Accessibility Interview Questions

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Man using wheelchair and woman engaging in conversation in a business setting

So, you got permission to bring an accessibility subject matter expert on board. What accessibility-related questions do you ask candidates to figure out if they actually know what they are doing, especially if you are not an accessibility subject matter expert yourself?

In a previous article I highlighted four intangible behaviors that I thought were crucial for successful accessibility candidates. Just to recap (in case you don’t want to plow through that article) they are:

  • Creative problem-solving
  • Keeping calm in the face of fire / chaos
  • Learning agility
  • Getting goals accomplished through influence and persuasion

Verify any formal accessibility credentials

  • CPACC / WAS / CPWA (all from IAAP)
  • JAWS certification from Vispero (formerly Freedom Scientific)
  • NVDA certification from NV Access
  • 508 Trusted Tester Certification from the US federal government. This certification is more relevant if it was achieved or renewed AFTER June 2018.
  • Certified ADA coordinator from the University of Missouri Columbia — ask about specific subject matter explored in getting the certificate since it is possible to get this certification with minimal digital accessibility experience. But if all the electives taken were focused on digital accessibility, people with this certification can have a great deal of digital accessibility knowledge.

Experience verification

Accessibility Tools

Why Accessibility?

Accessibility Opinions

Like many other recommended questions on my list, you aren’t looking for a right or wrong answer. If the candidate doesn’t have an opinion or only gives you surface level answers, then clearly they haven’t done a deep dive on the topic or faced these situations before. These questions are valuable because the answers disclose whether the candidate a) knows enough about the specific topic inquired about to discuss it in-depth, and b) can take a position on something and argue both for and against it.

Refrain from asking the trite “What is your greatest weakness?” question. Everyone has a pre-programmed answer for that. At best, it does not provide robust information about the candidate. At worst, it may make the candidate feel forced to disclose a hidden disability to explain their weakness. You don’t want to go there.

What If?

“What if you run out of time and there are still open accessibility issues?” is probably the most important question you can ask, especially a candidate interviewing for an accessibility lead or manager position. This happens literally ALL of the time. The purpose of this specific question is to evaluate the candidates’ prioritization and problem-solving skills, especially how they would break down and analyze a potential real-world situation.

More specific questions along these lines would include something like “What if an engineering manager refused to fix a Level A defect in the release candidate? What steps you would take?” A thoughtful answer here will address the severity and complexity of the issue, ARIA workarounds, and not just land on the “fix it dammit” solution that all accessibility managers really want.

Code Analysis

If the interviewer himself or herself is not at the WAS certified-level for writing accessible code, then make the question more abstract — “Tell me how to code custom tabs to make them accessible” or “tell me how to make a map work optimally for both for screen reader users and users without disabilities” Take notes on the answer (a picture if you’ve asked them to whiteboard it is a good idea) and check with someone who is WAS certified if you don’t know if the candidate’s answer was good enough or not.

Design Analysis

Silly

Don’t freaking ask the candidate anything illegal !!!!!

If the candidate volunteers something about a disability (i.e. I need one afternoon off per week for physical therapy or I can’t work under fluorescent lights) you should not, may not, MUST not ask questions about the candidate’s medical condition. The safest answer is “if you are the successful candidate, we will take that request up through our reasonable accommodations process.” And consider the consultative process required around reasonable accommodations triggered, and follow up IMMEDIATELY after the person is hired, preferably before their start date.

Do not fall into the trap of thinking “reasonable accommodations are not required for contractors” 1) That is not true in the 9th circuit, and 2) If you are going to pay someone a lot of money to do something for you, do you really want to ignore something that will make them more efficient? I think #2 kind of says it all.

I am probably carrying some baggage about this issue because I *literally* got asked once if I was going to wear “those ugly shoes” (i.e. bulky leg braces and custom orthotics inside wide sneakers that enabled me to walk) if I was hired. I was offered the job over this interviewer’s objections and did accept it because I believed in the company’s mission. The interviewer who asked me that question (head of HR !!!) was fired about 8 months later for doing different illegal things.

Conclusion

Written by

Accessibility Architect @ VMware. W3C Silver, ITI & IAAP GLC committees. Degrees in CS, law, business. Wheelchair user w/ a deaf daughter.

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