What to Look For When Hiring a Web Accessibility Specialist
by Sam Stemler on Jan 8, 2019
Web accessibility means more than checking boxes to adhere to a law or guidelines. Functional web accessibility is about the user experience (UX) and ensuring that all web visitors can access and use your site. While automated web accessibility testing programs are useful for finding problems fast, fixing these issues often requires the help of a web accessibility specialist. Whether you are hiring a full-time staff person or working with a consultant, it’s important to pick the expert who knows how to address your problems and fix them. Here’s a breakdown of the education, skills, knowledge and experience you should look for when hiring a web accessibility specialist.
Knowledge, Skills and Experience to Look For in a Web Accessibility Specialist
What is an web accessibility specialist?
What you should look for when hiring a web accessibility specialist will depend on what you are testing and fixing. If you are testing your website for accessibility, you’ll need a web accessibility specialist who is experienced with the elements your website uses to function, as well as the accessibility issues that can arise within these elements. You might also be conducting accessibility testing for an app or software you developed, which will require some additional skills.
To decide what to look for when hiring a web accessibility specialist, make a list of the elements you are using and testing. This might include any of the following:
- The foundational elements of your website or the functionality of your program, such as PHP, Python, Ruby, Ruby on Rails, Java or MySQL.
- The Content Management System (CMS) through which you input and display content, like WordPress, Drupal, or DNN.
There are many other technologies you may use. Hiring a web accessibility specialist who is familiar with these will simplify accessibility dramatically.
Work with accessibility experts who are also developers and designers. Ask about manual accessibility testing ›
Hiring the right web accessibility specialist often starts with education. A formal education in computer programming, information systems, or web design generally provides the foundational knowledge needed to build and understand websites and programs, though additional experience and knowledge is needed to design for accessibility specifically. Graduates of this field may or may not take courses or lessons addressing web accessibility, so their experience with accessibility may vary.
Web Development Skills and Experience
Specific skills and experience are two of the most important things to look for when hiring a web accessibility specialist. When deciding what skills or experience you’re seeking in an applicant or consultant, it’s helpful to refer back to your list of programs, programming languages, or systems your website or software depends on. It’s also helpful to use the results from your automated testing. If your accessibility issues are mostly content-based, such as missing alt text, disorganized headings, or unclear links, then your accessibility specialist should be skilled with your CMS, as well as SEO. If your accessibility issues are primarily UX problems, then web design and functionality will be more important.
Keep in mind that web development and design skills are important, but your web accessibility specialist must also be able to apply these to accessibility. This means they should also have experience with assistive technologies that a person with a disability might use to access your site or program, as well as automated testing tools used to uncover accessibility roadblocks.
Here are some of the skills and experience your web accessibility specialist may need:
- Content management using WordPress, Drupal, DNN or another CMS
- Web application development using Angular JS, Ruby on Rails, Ember.js or another framework.
- Fluency with English or the primary written language used.
- Experience with JAWS or NVDA
- Experience with keyboard testing
- Experience with automated testing tools and reports
Web Accessibility Knowledge
In addition to hard skills and formal education, certain knowledge will also be an important part of what to look for when hiring a web accessibility specialist. Most importantly, the web accessibility expert you hire should have in-depth knowledge of accessibility laws, guidelines, and best practices. Much of this information is freely available through the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) and other resources, though the extent to which the specialist can apply this knowledge will also be important. This knowledge makes the difference between a regular web developer or designer and one who specializes in accessibility.
Here’s some of the knowledge your accessibility specialist should have:
- A good understanding of WCAG 2.0 and what this means for the UX
- Knowledge of SEO best practices
- A good understanding of laws surrounding web accessibility, including ADA, Section 508, state- or industry-specific guidelines, or web accessibility case law as needed.
- Knowledge of and ability to use WAI-ARIA where necessary
- Understanding of desktop, mobile and responsive web design
What to look for when hiring a web accessibility specialist depends a great deal on what you are working with, but all web accessibility specialists should have some skills and knowledge in common. Most notably, they should know, and be able to explain the importance of WCAG, as well as why web accessibility matters. They should also have experience with assistive devices, whether for testing purpose or first-hand knowledge. Finally, your candidate should be able to demonstrate their success with web accessibility, and their previous projects should be similar to yours.
Maintaining web accessibility is an ongoing process, though there are many different types of web accessibility specialists that can help. You might work with a consultant regularly to ensure your website or program is compliant, you might hire a full-time or part-time employee, or you might work with a third-party to conduct regular manual testing. Whoever you choose, make sure you have a good understanding of their knowledge, skills, and experience, as well as what you expect from them.