Staffing accessibility — Consultants vs. employees
It’s a complicated decision, here are the factors to look at to decide which route is right for your organization
Part two of a two-part article. Read Part one here which addresses the cost of each type of resources discussed in this article.
You’ve convinced the powers that be that accessibility is important. They’ve even given you some funding to get it done. The next question is how to staff the testing effort. There are several different roads you can go down. The good news is none of them are mutually exclusive. You can start down one path and migrate over another as you mature, or you can mix and match concurrently.
By employing a dedicated accessibility team, an organization will have dedicated resources at their disposal who can be integrated tightly with all segments of the organization including design, development/IT, QA, training, diversity & inclusion, HR, and procurement.
Having your accessibility team be full-time employees lends itself to higher velocity in identifying and resolving accessibility issues. This is because the accessibility team members can be embedded with the teams who are working on accessibility-related issues. Cross-training becomes easier, and flexibility is also inherent as accessibility testers can move from project to project and come back to validate defect fixes when they are ready for re-test.
There is a role that contractors can play in a smoothly running accessibility organization.
- you may not be able to afford full-time employees.
- you may be in an area where employees are hard to find (though you should consider remote employment as a possibility)
- you may have a fixed number of full time employees/consultants but want the flexibility of being able to “surge” if your release calendar has peaks and valleys. This is especially true for tech companies that have annual conferences (such as VMware) or companies whose business naturally has a month where a lot of stuff happens (think April for TurboTax, June for real-estate, or December for vacation related business in North America).
Individual accessibility contractors are worth considering, with the understanding that they are the highest risk approach to accessibility testing for a number of reasons.
- Are they really a contractor? AB5 (California), IR35 (UK), and IRS (anywhere in the US) regulations may determine that your “contractor” is actually an employee, no matter what the agreement is between you and the service provider. This can create all kinds of financial liability.
- Make sure you check references for individual contractors as carefully as you would for an employee. They are a single point of failure when they are an individual contractor when it comes either to knowledge or availability.
Individual contractors provide continuity, since you will never be passed onto someone else by definition (they are a one-person shop). Individual contractors have a broad range of rates depending on qualification.
Contracting agencies are lower risk than individual contractors, but are also correspondingly more expensive.
- Agencies handle all the tax headaches and paperwork associated with contracting.
- Contracting agencies typically are insured, where many individual contractors won’t be.
- Agencies will have additional staff to substitute should your normal person not be available. That being said, moving from person to person ends up costing more because of the need to pay for redundant knowledge ramp up.
US based accessibility agencies rates range from a low of $80 an hour to a high of $180 an hour. Certified testers and testers with special additional qualifications (graduate degrees, litigation experience, VPAT authoring knowledge) can cost substantially more.
Accessibility testers from established overseas contracting agencies can be found for as little as $20-$25 an hour. If cost is of paramount importance to you, that could be a good way to go. But there are a lot of headaches associated with overseas contracting including:
- Language barriers
- Time zone differences
- Privacy and security for pre-release code
- Establishing test environments
- Facilitating conversations between the testers and design/development teams
- And last but certainly NOT least, finding people with experience with American regulations and attitudes towards disability
Crowd sourcing is a relatively new but up-and-coming approach to accessibility testing. Crowd source testing agencies identify users with disabilities and provide services on demand. Typically, the crowd source testing agency provides project management assistance to:
- scope the testing project
- identify the testers qualified to perform the tests per the contracting organization’s specifications
- assign out modules to test
- remove duplicate defects from the results, and
- provide a single report back to the contracting organization
Using a crowd source testing agency allows the contracting organization to “surge” testing efforts on a project basis, which is more tightly scoped than than using US or overseas-based contracting resources. It also allows contracting organizations to limit the testers to only people with disabilities, which cannot be done with employees or contractor resources. Finally, because people with disabilities are more likely to be in a lower socio-economic strata, using a crowd source testing agency is a great way to test software in real world conditions getting:
- usability feedback, akin to doing user research with participants with disabilities
- lower network bandwidth, since people with disabilities testing from home are less likely to have blazingly fast internet
- older devices, because people with disabilities frequently use less expensive devices and hold onto them longer
The resources chosen to perform accessibility testing are less important than identifying someone with the responsibility and power to perform accessibility testing who moves the accessibility needle forward. Financially, the lowest risk choices are overseas contractors and crowdsourced testing (which is also largely overseas). However, if the risk of litigation is high, the cost of using employees or US resources pales in comparison to the cost of fighting an ADA lawsuit. While the settlement costs may be around $25K, an organization may be sued repeatedly until they do finally achieve accessibility. In addition, most $25,000 settlements come with a $1,000,000 price tag from legal fees, experts, brand harm, opportunity costs, and post-settlement monitoring expenses.