and structures that we design remove any barriers that they might face? Inclusion and accessibility are often intertwined with each other.
DT: Although accessibility benefits everyone, we primarily do it to undo a wrong. Disabled people have often been excluded from our games and services in the past, as well as our workforce. My team's focus has been to right that wrong with a primary focus on our games and services. By removing the unnecessary barriers which prevented some people from immersing themselves in our universes. As Raashi said, the D&I team was created to strengthen the diversity of our workforce and to ensure everyone feels included, and that includes disabled people. That's where the accessibility team can be valuable as we're already applying our technical expertise externally to that extent and can help the D&I team with that part of their internal mandate. Our work complements theirs.
How does the merging of the team help with the initiatives that you both previously worked on?
RS: It's about joining forces, combining the things that we are good at, leveraging that potential, and growing from there. Additionally, when David and I started having conversations with each other, one of the things that he obviously knew, and that I discovered as I joined, was that while we've made tremendous strides in the accessibility of our games, there's room for development in accessibility internally for our team members. That's really an opportunity for us, and we didn't want to create two separate teams focused on accessibility, but to bring that all under the same umbrella. What we are really focusing on now is directing that lens of accessibility that was previously applied only to our games and services internally towards our tools, our systems, our offices, our buildings, our events - both virtual and in person.
In year two, the DIA team is looking to work more with development teams and embed the notion of representation and inclusion as a creative opportunity. Some of the work that David and the accessibility team do has really unpacked that for our teams, that if we don't have these features in our games, in our products, we're missing out on a significant group of individuals and players in this world. We're using the same tactics as David's team when we ask, "how do you design for inclusion?" That's where the synergies really start coming into place.
DT: Improving the quality of the content that we deliver in our games is one part of what the accessibility team does We believe there's going to be a lot of collaboration with the DIA team here. And we also wanted to make sure that, internally as well, we would accommodate our team members, and make sure that we could reduce the barriers they face to do their job. There are members of our workforce who have lived experience, and who are also in our offices, using our tools, and sometimes may face barriers like our players are facing in games. So that's always been a goal of our team, to do that at some point in the future. We were thinking 2023-2024, but now with the opportunity to join forces, we believe that we're going to start this year.
Accessibility has been a priority at Ubisoft for the past four years, but now we have the opportunity to reach more people than ever before by including Ubisoft employees.
Much of what the D&I team has done in its first year has been internally facing. What initiatives are you working on that may impact our players?
RS: Year one has been internally focused. In year two, we will continue to work in partnership with our HR teams on our internal systems and processes across the employee experience lifecycle. But we're also collaborating with production and editorial teams to ensure our content and our games are even more inclusive and representative of the broader player community. Soon we will start seeing more of that influence embedded across our different IPs. One of the things we've already established is our content review group, which leverages input from our multicultural, diverse team members across the world to ensure that the content we produce is representative and culturally respectful. That's not something that players necessarily see as a standalone innovation, but hopefully they feel the shift in the content, narratives, and stories that we create.
David has long said that accessibility needs to be implemented at the beginning of the design process. Is that something that will be expanding to the entire DIA team now?
RS: Absolutely, that is really the mandate for the team. How do we start the conversation with our creative teams and our dev teams early on, at the very conception of the project? Every conversation on what inclusion means for a particular IP or for a particular project is going to be different, right? Each of our projects is unique, and their needs are different based on the stories that they're telling, the characters that they're representing, the setting and the world in which it's based.
Much of what the accessibility team has done has been focused on our games, customer support websites, marketing trailers, and other external-facing topics. How does the merging of these two teams make Ubisoft's internal processes more accessible?
DT: We already started, here in Montreal, to talk to the facilities team and inform them of some of the physical barriers that exist in our buildings. We've also started collaborating with the IT department, again very locally, for our own team's needs.
It's great that we started locally, but what's missing is a more systematic approach to improving all our buildings around the world. Merging with the D&I team gives us this global mandate to expand what we started in Montreal.
We also need to make sure that all of our internal tools across the globe are accessible to everyone. That started just last year with the recruitment of Billy Gregory, our Accessibility Program Manager for our websites and apps. His current mandate is to focus on external-facing products, which requires documentation, trainings and processes for our team members responsible for these products. Most of that work is transferable to our internal tools. I'm certain that his strong knowledge of users' needs and great vision for transforming the way our teams incorporate accessibility into their process will give us a head start on internal digital accessibility.
David, you recently spoke about the future of accessibility at Ubisoft. Does this merger change that in any way?
DT: At its heart, no, but there is something to be said about being part of a larger team that has more visibility at the company. With Raashi leading the team, we're able to have more access to top management and as I've said, work more universally across the company. We essentially have an official seat at the table now with top management which can help amplify our suggestions and initiatives.
To stay up-to-date on the development of Ubisoft's DIA initiatives, be sure to check out Diversity and Inclusion at Ubisoft: Planting Seeds for the Future and The Future of Accessibility at Ubisoft.