Last updated June 13, 2022
Authors note: Coming up on 3 1/2 years of writing on Medium with more than 250,000 reads, I’ve decided to go back and update/clean up some of my more popular older articles.
Accessibility is a great career. However, it’s almost impossible to receive a bachelor’s level college education. It is a career where familiarity is primarily expected to be picked up through self-education and experience. Strong programming, software testing, or program management background helps with the transition. If you don’t have that background, you may want to augment the suggestions below with additional courses in those areas. Having some experience in dispute resolution doesn’t hurt either. While that last comment is slightly in jest, Accessibility Managers spend a lot of time trying to influence people and resolve conflict. It’s an excellent soft skill to have.
Before starting your accessibility journey, I recommend reviewing the current job descriptions in both a11yjobs.com and LinkedIn job postings referencing accessibility. This will give you an idea about what employers looking for skilled accessibility professionals think are necessary skills.
Things that only cost time or not large amounts of money
Your current employer may not pick up the tab for you to learn about accessibility. I was once a single mother and pulled off a significant career change on a shoestring. Therefore, I am sensitive to cost and have divided my recommendations into “things that are free or not expensive” and “things that cost money I think are well worth the investment.”
Sign up for accessibility-related newsletters.
If you are going into accessibility, you need to be up to date on the legal trends. If I have a new newsletter from Lainey Feingold or Seyfarth Shaw, it is always at the top of my reading list. Several curated weekly “accessibility round-up” types of newsletters exist. I may be a bit biased because my articles appear in these frequently. The curated accessibility newsletters I read most regularly are Accessibility In the News, the Funka newsletter (good focus on accessibility in the EU), and Accessibility.com News Briefly.
Read my free book(s).
My first book was published on Global Accessibility Awareness Day in 2021. Titled “Giving a damn about accessibility” it goes through how to convince people that accessibility is important, and how to counter the arguments of people who care more about themselves than others. My second book which will focus on running accessible digital and physical events should be published by the end of July 2022.
Find an accessibility meetup.
Accessibility meetups are generally excellent for locating like-minded individuals and are usually low or no cost. As of the updated date of this article, there are more than 100 meetings with more than 70,000 participants listed at meetup.com. Because of the pandemic, many of these meetups have shifted to a virtual format. Because of the cost of live captioning, not all of them have great captions. Physical meetups near large cities attract many people, and you will get the most exposure to diversity in both disabilities and thoughts on accessibility in a larger group. They are also great networking opportunities since most meetups allow people to discuss job openings. Don’t restrict yourself specifically to accessibility meetups. Meetups focusing on universal design or user experience can be just as valuable.
Go to an accessibility camp.
Some accessibility bootcamps are free; some have fees associated with them. If you missed the camp, ask about recordings. Think of an accessibility camp as a meetup on steroids. Avoid UX or Coding bootcamps that claim to cover accessibility. Most of the time, the coverage isn’t very comprehensive.
Knowbility runs a different type of bootcamp called the Accessible Internet Rally or AIR. You can bring a team or ask to be placed on one. Each team has an accessibility coach and is paired with an organization, usually a non-profit, where you can help them improve the accessibility of their website. The results are judged, and belonging to an AIR Team that gets recognition will stand out on your resume.
Attend accessibility consulting company webinars
Of course, you must view consulting company webinars through the lens of “these companies are trying to sell services.” But once you discount that, accessibility consulting companies run frequent webinars ranging from basics to future trends to technical reviews. Webinars from Level Access, Deque, and 3PlayMedia are an excellent way to periodically spend an hour and are entirely free. IAAP webinars are relatively inexpensive ($39 for members, $79 for non-members) and are not sales oriented, except for pushing you to join, which is a good idea. IAAP Webinars tend to be more like college lectures — they are usually intense, focused on a very complex subject, sometimes fairly advanced, longer, and no fluff.
Take one or more accessibility online courses
Coursera has an introduction to accessibility course from the University of Illinois. The EdX course on accessibility was created by W3C themselves. Udemy has several low cost smaller accessibility modules. ITIC has put out a series of YouTube videos that contain everything you could ever possibly want to know about Accessibility Conformance Report / Voluntary Product Accessibility Templates (ACR/VPATs). I know, because I wrote and recorded some of them :-)
Learn to use free tools
First of all, you have a bunch of free screen readers. NVDA (Windows), Voiceover (iOS), and TalkBack (Android) are all free. Of course, the hardware to run them on is not. The JAWS (Windows) demo is free, with the understanding that you will be rebooting your computer every 45 minutes. The NVDA training program is about $35 USD, which is not expensive for an “everything you want to know” self-taught class. TalkBack has tutorials built into the phone on newer devices.
In addition, several browser add-ons and free tools can be used to learn about automated testing. My personal favorites are WAVE and aXe. Don’t focus so much on how the tools operate. Instead, do a deep dive on:
- What they are capable of reporting on;
- How to interpret the results; and
- How to quickly plow through lots of data to spot accessibility trends in the code.
Volunteering is a great way to get exposure to different types of disabilities and how people with disabilities use assistive technology. Understanding the 50 guidelines that compose WCAG 2.1 Level AA is not enough. You MUST understand how native assistive technology users think, behave, and process information. Also having a disability or being close with someone who does is not sufficient. There are all kinds of disabilities, and even two people with identical disabilities may use assistive technology differently. Some places to consider are local chapters of Lighthouse for the Blind, Center for Independent Living, or March of Dimes. Museums that provide assistive technology to their guests are also great places to volunteer.
Join a W3C Community Group
Once you have a bit of accessibility knowledge under your belt, W3C is always looking for volunteers to work on developing and reviewing new standards. Many WAI volunteering opportunities are listed here.
Do the 508 Trusted Tester Program
508 and WCAG 2.0 have been harmonized for almost four years. 508 The Section 508 Trusted Tester Program is an excellent way to learn everything you need to know from the American government’s perspective about hands-on accessibility testing. Don’t forget since the US federal government is behind on WCAG, you will also need to update your WCAG knowledge by learning WCAG 2.1 and the soon-to-be-released WCAG 2.2. Trusted Tester certification is essential for people based overseas who want to get jobs testing for US companies.
Trusted Tester is not a fast program, and there is almost always a waiting list. The time investment runs on average from 80–120 hours depending on several factors, such as whether English is your first language and whether you are using assistive technology to access the program. There are reasonable accommodations available. This is not a program that allows dawdling. If you are inactive for more than ten days, they kick you off, forcing you to start over. Don’t start this program unless you are committed to completing it in the 90 days allowed.
Sign up for an accessibility testing crowdsourcing site
Crowdsourcing companies put together groups of accessibility testers (usually on contract, sometimes by bug bounty) and then offer the services of that group to organizations who need their software reviewed but didn’t have the staff to do so. Crowdsourced accessibility testing services can quickly evaluate digital experiences across various devices, operating systems, and browsers. Skilled testers pinpoint critical bugs before they reach customers without adding permanent staff overhead to perform the testing.
Some crowdsourcing test companies that have specific accessibility test practices include:
Things that cost both time and money
If you have the luxury of an employer willing to invest in training, some Department of Rehabilitation funding available, or personal funds, the following items below, in addition to the suggestions above, are a great way to augment your accessibility experience.
The International Association of Accessibility Professionals, which is now a division of G3ICT, is an excellent place to meet like-minded people. They also have a board for members where you can ask questions and an annual conference.
Buy a used device
Good accessibility testers/managers must be able to use Assistive Technology on all major manufacturer’s platforms.
- If your dominant device is an iPhone, get an old Moto 6 (I bought one that was almost brand new for under $100).
- If your dominant device is an Android, get an iPhone.
- If you are a Mac user, get a cheap windows machine. Windows users don’t have to do the reverse because VoiceOver is the same on the iPhone and the Mac.
Attend an accessibility / inclusive design conference
CSUN, IAAP, Higher Ground, and Regional ADA conferences can be great places to pick up accessibility experience, learn about new things in accessibility (AI and virtual reality for the blind are my two favorite topics), and make accessibility contacts. However, they can be expensive. Hotels can be pricey, even with group rates. The first time I went to CSUN, I stayed at an Airbnb 6 blocks away for one-fourth of the hotel group rate. It can’t hurt to reach out to the organizer and ask if they will give you the student rate if you are paying for it.
IAAP has two web accessibility certifications: CPACC for accessibility managers and WAS for hands-on testers/coders. Deque has some excellent training explicitly geared towards taking the certification exam — $35 for CPACC and $150 for WAS. Adding in the cost of the certification exams, you are looking at under $1000 to get some critical letters you can put after your name on your business card. In addition to the web accessibility certifications, there are now built environment and accessible document certifications. However, unless you plan on specializing in these areas, the two web accessibility certifications will give you the broadest chance of employment.
Becoming a top-notch accessibility manager or tester takes an investment in time and initiative, but you can do it on your own without investing a ton of money. It’s not one of those things where you can attend a single class/ seminar/ conference and be ready to make the transition immediately. Take your learning style into account — some people do better in lecture settings, and some do better with self-paced or experiential learning. There are a lot of good resources out there that can help you leap into an exciting career, helping make technology accessible to everyone.