In case you missed it, here is the recap on the First Steps to Breaking into Digital Accessibility Careers.
How do I become an accessibility-focused (fill in the blank)? Louise Clark sets out to answer this question. She shares resources to get you on the path toward a digital accessibility career. The place to start is with laws and guidelines.
Understanding Accessibility-Related Laws and Guidelines
Get familiar with the disability rights laws. You don’t need to know the details, but have an understanding of what’s out there and what it means. Here are the laws in the U.S.
- Rehabilitation Act of 1973, Section 504 and Section 508
- Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
- Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA)
- Affordable Care Act, Section 1557
The ADA website has a guide to disability rights laws that covers these and more. Lainey Feingold, a disability rights lawyer, often writes about legal updates in plain language. In reading about the laws and cases, you’ll gain a greater understanding of how they affect people with disabilities.
Here are some of the international guidelines you’ll want to know.
- United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD)
- Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA)
- EN 301 549 [PDF]: European standard for digital accessibility
- Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG)
It’s important to understand these laws because they prohibit discrimination on the basis of disability. People who want to work in accessibility will support this and people’s civil rights.
Career Paths in Accessibility
Digital accessibility is about more than compliance. It’s about people. It’s about helping people use services as well as access services and information. Everyone needs to help out with making digital products and services accessible to people.
According to the Offices for Civil Rights (OCR), for both the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of Education:
“‘Accessible’ means a person with a disability is afforded the opportunity to acquire the same information, engage in the same interactions, and enjoy the same services as a person without a disability in an equally effective and equally integrated manner, with substantially equivalent ease of use. The person with a disability must be able to obtain the information as fully, equally, and independently as a person without a disability.”
This has to be front and center of the work in building products and services. People need to think about this before designing and building anything. Everyone is responsible for digital accessibility.
Ontario’s inclusive design toolkit has a poster that shows how each role is responsible for accessibility. For example, a manager assembles a team and supports accessibility training. A researcher interviews users including people with disabilities. Product prioritizes tasks including accessibility activities. Writers create content with accessibility and reading level in mind. The list goes on.
How do you determine what role you want to break into accessibility as a career? Work backward. Here’s how. Browse job listings, take notes, and figure out what companies want. Maybe you come across a certification you don’t know about. Look it up.
A good resource is the Accessibility Skills Hiring Toolkit from Teach Access. The toolkit contains position description language, interview questions, and screening questions. The purpose is to help organizations looking to build out a team to produce accessible products.
The toolkit offers job descriptions for roles including everything from content author and instructional designer to legal counsel and project manager. It’s not all technical roles. Keep checking the toolkit as they have more roles in the works. You can use the toolkit for insights into what accessibility careers are available and what people might ask in an interview.
For example, a content author role may have a requirement such as knowledge of the Plain Writing Act of 2010 and writing accessible content using plain language. You can look up the Act and search for resources on how to write in plain language like the federal plain language guidelines.
Another role is frontend developer. In this case, the role may require knowledge of WCAG 2.1 AA requirements and WAI-ARIA best practices. If this interests you, then search for both and learn about them.
Check out W3C WAI’s ARRM project, which is Accessibility Roles and Responsibilities Mapping. They have checklists for different roles, such as UX designer and visual designer. There is a lot of online training and video that are free. Search a training on a topic of interest.
There are so many roles outside of the software development life cycle. There’s procurement, legal, multimedia, captioning, audio description,
8 Tips to Develop Accessibility Practice
Here are eight ways you can grow your accessibility knowledge and skills.
1. Develop an accessibility learning mindset.
Listen to podcasts, read blogs, subscribe to newsletters like Equal Entry’s newsletter and the University of Minnesota Duluth’s Web Design References, and follow accessibility leaders on social media.
2. Attend conferences.
Write about your experience in attending the conference. Share what you learned. Listen to people who have disabilities. There are many online and local accessibility meetups. Check out A11yNYC, Accessibility Virtual Reality (A11yVR), and A11yTokyo.
3. Start a daily practice to develop your accessibility skills.
If you publish a blog post, ensure it’s accessible. If you create a video, ensure it’s captioned. If you post on social media, ensure the post is accessible. Do accessibility tests on a random website. Use assistive technology such as a screen reader to browse websites. What are current things you do in your job that you can make accessible?
4. Seek mentorship.
There are different mentorship programs such as Accessibility NextGen and Disability:IN NextGen Leaders Initiatives.
5. Pursue certifications.
Research certifications for the field you’re interested in. Enroll in prep courses to get ready for the exam.
6. Volunteer and serve your community.
This is a way to learn your new skill while giving back to your community. Two digital accessibility nonprofits you might check out at Knowbility and Digital A11ies.
7. Make sure that your resume is accessible!
Don’t forget about your website or portfolio site. They need to be accessible.
8. Learn agile accessibility.
Agile takes an iterative and responsive software development life cycle methodology. Here’s what the Manifesto for Agile Software Development states.
“We are uncovering better ways of developing software by doing it and helping others do it. Through this work we have come to value:
- Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
- Working software over comprehensive documentation
- Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
- Responding to change over following a plan
“That is, while there is value in the items on the right, we value the items on the left more.”
It erased the barriers that existed between teams, such as development, quality assurance, business analysts, and so on. Agile is more collaborative. Accessibility should be treated the same way and included in a product from the start, before the design.
To learn more, watch the video.
- Quick review of the previous session
- Disability rights laws
- Career paths in accessibility
- How to work backward in finding a career
- Q&A with Louise Clark and Ken Sumiyoshi
- Presentation slides
- Digital accessibility resource guide
- Digital accessibility careers resource guide, part 2
Louise Clark transitioned to a career in technology after spending a decade teaching Latin American history at universities in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg region. She currently works at the United States Digital Service, a group that uses design and technology to deliver better services to people served by the U.S. Government.
As an accessibility strategist and service designer, Louise helps teams consider a holistic strategy for creating inclusive services that center the needs of people with disabilities. Louise also serves as a co-founder of Queen City Bytes, a grassroots organization, which works in partnership with the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library, to provide technical training to underserved populations.
Connect with Louise on LinkedIn.