Where to go for accessibility help when you are stuck
There are lots of resources, some obvious, some not so obvious
It happens all the time, even to people as experienced in the field of accessibility as I am.
You are brainstorming about how to solve an accessibility issue, and you get stuck. Usually, the thing you are stuck on falls into one of the three following categories:
- You don’t understand the most likely path that a particular Assistive Tecchnology (AT) user will interact with what you are working on, or;
- You can’t figure out any solution, or;
- You have multiple solutions, and you can’t figure out which solution is best.
Here are some places you can go to for help.
IAAP — the International Association of Accessibility Professionals
IAAP has a chat board for members. For the price of a membership fee, you can ask questions, and other accessibility professionals may choose to volunteer to answer them. To not abuse this privilege:
- Search the archives first — your question may have been previously asked and answered by someone else.
- Do your own research first and exhaust your favorite search engine before you ask. No one likes people who ask questions that a basic internet search can answer.
Disclaimer: I am on the IAAP Global Leadership Council. But I’ve been a member of IAAP for 6 years, and it is by far the best money I’ve ever spent on accessibility-related services.
Online groups of people with disabilities
Many, many online chat groups are open to the general public without any admission fees.
The two that I belong to pertain largely to screen readers and have dozens if not hundreds of people who are blind who participate:
This is just to give you a taste of an idea of what is out there. There are many, many more available. No matter how many screen readers you are capable of using, you will never use them the way a person with vision loss does unless you are a person with vision loss, so it is important to go where you can find screen reader users to get the authentic answers (hint: it’s also a good idea to employ some people with disabilities locally).
There are lots of accessibility meetups and conferences with varying price points from free to really pricey. It is not difficult to get people to answer questions answered at these events. Thanks to COVID, people are less fussy about requiring that local people attend meetups in person. I have personally participated in meetups in the California Bay Area, Chicago, New York, Toronto, and London.
Follow one or more leaders on LinkedIn.
For example, if you want to follow a leader in best captioning practices, you could do no better than Meryl Evans. Inclusive Design? Matt May and Derek Featherstone. General diversity issues, including disability and much, much more? Lily Zheng. These people have literally dedicated their entire lives to the issues they specialize in. I probably chose them because they have the same “straight-up facts, no holds barred” approach to their particular specialty as I do. Listen to them, and ask thoughtful questions that are mindful of their time. All of the people I have listed will interact with readers.
Matt has office hours weekly for the general public, and I will be doing the same starting in March of 2021. My office hours' intended focus is providing people assistance with configuring and building custom data models for Crest, my recently released open-source, machine learning-based accessibility testing tool that is intended to sit on top of WAVE. If there aren’t any people asking Crest questions during my office hours, I will provide my $.02 on other accessibility questions. Stay tuned here or connect with me on LinkedIn for more information about time and place. Having been present for two unconscionable event hacks already, I need to make sure that this is as secure as is possible under the circumstances.
Ask vendors for help.
- Microsoft has a Disability Answer Desk.
- Most companies have an accessibility@ companyname.com email address.
- Most companies have Twitter accounts.
Make sure you only reach out to them about *their* products. Apple probably isn’t excited about answering accessibility questions about Android, for example. Many of the ways I identified about reaching out to a specific company in this article will work here if this is the approach you want to take.
If you are stuck on a document accessibility question, university resources are a great go-to because:
- Professors have to make their powerpoints and exams accessible — 21 % of college students in the US identify as having a disability.
- Universities thrive on making their knowledge public.
I personally love San Jose State’s Accessible Education Center, but many universities have resources like this.
There are some great resources on LinkedIn Learning regarding accessible and inclusive design by Derek Featherstone. LinkedIn recently reached out to me about adding more bite-sized, actionable accessibility materials, probably based on some of my blogs. I will definitely let everyone know when those are available. Deque has some excellent training geared specifically towards taking the IAAP CPACC certification exam — $35 for CPACC and $150 for the material covering the WAS exam. Coursera also has accessibility courses.
Books / Videos
There are all kinds of books on accessibility and inclusive design available. Read this article if you are interested in my favorite titles. Likewise for videos — here is the list of the ones I recommend the most strongly. But all you really have to do is go to your favorite video repository and search for “screen reader” or “switch.” You will be overwhelmed with the number of videos available of people who have recorded their experiences for you to learn from.
Don’t let getting stuck prevent you from improving your accessibility. Slow and steady wins the accessibility race.