So You Want to Become an Accessibility Specialist

With the U.S. Department of Transportation mandates requiring that airlines make their websites accessible, the U.S. Department of Justice settling complaints about inaccessible internet sites with terms requiring more accessibility, updated Section 508 standards and other efforts to increase accessibility, more and more companies and organizations will be looking to make content accessible. In order to do this, they’ll need to find people to help make sure they’re compliant with accessibility standards.

So, you say, I want to become an accessibility specialist, what do I need to do? Perhaps you already have what it takes to become an accessibility specialist and don’t even know it. In this article, I, an Accessibility Analyst for a major U.S. Airline, will talk about what I believe you need to know in order to work professionally in the accessibility space. It is my hope that this article will encourage many who read it to think of doing work in the accessibility space as a career choice.

Myth: I have to have a disability in order to be an accessibility specialist.

Fact: Anyone who works in a technology-related field such as Development, User Experience or Quality Assurance can become an accessibility specialist. First and foremost, you need a passion to want to help people. Second, learn what accessibility standard or guidelines your organization is using, such as the Section 508 standards, or the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). Third, contact local disability organizations, talk with them and learn what accessibility issues people face and their ideas for resolving them. In the two years I’ve worked in my current position, I’ve been one of a couple people working on our accessibility efforts who has a disability. However, I’ve seen people who are very passionate and who want to do the right thing and they have become believers.

Myth: There is no way for me to become educated about accessibility.

Fact: There are many ways that you can learn what you need to know to do accessibility work, whether you’re a developer producing content that needs to be accessible, a UX professional designing accessible user interfaces, or someone testing for accessibility. For starters, many university programs include discussions of accessibility in their computer science programs, as part of Human Computer Interaction. Organizations such as Web Accessibility in Mind (WebAIM), Deque University, and Level Access (formerly SSB Bart Group), can provide classroom and online training in accessibility. In addition to providing accessibility auditing services, companies such as The Paciello Group and Tech for All Consulting can provide on-site training to your organization.

Myth: As long as the content I’m designing, developing or testing works with a screen reader, it’s accessible.

Fact: While many of the guidelines, for example, in the WCAG speak to issues involving making your content and applications work with screen reading software, accessibility is about more than that. Websites need to be designed to allow individuals with low vision to tailor it to their needs. Videos on websites need to be captioned to make them accessible for individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing, and audio described so the visual elements are accessible to individuals with visual impairment. Blinking or flashing content can be problematic for individuals who can experience seizures. Complicated language or unnecessary jargon can cause issues for individuals with cognitive disabilities. Content and applications that are not keyboard accessible can be problematic for individuals with motor skill disability issues who rely on alternative devices to access the web.

Myth: There’s very little opportunity for me to work professionally in accessibility.

Fact: I’ve already talked about a number of opportunities available to work professionally in the accessibility space. Organizations are being forced to make content more accessible and need people to work for them and help them do it. Organizations such as those mentioned in this article are out there and in the business of providing accessibility remediation assistance, auditing, and training. Disability organizations are advocating for greater accessibility and need to hire professionals that can help them.

Myth: Finally, people with disabilities represent a small minority and don’t have much spending power, so accessibility isn’t that important.

Fact: According to the United States Census Bureau, there are some 54 million people with disabilities with some 220 billion dollars in spending power. If you don’t have an accessible site, like other customers, they will vote with their feet and go to a site or sites that offer what they’re looking for in an accessible format. Additionally, we’ve already discussed that there are regulations and settlements which are forcing greater accessibility. But one important point. Building accessible sites benefits everyone, not just people with disabilities. A site that works with a keyboard benefits someone who for whatever reason doesn’t have access to a mouse. Captioned videos help people who’re first language isn’t the language of the audio being captioned. Graphics with alternative text descriptions help people displaying your site on a mobile device.

Wrap-up

So now that you know there’s a need for greater accessibility, and that there are professional opportunities in the accessibility space, go out and learn what you need to in order to bring accessibility to your work. Like everything else, it will become second nature to you and you won’t think about designing, developing or testing content and applications without considering accessibility.

Ray Campbell

About Ray Campbell

Ray Campbell has been working professionally as an Accessibility Analyst for United Airlines for over two years. He joined United to provide testing and guidance as the airline worked to come into compliance with a U.S. Department of Transportation Mandate requiring that by December, 2016, their entire website needed to be accessible to and usable by people with disabilities. Prior to joining United, Ray worked for SPR Technology Consulting for four years providing accessibility testing and training in both the web and mobile space for such clients as Discover Financial Services, Pace Suburban Bus and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois. Prior to that, Ray served as Adaptive Technology Specialist for the Chicago Lighthouse for People Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired where, among other things he operated the first of its kind adaptive technology help desk serving individuals with visual impairments from all 50 states, Canada, South Africa, China and Australia.

Ray holds a Bachelor of Arts in Computing Degree from DePaul University in Chicago, Illinois, and has over 15 years of experience in Software Engineering for AT&T Bell Laboratories and Lucent Technologies. He serves as Secretary for the American Council of the Blind, and is involved in other community activities such as serving on the Citizens Advisory Board for Metra, the Chicago Illinois area’s commuter rail system as well as the ADA Advisory Committee for Pace Suburban Bus. Ray takes an all or nothing approach to accessibility, meaning, if it’s not accessible for everyone, it shouldn’t be available to anyone.

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