WebAIM - Web Accessibility In Mind

The crisis is real: Where are the web accessibility professionals?

Like everyone in the web accessibility field, WebAIM has a vested interest in a sufficiently-sized community comprised of skilled professionals. The shortage of qualified talent is felt by all of us. But from where will these individuals come, and how can we accelerate their availability?

The personnel drought will continue

The need is here now, and it will continue. The Wall Street Journal indicated that many companies are looking for personnel with accessibility skills and that they can’t find them easily:

“The number of job listings with ‘accessibility’ in the title grew 78% in the year ending in July [2021] from the previous 12 months, LinkedIn said in response to a data request from The Wall Street Journal. Such listings had risen 38% in the year between August 2019 and July 2020 compared with the previous year, according to the professional networking site owned by Microsoft Corp.”

A quick scan of job postings bears this out today. As of January 27, 2022, ZipRecruiter had nearly 45,000 positions referencing web accessibility. LinkedIn had over 3,100 jobs for web accessibility personnel. The need for jobs in digital accessibility will continue to increase. Several issues are driving this need.

As late as 2021, 98% of The WebAIM Million sample of top website homepages did not conform to current accessibility guidelines or legal standards. Straits Research reported that the global accessibility testing market was poised to hit $606.46 million in the coming 5 years (i.e., before 2027). Lawsuits due to inaccessibility continue to increase as shown by recent data from Seyfarth and UseableNet. This is happening because real people are facing real issues with respect to equitable access. When Covid-19 hit, this need only grew.

“The rise in accessibility jobs is fueled by a number of factors, including effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, disability lawsuits, and diversity and inclusion efforts, advocates and hiring managers said.”

(WSJ)

How do personnel get skilled?

In the past it was left to the individual to become skilled in accessibility on their own. Of course that continues today. WebAIM is one resource that helps these individuals become proficient by providing content they need while supporting a community of practice for discussion and feedback. Other resources include widely available online courses and trainings. Numerous preservice and inservice initiatives also help ready the workforce for accessibility.

At the preservice level are hundreds of faculty who have added accessibility to their curricula. Sadly, in contrast to the numbers needed, this reach remains relatively small. The end result is a next generation of practitioners lacking the needed knowledge or skills in accessibility. Organizations such as Teach Access focus on solutions that can be applied broadly in higher education, such as getting accessibility into the curricula across many disciplines by leveraging the need of industry to hire these individuals and working to influence professional accreditation bodies (e.g., ABET and NASAD) to make accessibility a requirement in technology, design, and technical writing curricula. This is a slow process—accreditation bodies have not yet fully required that accessibility become part of courses at their member institutions. Even once they do, an institution may wait until their next accreditation refresh, which is typically in three- to five-year cycles.

At the inservice level, groups such as the International Association of Accessibility Professionals (IAAP) work on networking and knowledge/skill building. They promote the acquisition of knowledge and skills, and networking, and back it up with a growing variety of professional certifications. Over time they plan to cover more accessibility areas in their certification. Of course, many companies have internal processes to build and maintain their employees’ skills in accessibility. They do this because they must, not because they want to.

Rubbing salt into the wound

Web accessibility personnel tend to be older than other designers and developers. WebAIM’s 2021 Survey of Web Accessibility Practitioners had a significantly higher level of respondents that were over the age of 45 (37.3%) than did the 2020 Stack Overflow survey of web professionals as a whole (8.9%). While a single survey does not provide certainty, it is possible that personnel who have been in the field longer are also those who embraced accessibility skills at a different rate than those who are younger.

When these professionals retire, the impact on the field will be tremendous. The pool of professionals is small enough already—considering this eventual attrition, what will the field look like in ten or fifteen years?

An opportunity

“The Great Resignation” has seen millions of Americans voluntarily leave or switch jobs since the beginning of the pandemic. I agree with those calling this period the “Great Reshuffle”, as many people will reconfigure their careers or their jobs to a better, or more prosperous, fit. This is certainly happening in the tech industry. Wired calls it the “Great Reconsideration”, in part because those in tech are reconsidering how their work provides meaning.

Amid these seismic shifts in the workforce, how might this period provide opportunities to increase accessibility personnel? One way could be to consider why people left prior jobs to begin with: Salary? Work/life integration or balance? Feeling that their role has meaning?

As your organization considers adding accessibility personnel, you will want to think through issues of how best to hire them. Smashing Magazine published a great resource on How to Hire for Digital Accessibility Roles.

We may never experience another period with so much promise to help personnel shift toward accessibility. Our ability to capitalize on the jobs phenomenon now could have long-term implications for accessibility well into the future—a future we all hope produces more equitable digital environments and content.

A call to action: Three things we can do right now

  1. Evangelize to peers the importance of gaining web accessibility skills now from reputable sources.
  2. Advocate that your HR department include web accessibility in job titles and descriptions, and give preference to applicants who would bring that strength to the organization.
  3. Compete for talent with an understanding as to why people change jobs:
    • Higher salary: Given that accessibility is a specialized and highly desired skill set that aligns with more seasoned professionals, could you boost the salary, grade, or title for personnel who come into accessibility positions?
    • Work/life integration or balance: If you are in an area where employees typically make long commutes, could employees work remotely or with flexible schedules?
    • Meaningful work: The ability to engage in social justice every day is for many the definition of “a meaningful job.” Web accessibility could sell itself, if enough people understood what it accomplishes. Consider devoting some time in your job announcements to how impactful the positions will be on the lives of others.

As you think of other ways to capitalize on the opportunity given us by the Great Resignation/Reshuffle/Reconsideration, please share them in the comments below. Let’s work together and make 2022 the year of the accessibility hire!

Comments

  1. Peter Shikli

    Cyndi,

    You had a role in encouraging the formation of Access2online Inc, and perhaps we can now return the favor by answering your call in an unusual but rather practical way.

    Over the last 5 years, we have grown our full-time accessibility analysts to a couple dozen. Most are inmates at our state prison for women. The rest are parolees released with accessibility job skills and hands-on experience auditing and remediating online content. Quite a few are Trusted Testers certified by the federal Office of Accessible Systems and Technology. Some have been hired away from Access2online with my blessing to other accessibility service providers.

    I propose that we respond to your call by expanding what I have done to fill the ranks of accessibility professionals. I propose a joint venture inviting anyone and everyone with an accessibility professional requirement to work with me to groom such an employee or contractor from among the workforce available to me. At 2.3 million inmates, we have an unlimited labor pool. And I can bring to bear through the prison significant training, work, and financial support resources.

    And if we also reduce crime by releasing inmates with a seat at our nation’s digital table, well that’s better than making license plates.

    Cheers,
    Peter Shikli, CEO
    Access2online Inc.
    29030 SW Town Center Loop East
    Suite 202-187
    Wilsonville, OR 97070
    503-570-6831 – pshikli@access2online.com
    Cell: 949-677-3705
    FAX: 503-582-8337
    http://www.access2online.com
    Prison inmates helping the internet become accessible

  2. Karl Groves

    @Peter Shikli, are you paying those inmates a fair market rate?

  3. Lisa Nicks

    Yes Cyndi!! And would like to see accessibility as part of other curriculums such as content marketing, digital marketing, advertising, and many more.

  4. Christine

    @Karl Groves, from the Access2online website FAQ
    https://www.access2online.com/faqs.html:

    How much of what I pay goes to the inmate?

    Access2online doesn’t set pay rates for those assigned to the program. Their pay is governed by a collection of complex state and federal laws that take into account numerous factors such as the local rate for similar work in the private sector, victim’s restitution, and re-entry savings accounts. Unlike in the private sector, Access2online cannot just hand money to those who work in the prison.

    So I would also like to know how much money these women are being paid, if any. Otherwise the A2O program sounds a lot like just another private company exploiting inmate labour. I am also uncomfortable with talking neutrally about the number of incarcerated people as if it’s just a natural thing, instead of a serious problem related to poverty and other inequality issues that people should be looking to reduce if not outright dismantle. Talking about it as a “unlimited labor pool” is really disturbing and dehumanizing.

  5. Roberto Scano

    This is an (old) issue that we as IWA (International Web Association) have tried to regulate. The website https://www.skillprofiles.eu/en/ contains both the Web Accessibility Expert profile and other profiles in which web accessibility skills have been included. This is also a national standard UNI 11621-3 and in Europe we are working within the CEN TC / 428 to define a framework standard extended to the whole ICT world entitled “ICT accessibility competences – Guidelines for a more inclusive ICT development” by which I am editor. Today we cannot afford to have experts without accessibility skills who develop anything in the ICT field and additional experts who fix the accessibility issues generated by the former. An expert, to be defined as such, must also have accessibility among his skills, otherwise he develops services that are qualitatively inferior to market demands.

  6. Peter Shikli

    Karl Groves raised an important point. Rather than just mouth the standard responses, I took the time to write a white paper about what I’ve learned over the last 5 years involved with prison labor. Perhaps Cyndi’s blog post motivated me to produce one of my own. It is here:
    https://www.access2online.com/support/inmatelabor.html

    If you don’t have the time, perhaps you could watch a 4-minute video to hear from the inmates themselves at
    https://youtu.be/Y1z3JxDTRpo

  7. Joe Patrow

    Great article and accurate, too. While I’m fortunate to not have any physical accessibility challenges, I very much enjoy the challenge of doing Quality Assurance for Accessibility on the WWW. I know I’m doing work that matters for others who have the right to experience the interwebs, and simply put, accessible web pages is good design for all. There’s no good reason to allow the experience to be cumbersome for anyone. This is worth striving for; the career potential is a good motivating factor.

  8. Patrick Colbert

    I am a first-year doctoral student answering the call to evangelize and advocate for more attention on web accessibility conformance among organizations. My summer research project will focus on healthcare websites, particularly those for hospitals, clinics, and other facilities. In my literature review I cite WebAIM and WCAG guidelines, and as I develop my survey instrument, I would like to know what user survey questions have been used before.
    I have found web accessibility difficult to locate in academic publications aimed at organizational researchers, and information systems researchers in particular. I would like to go a step further to help develop a compelling empirical case for web accessibility investment to accelerate, and I would appreciate any pointers to the literature I have missed.