my Opinion on the WAS Web Accessibility Specialist of the IAAP

This post is about the IAAP Web Accessibility Specialist certification.

Meaning of the the abbreviations: IAAP stands for International Association of Accessibility Professionals. This is a kind of international umbrella organization for accessibility experts. Currently, the main focus there is on web accessibility. There is also a general accessibility certificate called CPACC, a building accessibility certificate, and a document accessibility certificate in the pipeline. Here I just want to deal with Web Accessibility Specialist = WAS certificate. My assessment of the CPACC certificate from the IAAP. In short, I do not consider the WAS certificate or any other IAAP certificate to be recommended. The reasons are always the same: memorizing information is rewarded instead of building knowledge. Much of the expected knowledge is not relevant for practice.

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What is WAS

If you want to acquire the WAS certificate, you should have a solid foundation of knowledge. 3 to 5 years of experience in the field of accessibility on the Internet is recommended. It is certainly also possible with less experience, but then you should plan a lot of time for learning.

The Body of Knowledge is now available in German, so you can easily get an overview. Topics include, of course, the WCAG, the ATAG, ARIA and the various associated documents. So the basic documents of the Web Accessibility Initiative. If you don't know what WCAG, ATAG, or the Web Accessibility Initiative is, then you're not ready for the certification.

What should those interested bring with them

We can leave it open whether it has to be three to five years of experience. In any case, a solid knowledge of disabilities, assistive technologies, the guidelines and other documents of the WAI is required.

Being able to read English well is essential, at least B1. Since this is a multiple-choice test, you don't necessarily have to be able to write in English. Since it is also technical and somewhat specialized English, I would recommend preparing in English as long as you can only take the exam in English. Some terms may be used differently in German or have a different meaning. If you are serious about working in the field of digital accessibility, you cannot avoid English anyway. Most documents and interesting articles are only available in English. Automatic translations are not yet very accurate in this area.

You don't have to be able to develop websites. Being able to read HTML is an advantage. In any case, you should be familiar with the concepts of HTML, JavaScript and CSS relevant to accessibility. Without basic knowledge of web development it will be quite difficult to get the certificate. You can learn everything by heart, but at the latest with the concepts of ARIA it becomes technically very abstract if you don't have a basic understanding of the interaction of HTML, Javascript and assistive technologies.

Not fish, not meat

In my opinion, the certificate and the possible preparatory programs are particularly suitable for full-time digital accessibility managers.

For people who are already firmly anchored in digital accessibility, there may well be one or two new things. But it's not that much. So it's more of a test of how broad your own knowledge is and a chance to close small gaps. On the other hand: If you have worked in digital accessibility for a long time and have not needed the things up to now, you will not need them later or you can look them up when you need them.

In my opinion, the certificate is not interesting for designers, concept developers or web developers. What is taught about web development in the accepted training courses is too weak for that. And there's also too much other stuff that these people don't care about unless they actually want to specialize in accessibility.

I would also advise against going into the subject of accessibility with the WAS. Understanding the more abstract WCAG guidelines and documents is challenging.

In my opinion, it is also unsuitable for people who do not deal with digital accessibility full-time. So disability officers and other people from this topic. The knowledge is too deep for that. For these people, more conceptual basics such as semantics or color contrasts would be necessary. You don't have to complete 40 hours of training to gain this knowledge. In addition, the CPACC certificate should be more suitable for these people anyway, because it also contains other topics such as accessible building.

In principle, there is nothing wrong with having as broad a knowledge base as possible. The problem is that 90 percent of them are likely to be forgotten right after the exam, and it's not easy to distinguish between important and unimportant when you're being overwhelmed with so much knowledge. In addition, the eternal time problem remains. I also wonder whether an accessibility expert really needs to know the keyboard shortcuts or touch gestures of certain screen readers by heart.

Last but not least, the certificate for 530 US dollars is quite expensive, especially for freelancers and private individuals. A complete preparatory course could also be supplied for $530, but the IAAP does not do this. A preparatory course from Deque currently costs around $170, making a total of $700. However, in my opinion, the Deque course would be enough, for which you then need the WAS certificate, doesn't make sense to me.

By the way: I was pleasantly surprised by the Deque program: I have never seen such a good and comprehensive accessibility training program for this price. Personally, I'm a fan of text-based self-learning, so I'll skip video courses for now. If you can speak English well and have the time, I can recommend the Deque courses. An alternative, also with a certificate, is the course from edX.

Benefits of the certificate

The IAAP certificates are not very well known in Germany at the moment. So far I have not seen the requirement in any job description or advertisement. Whether the certificate or the investment is financially worthwhile remains to be seen.

Suitable for the blind?

In principle, blind people should also have no problem taking the certificate. Both the IAAP documents and the exam and at least Deque's preparatory course are easy to read for the blind.

The IAAP has special simplifications for users of assistive technologies: There is a time extension of 100 percent, i.e. 3 instead of 1.5 hours. At least that can be done with screen readers. There is an additional 1 hour extension for non-native English speakers. This gives you a total of 4 hours.

Conclusion: Not recommended

Personally, I don't think the IAAP certificate makes sense.

On the one hand, the test seems to me to be pure moneymaking: $530 without the IAAP having to do anything great, then another $300 for the possible repetition. And $150 for recertification after 3 years. There is no proportionality. You seem to want to secure more permanent income.

On the other hand, I don't think it makes sense. There is no clear target group, information is requested instead of knowledge. Why should a sighted person know screen reader shortcuts by heart? Why is it important to know what criteria have been added in WCAG 2.1? Why are Canadian or Japanese standards important? Why should one know by heart what is in the ATAG, the Authoring Tool Accessibility Guidelines revolve around the accessibility of content management systems, which very few of us will develop or conceptually supervise. Why know by heart whether a Success Criterion is A or AA when you're dealing almost exclusively with AA requirements?

In short, why should you know things by heart that you can read in 1 second, but which were not needed in practice - I'm talking about my experience of over ten years? It is commendable to try to build up a body of knowledge that professionals should be able to master, but then it should also be accompanied by people from the field.

In terms of content, the Body of Knowledge does not seem to have been thought through to me. In my opinion, this does not prove conceptual knowledge, but only the memorization of information. The questions are sometimes absurd and designed to lure the test person into a trap or to leave them in the dark. In my opinion, the IAAP did not do a good job of solving a difficult task and yes, I could do something much better. Given that many of the examinees are not native English speakers, it is unfair to ask tricky or ambiguous questions. Also, it's not accessible.

I therefore recommend the DEQUE course linked above. On the other hand, I cannot recommend the IAAP-WAS certificate. And I wouldn't base orders on it either.

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