You are reading an archived post from the first version of my blog. I've started fresh, and the new design and content is now at boxofchocolates.ca

Four Steps to Becoming an Accessibility Consultant

February 2, 2006
Step 1
Put the words “Accessibility Consultant” on your business card.
Step 2
Ok, I lied. There is only one step.
Step 3
No, really. There’s only one step.
Step 4
Look, get over it already. The simple fact is that there really is only one step.


It is important to remember that this is not unique to accessibility consulting – it occurs everywhere. I mean, really, you could just as easily call yourself any of the following:

  • change management professional
  • web designer/developer
  • holistic living consultant

The list is endless (though I did close the <ul> to ensure well-formedness)

Positioning

In my last post: January Round Up, Kevin asked:

I for one am very interested in how you position yourself as an expert in accessibility. As far as I know, there isn’t any governing body or accreditation you can receive in “accessibility”. Aside from simply proclaiming yourself as one, what can you do to prove this to a potential client?

Kevin is totally right: there is no governing body or accreditation or even certification in accessibility (at least not at present). So what does that leave you? I won’t give away all my secrets here, but here’s a start – I’ll abstract Kevin’s quote to illustrate:

I for one am very interested in how you position yourself as an expert in accessibility. As far as I know, there isn’t any governing body or accreditation you can receive in “accessibility”. Aside from simply proclaiming yourself as one, what can you do to prove this to a potential client?

And there it is: my secret to positioning yourself as an accessibility expert. It is no different than positioning yourself as a successful web designer. You need to have:

  1. a credible portfolio of work
  2. samples that you can provide
  3. references from clients
  4. the ability to demonstrate your knowledge
  5. the ability to understand the client and their situation

The only difference between this and other web areas like pure development, design or information architecture is the deliverable: what artifacts can you show that represent your expertise, knowledge and experience?

This isn’t likely the answer Kevin was looking for, but I honestly believe there is no trick to it and it is no different than other aspects of web development. There are other things that I do to position myself, but the foundation of presenting myself to any prospective client for consideration is provided by portfolio, references, knowledge and understanding.

I mean, really – is that different that any other area of what we do? (other than the specific skill set, of course)

24 Responses

Comment by Jules — Feb 02 2006 @ 9:36 am

Is there a missing word? Should it rather be:

Kevin is totally right: there is no governing body or accreditation or even certification in accessibility (at least not at present).

You are correct that for you, your portfolio, samples, references… will support your claim of an accessibility consultant but it wouldn’t support mine or that of the many other small players online. However, you have lots of experience but a new person won’t and therefore, could they claim accessibility consultant without much if any experience?

People out of bookkeeping school or teacher’s college are qualified bookkeepers/teachers (I am not going to speak to their proficiency or quality). Because there is no Web accessibility school or certification, the only way a person may become qualified to become an accessibility consultant is the school of experience and therefore until you get the experience, you aren’t qualified.

I too have written about a similar topic (What are Web Professionals) in which I bemoaned the lack of a certification program that would enable more persons to learn the current methods of Web design and become the new professionals.

Right now, your method works, especially for you because you have these criteria but for new entrants to this field, it doesn’t work for them. Having some form of training and certification will provide more people with the skills to either add accessibility to their skillset (whether or not they wish to market it) or enable them to fully market themselves as accessibility consultants.

Comment by Derek Featherstone — Feb 02 2006 @ 9:57 am

Jules – thanks for picking up that missing word… Indeed, there is no governing body. As for the rest of it…

I think the question that I asked at the end is really my point: this is no different than how you represent yourself as a credible web designer/developer, or information architect, or anything else to do with the web. Yes, I happen to be able to represent myself fairly well as an accessibility consultant, but it wasn’t always that way. Originally I was a “web developer with significant interest in accessibility.” Over time – with each contract – that changed.

That’s no different than anything else in this field, in my estimation.

Oh – and for what it’s worth, Jules – I suspect you’d have a pretty good chance of positioning yourself with respect to accessibility work.

Comment by Robert Wellock — Feb 02 2006 @ 10:24 am

Ironically, I do have a UK Government Approved qualification containing the words its proper title is: OCNW Creating Accessible Websites Using XHTML & DHTML certificate level 3 for my amusement I decided to take the course last year.

Though the title is a little misleading “lacking” in the accessibly department – but you can guess they’ll be people springing up thinking just by using XHTML Strict, CSS-P, DOM and automated checkers they understand accessibility.

Comment by Robert Wellock — Feb 02 2006 @ 10:30 am

Before anyone comes to the wrong conclusion I don’t consider myself to be an “Accessibility Consultant” or “Commercial Webmaster”, the web is just a hobby for me.

Comment by Derek Featherstone — Feb 02 2006 @ 10:37 am

Robert – what does the OCNW stand for? A lot of good that UK Government approved certificate did for you!! :)

Seriously – it is very ironic that you, as a hobbyist, may be the only person on record in the world with some type of paper that says you have credentials in accessibility. Were you the only one taking the class?

Comment by Robert Wellock — Feb 02 2006 @ 1:08 pm

It was the first year the class was run and approved there were about 12 other people, I did it because one needed a fast internet connection and was curious about how they’d deliver the accessibility part.

Open College of the North West (http://www.ocnw.com/) is a government approved Awarding Body. The short course was about 10 weeks.

About 15 hours was spent on accessibility (probably 6 hours direct focus). Though as I say, it didn’t go any deeper than automatic tools and physical disability, i.e. colour-blindness, reduced vision, reduced mobility and the common things like screen readers.

I thought it might raze a few eyebrows that they are thinking on the right lines but don’t go into nearly enough depth really the title was a little poorly thought out for a Level-3.

Comment by Small Paul — Feb 02 2006 @ 6:22 pm

I’m with Derek on this one. We’re judged on what we deliver, and what experience we have. It’s an awful lot of overhead having accreditation bodies. Who judges whether the body itself is any good? Caveat emptor, I say.

Accessibility is a bit of a funny one, as I think there’s something of a paucity of disabled people involved in it. I’ve spoken to one person to whom web accessibility was directly relevant in almost three years of web development, and she worked for an accessibility consultancy herself :)

Robert: Did you mean “raise” a few eyebrows, or are you burning them? :)

Comment by Robert Wellock — Feb 03 2006 @ 8:43 am

I am dyslexic so choose whichever you want; I am very prone at making grammar errors. :)

Comment by Jules — Feb 03 2006 @ 10:57 am

I personally like the imagery of “razing” eyebrows.

Comment by Russ Weakley — Feb 03 2006 @ 3:38 pm

Excelent points. but what if you just want to be an “accessible consultant”?

Surely then you must :

1. Put the words “Consultant” on your business card.
2. Put the word “consultant” on you business card in braille
3. Install a microchip in your business card so it speaks when pressed, for those with some sort of vision or leanring impairment.
3. Offer a large font high contrast version on the back of the card

Comment by goodwitch — Feb 03 2006 @ 6:47 pm

God D, you are soooo demanding. You mean I have to learn how to spell accessibility correctly?

Comment by Nathan — Feb 04 2006 @ 3:16 am

Does the non-existence of qualifications/credentials for an accessibility expert stem from the fact that there is nobody qualified to teach it?

I’m confused, are there accessibility experts in any fields other than web design? If so are we learning from them right now or just making things up as we go?

* Questioner Expert, signing off…

Comment by Kevin from Canada — Feb 04 2006 @ 3:22 am

Hi Derek. You’re right, it isn’t the answer I was looking for, but it is the one I feared I might receive. I guess my biggest concern is how you would go about proving your knowledge and abilities to that initial client, when you don’t have a portfolio or references to fall back on.

In the field of web design, I see it as the most challenging area to “prove” your worth.
With straight design, a client can look at something you’ve created, and determine if they like it or not: that takes a few seconds.
With programming or application development, you can demonstrate how something works and responds: that takes a few minutes (depending on the complexity of the program, obviously).
With accessibility, how do you demonstrate that a site is accessible? How do you show and explain to your client (in less than a week) that site A is accessible while site B isn’t, particularly if they “look” the same?

I’m also curious what kind of clients seek out the services of an Accessibility Consultant. Is it mostly government agencies or “special interest” groups?

Comment by Derek Featherstone — Feb 04 2006 @ 7:35 am

@Russ: (oh, this is going to be fun – put on your humour and sarcasm detectors people)

Wow, Russ. You raise a lot of excellent points there, but that’s mostly theory. Don’t you think though that people that need those mutliple formats already have some other mechanism of dealing with just regular old business cards? I mean, why should I go to all that effort? Can’t I just let their assistive technology do the hard work that I just don’t have time for, and frankly don’t see the ROI for?

Oh, also – giving someone my business card is more a “transaction” than my simply putting out my brochure of services. I see that “transaction” as more like an “application” and being accessible really only applies to static information type exchange doesn’t it? I mean, if it is an application, that’s different, and I don’t need to be accessible, so I don’t see what the big deal is…

Cheers,
Derek (who hopes this sarcastic/humourous answer is taken as such and that nobody interprets it as serious)

Comment by Derek Featherstone — Feb 04 2006 @ 7:55 am

@Glenda

You mean I have to learn how to spell accessibility correctly?

Honestly – it depends on what you see as your main issue. Knowing how to spell accessibility and being able to type accessibility are, quite often, two completely different things. :)

@Nathan:

Does the non-existence of qualifications/credentials for an accessibility expert stem from the fact that there is nobody qualified to teach it?

I think there are a number of professionals world wide that could teach the courses. What seems to be lacking right now is an accreditation process for those courses and there is no governing “body” that oversees that. Further – even if there was a overarching body, who oversees them? I could come up with my own certification program tomorrow, but who would “approve” it?

are there accessibility experts in any fields other than web design? If so are we learning from them right now or just making things up as we go?

There certainly are accessibility experts in other fields – there are experts in accomodation and accomodation policy, experts in physical space accessibility, experts in learning impairments… the list goes on. And yes, we do learn from them. What I’m not sure about is the qualifications to become such an expert – i’m guessing that a lot if it is the combination of a degree (or more than one) with experience. Off the top of my head, I’d guess degrees in any of the following areas are likely: psychology, cognitive science, human factors, architecture, urban planning.

See – in each case, though, I’m not sure each person’s focus would be on accessibility when they were living the rigours of obtaining that paper. Rather, I suspect that accessibility experts in other fields “grew into” accessibility as a specialty as their experience grew. I’ll see if I can ask some of my colleagues that focus on other areas more about their background and how they ended up specializing in accessibility.

Comment by Russ Weakley — Feb 05 2006 @ 8:51 am

@Derek – “you don’t see what the big deal is?”

You wait till I form a HEROC posse and hunt down your Canadian arse! Then we’ll see a big deal! :)

Comment by Derek Featherstone — Feb 05 2006 @ 11:02 am

You wait till I form a HEROC posse and hunt down your Canadian arse! Then we’ll see a big deal! :)

Russ – I thought your parole prevented you from leaving Australia, no?

Comment by Derek Featherstone — Feb 05 2006 @ 9:02 pm

@Kevin:

I guess my biggest concern is how you would go about proving your knowledge and abilities to that initial client, when you don’t have a portfolio or references to fall back on.

That’s a really good question – in the absence of previous deliverables for a paying client, how do you prove it? New designers will often volunteer to design something for a local non-profit, or app developers will build an application for themselves to show that they can do that type of work. Perhaps something similar would work?

I’m also curious what kind of clients seek out the services of an Accessibility Consultant. Is it mostly government agencies or “special interest” groups?

Based on my experience here in Canada, mostly government, though that is changing. I think the private sector is becoming more attuned to the needs of all people – I suspect that the Accessibilty for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) might bring more prominence to accessibility issues in Ontario. Only time will tell, though.

Comment by Edward Clarke — Feb 06 2006 @ 8:34 am

New designers will often volunteer to design something for a local non-profit, or app developers will build an application for themselves to show that they can do that type of work. Perhaps something similar would work?

Most successful designers/developers are ex-employed, not fresh from Uni so would have commercial experience, client facing skills, budgeting abilities and most importantly, a client list and portfolio.

Based on my experience here in Canada, mostly government, though that is changing. I think the private sector is becoming more attuned to the needs of all people – I suspect that the Accessibilty for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) might bring more prominence to accessibility issues in Ontario. Only time will tell, though.

Sadly, private sector is economically driven and web standards are an overhead when compared to a £500 FrontPage blast. Even on a larger scale, accessibility needs to be factored in the marketing department before consultants are considered. It’s all about commercial return and the argument that the disability market is X big doesn’t seem to shift people into action.

Anyway, what’s the weight of the offence. Take driving at 43mph in a 30mph zone. £60 fixed penalty fine, wham, bham, money in the public coffers. No messing about. Think of the leg work and return involved in taking someone to court over a poor website.

I wouldn’t be optimistic about my career if I were an Accessibility Consultant.

Comment by Derek Featherstone — Feb 06 2006 @ 9:40 am

@Edward:

Sadly, private sector is economically driven and web standards are an overhead when compared to a £500 FrontPage blast

Forget about web standards for a moment – professional level design and development is an overhead if we’re comparing to a “£500 FrontPage blast.”

Even on a larger scale, accessibility needs to be factored in the marketing department before consultants are considered.

I’m not exactly sure what you mean by that… can you clarify?

It’s all about commercial return and the argument that the disability market is X big doesn’t seem to shift people into action.

Which is why things end up being legislated instead of dealt with in other ways.

Take driving at 43mph in a 30mph zone. £60 fixed penalty fine, wham, bham, money in the public coffers. No messing about. Think of the leg work and return involved in taking someone to court over a poor website.

Right – but, the poor web site (if it really is poor because of an accessibility issue) is a human rights case, not a case of “speeding.” Are you suggesting that people just won’t bring cases forward because of the cost? or am I mis-reading your comment?

I wouldn’t be optimistic about my career if I were an Accessibility Consultant.

Ok, I’ll bite. Why not?

Comment by Edward Clarke — Feb 06 2006 @ 10:45 am

Forget about web standards for a moment – professional level design and development is an overhead if we’re comparing to a “£500 FrontPage blast”.

Not being a city boy, the market here won’t support websites that have been extensively user tested, accessified etc and the market is firmly in the ~£1000 category. For the record, I don’t web design, I am contracted to assist businesses online.

I’m not exactly sure what you mean by that… can you clarify?

Apologies! It’s just I have yet to see a business invest in accessibility without finding angles to use it for raising the bottom line; sales. The market that developing an accessible website for doesn’t seem too important to the businesses I meet, what they do want is good Google listings. Accessibility immediately appears as a small ROI and not a moral or legal duty.

Which is why things end up being legislated instead of dealt with in other ways.

The UK made a half hearted attempt stating websites within our DDA but the impact is forgettable. Ultimately, as you say, a human right is accessibility so it’s fundamental to any online endeavour.

Are you suggesting that people just won’t bring cases forward because of the cost? or am I mis-reading your comment?

Again, it’s about the size of the return for the effort required to get it. Maybe not the best analogy but why would someone make the effort to complain about a websites’ accessibility. If they can’t access it, most people go elsewhere with their cash. Private sector again aren’t the easy targets the public sector are so it’s very difficult to convey the importance of it. I applaud innitatives such as MACCAWS but without the solid backing of the Government, which businesses are bound by, and search engines, which businesses desperately [rightly or wrongly] crave for, conveying the point will be hard work.

Ok, I’ll bite. Why not?

Just too much like hard work. I only know a few “Accessibility Consultants” and the majority of people I know that know the standards are designers/developers, either directly or by bringing the skills in-house. This shows that as an Accessibility Consultant, you only serve other designers as a sub contractor or end up teaching it to designers and people in the industry.

What I would like to know is, how, as an Accessibility Consultant do you market you services to the private sector? If you know what your market is, how do you get them to know they want [need] you?

If you can come up with some magic that attacks a businesses sales, instead of being an Accessibility Consultant, you’ll be a very busy and wealthy one. I’m not convinced legislation is enough and certainly complaints have little impact unless it drives new business away.

In the commercial real world, awareness is poor.

[I'm all ears...]

Great site BTW. First time reader…

Comment by Edward Clarke — Feb 06 2006 @ 10:53 am

The same point is brewing over at WSG

Comment by Kevin from Canada — Feb 08 2006 @ 1:51 am

Hi Derek, I don’t know if you’ve read this or not, but over at Digital Web Magazine there’s an interesting article called 10 Reasons Clients Don’t Care About Accessibility, from September 2005. I’d be very interested in your comments.

Comment by zara — Feb 09 2006 @ 1:23 am

A few points on this topic. While there is no official accrediting body that I know of, we are starting to see more courses offer this subject matter, whether on its own or part of a larger curriculum in web design or development in formal institutions or private learning centers. Quality varies so one needs to be vigilant and it is no guarantee that the skills will be recognized on the market but, unless you are a veteran or someone who has well established themselves, it certainly can not hurt.

Many clients, when they actually want accessibility, do not have the knowledge to evaluate if they are getting what they paid for. For small businesses and non-profits especially, this is often a financial risk they do not feel they can take. I have seen many organisations believe their site is accessible because that is what their development firm or consultant told them and to learn after the check has been cashed that, well, it just does not cut it, they feel burned and they often do not have the means to pursue this or pay to have it fixed. And unless it is required by law, they usually end up not getting on that train again. A lot of professionals shudder at the thought of having a formal governing body in many fields (reglementation, or is the term “regulation” in English, is often considered a 4 letter word in the business world) but unless the client is well informed or has the resources to find a truly qualified consultant, most would welcome some guidance through some sort of recognised certification or meaningful diploma.

Here in Quebec, the University of Montreal has offered for the last 2 years an intensive, 75-hours course on Web accessibility that is taught by Quebec Web accessibility expert, Jean-Marie D’Amour, a 25 year veteran in rehabilitation for persons with visual impairments, specialising in communications technologies and Web accessibility. For many in business and government as well as Web standards and organisations for pwd in this province, he is the guy to go to so taking his course goes a long way towards credibility as well. I imagine there must be similar experiences elsewhere in the world ?

Finally, aside from all the excellent suggestions Derek offered (to which I would add perhaps Web design competitions), it is also a question of having a good and diverse contact network. More and more, I am asked by all sorts of people or organisations to refer professionals that can do this kind of work. So putting yourself out there is important. Going to certain events, participating in local Web standards groups, getting known by key players in certain fields, etc., though time consuming and sometimes not for everyone’s wallet, can also be useful as well as interesting and an opportunity to learn.

My apologies for the length of this post ;)