Which Abilities should an Specialist in digital Accessibility have

What should an accessibility specialist actually bring to the table? Let's take a look at that in this article.

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General requirements

There are skills that every person working in the field of information and communication technology needs. The ability to quickly familiarize oneself with new topics, to learn technical terms, to assess the quality of information and, of course, to keep abreast of developments. The pace of change in technology has accelerated rapidly in recent years - outside of accessibility, of course. But you have to be aware of that, of course, if you're involved in accessible technology.

A good understanding of technical English is essential. Only a few relevant pieces of information appear in German - mostly with a delay. Most relevant discourse takes place in English.

Special requirements of digital accessibility

A conceptual understanding of disabilities and the barriers that arise from them is important. Accessibility is more than voice output, screen magnifier, contrasts and alternative texts.

What is required is a solid basic knowledge of legislation and guidelines. The jumble of national and state laws, industry standards, and informal guidelines is difficult to navigate.

A basic technical knowledge is important, e.g. a basic understanding of HTMl and how it works, without HTML you can't understand screen readers or ARIA. In software development, you need to know the accessibility APIs, at least for the operating system you are developing for.

Specific expertise

It is important in which area you work, a developer needs different knowledge than a project manager, a communication manager needs different knowledge than an editor. On the other hand, someone who wants to make documents accessible needs to know less about ARIA or CSS.

If you fulfill interface functions, for example as a project manager or consultant for customers, you have to be able to translate first and foremost. The client wants to understand - sometimes - why something should be done a certain way or why a certain way can be problematic. The developers need clear guidance on implementation or at least what is going wrong and what is the expected behavior.

Depending on the organization, you also have to be prepared to be the bogeyman. For example, you have to intervene if the finely balanced graphical concept has insufficient contrasts or the keyboard operation does not work in a certain corner. Some persons cope with this role better than others. In any case, it's easier when you're outside an organization.

The question here is whether you need to be some kind of universal genius in all these things. I myself know only a handful of persons who are equally well versed in the Internet and PDF. The whole thing is also complicated by the fact that all topics are becoming more and more specialized in their own right. The universal genius is becoming a dying breed in accessibility as well.

How to become an Accessibility Specialist

Currently, there are only a few training opportunities in Germany and internationally and no complete course of study on this topic. Usually, one completes training or studies in a specific subject and then acquires the expertise in accessibility.

Example: Current accessibility job postings from the U.S. are primarily looking for user experience persons. In Germany, it's primarily IT consultants and software developers.

What do I earn as an accessibility specialist?

Because the field is very diverse, earnings also vary widely. Since you usually have a specialist degree or training, salaries are based on what you would earn anyway with your degree or training. Although Specialists are still in short supply, they are not yet so much that you can demand high premiums for them.

After that, it depends on the degree of specialization. Testers with the appropriate qualifications are on the same level as technical writers or UX specialists. Experienced web developers can earn a bit more.

The gold standard is software developers, especially if they know exotic products or programming languages. There are simply too few programmers with accessibility skills, so you can add a lot more to an already lush software developer's income.

Experts in their own right - but not more

A common misconception, especially among many blind persons, is that they know about accessibility because they are blind. According to the argumentation all wine drinkers are wine experts and a supermarket customer is an expert for goods logistics.

Certainly, every disabled person is an Expert in his own matter. Beyond that, however, it becomes difficult. There are blind persons who can assess the situation of other blind persons quite well. On the other hand, I see only in a few blind persons who write about accessibility that they have dealt with other disabilities. For a birth-blind person it might be quite difficult to assess the situation of a visually impaired person or autist.

Therefore, one should always be cautious about the assessment by experts on one's own behalf. This is not a plea against tests by users, but one must always weigh such assessments. A disability does not automatically make one a specialist in accessibility.

What does not belong to an accessibility expert?

In my opinion, an accessibility expert must first and foremost have a basic understanding of how assistive technologies work and their limitations. However, she does not need to be able to fluently operate a screen reader or speech input.

An Expert for accessibility does not have to be disabled herself. On the contrary, in some cases this can even be a hindrance, because one then overestimates one's own requirements, as seen with many blind persons who at least believe of themselves to have a clue about accessibility, while they only talk about screen readers and speech output.

Of course, this doesn't mean that a disabled person can't be an expert, it's just that having a disability doesn't automatically qualify one to be one. I am currently looking for ways to qualify disabled persons to be accessibility experts. I would be happy to hear from anyone who has some advice.

By the way, in the Anglo-American area there are many more disabled persons in the accessibility scene, in Germany they are usually left out.

In my opinion, it is not necessary to know the accessibility guidelines by heart. The WCAG formulate a minimum standard and unfortunately run behind the technical development.

As I wrote elsewhere, conceptual knowledge is more important than the ability to memorize info. This is also what I criticize about IAAP certificates.

Accessibility Specialist and Consulting