Considering the Case for Creating an International Society of Accessibility Professionals

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This is Part 2 of a blog series.  The first was Web Accessibility and Coming of Age

The 27th Annual International Technology and Persons with Disabilities Conference will be held in San Diego between February 27 and March 3, 2012.  On Tuesday of that week, the Accessibility Interoperability Alliance (AIA) – the technical and engineering division of the Assistive Technology Industry Association (ATIA) – will host an Accessibility Forum. For a $245 – $295 additional fee beyond the cost of the regular conference, attendees may participate in a series of panels and discussions entitled “Taking Accessibility Mainstream – Making the Case for an International Society of Accessibility Professionals.”

CODE for Accessibility Task Force

The forum discussion is based on research, commissioned by the US Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP), about the barriers to the implementation of accessible design techniques by mainstream developers.  I participated in the research project as Chair of the Sub-Committee on Education for the project which ATIA led and named the CODE for Accessibility Task Force.  The Task Force describes itself as  “driven by the private sector and focused on the accessibility-related needs of the developer community.”

It is quite a worthy project and ATIA is to be commended for organizing it. I was pleased to be part of the Task Force, sharing and updating much of the research I had done several years earlier for Knowbility’s own certification studies. The Education sub-committee worked collaboratively with input from universities, software companies, and technical services companies. Our conclusion was that a certification in web accessibility skills could be quite useful, but the report stopped short of recommending a framework for the delivery of a certification program.

ATIA went on to compile case studies to explore the possibility of creating a professional association dedicated to training web developers and certifying skills.  The full CODE Task Force Report can be downloaded from ATIA as well as a Case Study Implementation Analysis based on scenarios similar to Task Force recommendations.

In summary, the Task Force Report is a compilation of the work of the four sub-committees and the Case Study document compares the need for web accessibility to parallel needs identified within the web privacy and security arena and other areas of web specialization.

Knowbility’s position

I won’t be able to directly participate in the forum since I am teaching two days of accessibility policy and web development skills at preconference session called AccessU at CSUN that occurs at the same time.  But because my name is included as a Task Force member, I feel like I must contribute to the ongoing discussion to say that I am by no means convinced of the need to create yet another professional organization.  My hope is that our community will step back and think long and hard about universal accessibility goals and ask ourselves if this is really the best way to accomplish them.

In some ways it may not be fair to comment without hearing the case fully made.  But on the other hand, I have been involved with this research effort for over a year and have thoroughly read both referenced documents.  At this point, Knowbility does not support the formation of a new professional organization.  I wrote background in an earlier post to put the following remarks in context.  Here are  three top reasons for being skeptical about creating a separate professional organization for accessibility. We could offer more, but are especially interested in hearing from others who have been watching or considering this issue.  Please respond with your own thoughts.

Three reasons to think twice about creating another professional organization.

1. There IS an authority in web accessibility standards and design techniques

The case study document refers several times to the need for an “authority.”  However, there already IS a global authority on web accessibility at the W3C.  It is the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) and develops global standards that align with other W3C technical specifications. (Full disclosure, I serve as an Invited Expert on the Education and Outreach Working Group for WAI).  Work there is done by consensus and is largely free of vendor bias.  They have a process to develop certifications and are already global in scope.  The W3C also works in open, non-proprietary methods that are consistent with accessibility.  We all know that the consensus process at the W3C can be cumbersome and tedious, but they have recent success in streamlining that process through community groups and other methods.  WAI works collaboratively (much more important in the context of accessibility than for the privacy comparison that was made in the case study). With the exception of IBM, I am not aware that the corporate sponsors of the Accessibility Forum have made major, significant, sustained contributions to the field of accessibility.  Rich Schwerdtfeger and IBM of course provides outstanding leadership on the development and promotion of the completely open WAI-ARIA guidelines, one of the most significant advances in recent accessibility history. Note that the ARIA work was done at the W3C.

2. Too expensive – needed voices will be excluded

Which brings us to item two, the costs associated.  The case study contains plenty of multiple million dollar budget items that will need to come out of someone’s pockets.  Whose pockets will provide those funds…  developers? … the companies that employ developers?  Why not spend those projected millions to support organizations that have history and existing leadership in accessibility rather than reinventing the alt tag? Before proceeding any further I would want to know more about how the planning has engaged with the community most affected – people with disabilities.  While there seem to be individuals with disabilities serving on some committees, I have not seen any indication that this planning process reached out to and included the full community.  My hope is that associations, such as the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD), the Coalition of Organizations for Accessible Technology (COAT), and other groups that speak for the wider community of people with disabilities are being consulted.  But no groups like these are listed as major sponsors.  Remember “Nothing about us without us?”  If you are attending CSUN and can’t afford the additional fees to participate in the Accessibility Forum, head to the Wednesday conference session on “Web Accessibility Community Collaboration” and WAI staff and volunteers from the W3C will be happy to hear your thoughts.

3. Accessibility must be integrated everywhere, not only commercially

The last and probably the most important reason for not segregating accessibility into the purview of a professional organization is the need for it to be woven into the fabric of any and all web and application development.  The analogy to the privacy issue that is cited in the case study document only goes so far.  For privacy issues, it makes sense to create highly regulated oversight for concerns that impact the protection of citizen and consumer financial and personal data.  Privacy is an issue that is easily subject to the development of strict protocols. Accessibility is more of an art.  Accessible design and development must be taught in context. That is one of the reasons Knowbility’s AIR program turns developers into advocates so effectively. Creating a separate society of accessibility professionals will reinforce the notion that accessibility is something outside of the basic development process – just the opposite of what advocates have been working for for years. Accessible design is more likely to catch on, in my opinion, if it is seamlessly integrated into all training for web and application development offered in all educational settings. The integrated approach makes the most sense to me and promises to have the greatest impact in making true the adage that the late John Slatin used to sign off on his emails – Good design IS accessible design.

An excellent example of how this can work is in progress at – you guessed it, the W3C, under the leadership of Chris Mills from Opera.  It is the newly formed Web Education Community Group and has the potential to integrate accessibility training into any training received by web developers at any level – trade school, community college, university, or elsewhere.   So by all means create certifications, but not within the context of a new professional association to which we must all pay dues and whose conferences we must add to our annual round of expenses for travel and fees (see number 2).

Let’s figure it out together

I don’t want to leave with a list of complaints like a truculent teenager. I want also to recognize that this was a great deal of useful research by ATIA and the AIA. It is an important conversation to have.  They deserve a round of applause and thanks for bringing this up, creating the Task Force, and sparking the discussion – kudos for moving the conversation so far forward.

I strongly agree that it is time to think about certification. But can’t we think of another way to do this?  Please?

OK, now you know what I think.  As always, we at Knowbility want to hear from our community.  What do you think?!


28 thoughts on “Considering the Case for Creating an International Society of Accessibility Professionals”

  1. Sharron,
    I agree with many of your points, but think that this type of discussion is exactly what is needed, which is why we’re conducting this session. I know that the organizing committee is of the mind that if it doesn’t hold promise of substantial impact then the idea of creating a professional society is too much effort and cost.

    That said, I think that there is more to a professional society than web accessibility techniques, or any other single item mentioned. If we can harness the collective interest and will into productive channels, maybe a professional society will be useful. If we can’t or don’t have clear enough goals, or the efforts are redundant to other activities, then maybe it won’t. This is all up for discussion. I’m sorry you can’t make it, but hope others can join the discussion.

  2. While I know that collocating the first substantive discussion with CSUN makes practical sense, I am hoping that the intent is to both publish notes from the consultation, and to plan for plenty of post-event conversation to include voices and perspectives of folks who might not be able to afford to make the trip to San Diego for the day. I too will not be attending the forum, but as someone who works in the space, I do have more than a passing interest in where our profession may be headed.

  3. Certification has its charms, but it is a long hard path — ask our colleagues in RESNA. It might be especially challenging in a domain that changes so quickly. You’d need 10 CEUs a quarter….

    The other problem with certification is the economic driver. Certification works best when there is some requirement to use only certified practitioners. I don’t see major ICT companies allowing this to happen. Consider their resistance to 3rd party testing for Section 508.

    But anything that can be done to ratify techniques, findings, tools, etc. is great. There are already several robust, dynamic communities of practice (with WAI in the lead) that are doing that pretty well. Maybe the question is, how can we support and study those communities on the way to deciding if more formal structures are necessary?

  4. Thanks Andrew, Jennison and Jim for your comments, much appreciated.

    Andrew, your point about IT accessibility being about more than the web is important to keep in mind and too often overlooked, I am glad you will be there to remind the group of that.

    Jennison, I share your hope for good distribution of the conversation and post-session continuation.

    And Jim’s observation of the importance for companies to commit to hire “only certified practitioners” is clearly true but not one that had occurred to me. That could be a huge hurdle to the effectiveness of the certification process. Will you be there to bring that point to the discussion?

  5. This is extremely complicated.

    While there is certainly a value in establishing some form of professional society and self-regulating accreditation process, I share your concerns whole-heartedly Sharron. While I think coordination with the W3C is something that could easily be finessed, I have a very serious concern over the cost of this, and who will bear that cost. The CSUN workshop simply serves to illustrate this problem.

    ATIA/AIA, IBM, Adobe – these are entities with deep pockets and a vested interest in seeing something like this move forward, and I am sure that they are willing to make investments to a point. But as one who has worked in this space for over a decade, I (we) well know that for the most part those who are currently working in the field of “web accessibility” are, for the most part, independent consultants, smaller development firms, or inside actors at a larger establishment who’ve embraced the role of advocate and agent provocateur where they work, often not because it’s part of their job description, but because they have come to our cause and profession for other reasons. Very few however actually have the privileged of being professionally focused exclusively on web accessibility: it’s part of what they do, and they do it for all the right reasons, but sometimes that alone doesn’t pay the bills. (I’ve personally been lucky and persistent, but I remember the early days, and the struggle to stay afloat while trying to focus on this industry: I also worked as a waiter and bar-tender to make ends meet.)

    Many of these people, the “rank-and-file” (or as Wendy Chisholm dubbed us 4 years ago – The Tribe) scrimp and save to come to CSUN – already an expensive conference with champagne tastes. These folks (and they are real people – people I know, with names and faces and strained credit cards) are already staying at remote hotels and motels to save money and still attend CSUN (a night at the Holiday Inn is nearly half that of the Grant Theft Hyatt), and a $250.00 pre-conference workshop is simply beyond reach: for many that might represent their entire ‘meals budget’ for the 3 days of CSUN. I also personally know more than one person who cannot attend CSUN – period – due to the cost, and the inability to find under-writing and funding to attend. For an industry that is all about inclusion, the apparent high-roller approach to a professional society and accreditation process simply serves to further exclude many of those who’ve toiled thanklessly and often at poverty wages to get us this far. I am very troubled by that. “Multiple million dollar budget items”? I run in fear of a potential organization with high-paid mandarins accustomed to staying at $200/night hotels and expensing $20.00 Club Sandwiches, who will plod along at the pace of the Section 508 Refresh experience. How will that benefit anyone besides those mandarins?

    It has been pointed out that it is expensive to host an event at the Grand Theft Hyatt ($5.00 cookies indeed), and I can appreciate that to a point: I’ve organized and promoted a free one-day web conference in California for 3 years now (Open Web Camp), and I know what it costs to put on such an event. But I make the companies pay (via sponsorship), not the attendees (and my attendees got free lunch *AND* a free T-Shirt last summer): it is those very same companies after all that benefit from a better educated and skilled work-force, as well as the associated good-will of sponsoring an activity with social value. The organization and funding should come directly from industry, and not slumped off on the backs of the rank-and-file, who today likely cannot afford the cost of participation.

    To be sure, a reasonable cost to actually procure accreditation is not out of scope (my suggestion: $1,000 +/-, with recurring “dues” of no more than $500.00 per person annually), but asking those who can least afford it to contribute more, and support a top-heavy infrastructure, has no appeal to me, and I’m sure I’m not alone. I simply do not see a value proposition there as a practitioner.

    I personally will be in San Diego on the Tuesday, and I would be happy to participate in further discussions around creating a professional society if there is interest. I will NOT however pay $250.00+ for that privilege, because at that price “privileged” is exactly what it is. I further suspect that if this is how any such society is envisioned to operate, that they will struggle to find buy-in from “The Tribe”.

    Just my opinionated $0.02

  6. Hi folks,

    I’ll be arriving in San Diego on Monday to attend the session on Tuesday. I haven’t been part of the discussions to date so do not have firm opinions about outcomes (I’m playing my “wcag editor” role here–gathering data and synthesizing straw-persons). I would love to hear opinions and ideas of folks who can’t or don’t want to attend on Tuesday. Does anyone want to meet up for a chat Monday night?

    Especially you, Sharron. I’d love to hear more about what you’ve experienced in the past and where you think we ought to head in the future. Or if you want to save your energy for your 2 days of workshops, I’d be happy to chat via phone before CSUN.


  7. Hey Wendy,

    Great offer. You know we will be teaching AccessU at CSUN on Monday and Tuesday. But we wrap up at 5:00 so it would be great for you to meet with all of the instructors (’cause all of them are web accessibility pros and none will be able to attend the forum on Tuesday due to schedule conflicts). Let’s do it!

  8. Just a quick follow-up to my earlier post. I think exploring the formation of an international association of accessibility professionals is a worthwhile activity, and so long as such an association is accessible to the full range of colleagues with various skills who contribute to our industry, I see it as a good thing. My view is that only after such an association is formed, with a diverse leadership representing different perspectives (from the web developer to the top of the house) should certification be seriously looked at.

  9. Over the past year or so, I’ve had several informal conversations about starting a professional organization to explore issues like certification. But a professional organization isn’t the answer if there is only one goal. It seems to me—please correct my perception if I’m wrong—that there is a move afoot to bring certification for web accessibility professionals into being. A professional organization is seen as the vehicle through which certification should come about. While an organization that may give an imprimatur to a certification may be the right way to go, it’s a singularly short-term objective for this mythical organization. I’m a bit baffled by the approach that, rather than developing a professional organization and letting it organically determine its objectives through well-established governance structures, proposes to create an organization with one stated goal. I have had the fortune (or misfortune in some cases) to be involved in several professional organizations, one at its inception. I must say that all of them struggled without a definition of their mission. In some cases, the organizations struggled because of either misunderstandings of the mission or disagreements of what the mission actually was. The point is not to discourage the creation of a professional org but to really question the manner in which this organization is being created. If we’re merely seeking a body that could create an maintain a certification, then we should look for some other structure.

    There are some other financial and structural concerns that Sharon, John and others have identified. I won’t belabor them. Suffice it to say, I share those concerns.

    As a consultant in the field and an advocate, I am tempted to say that certification is a fantastic idea; it could mean a boon in business opportunities. I recognize that training to the certification alone could sustain business for quite some time. And, yet, I also see a perfectly legitimate vehicle in the W3C. More important though, at this time, I agree with Sharon’s approach that attempts to spread the teaching of web accessibility into universities. I can’t help but think that, if companies like Microsoft, IBM, Facebook, Google, and Adobe pressure their top university contacts to include accessibility as a part of their curricula, we could see a culture shift. Some culture shift will arrive in the next few years once the DOJ manages to complete its bureaucratic process for including web access as an inherent component of compliance. That will not be enough.

    For all I know, the pending regulatory landscape is what’s driving this process and conversation; if so, let’s discuss it in open. I am curious to know the main reasons for large companies to be interested in this process? Will this help internally? Is a certification meant to create another market?

    No matter what, I agree with my friend and colleague Jennison. We hope that steps will be taken to share the result of 2/28 with all of us and a dedicated discussion place is provide free of charge to anyone interested in participating in the conversation. In fact, let me go further. Why not record the deliberations that take place on Feb 28 and share them with us?

  10. Response to John and Pratik, thanks for your comments!

    Hey John, thanks for unraveling the issues of costs. And while I agree that costs are a consideration, I don’t think cost is the only reason to be skeptical about a separate society of accessibility professionals, nor even finally the most important. I am in awe of the series of free accessibility events that you have produced through the years. Our community is richer for it, thank you! But I am also aware of the realities of conference production and appreciate Andrew’s observation of the $5 hotel cookies. I am sure there will be other opportunities for us to gather with a less onerous price tag. In fact Wendy Chisholm is holding a listening session on Monday night for those of us who are early to CSUN.

    For me, the important issue is separation of accessibility into a silo of a “specialty” skill rather than integration into the education of everyone who codes or uses WYSIWYG tools or CMS – accessibility must be integrated to be successful.

    Pratik’s look at the foundational goal of creating such an organization becomes the primary consideration. If the purpose is merely to create a certifying body, it seems like a disconnect. But perhaps the research literature that has been circulated is only to provide a framework for one aspect of the organization. Perhaps there are other goals as well and that we will hear about them later this month. I reiterate my belief that this is a good conversation to have and that I appreciate the leadership of the ATIA in facilitating it.

  11. Please allow me to jump in this discussion as well.

    Like many others elsewhere, we, at AccessibilitéWeb in Quebec, Canada, have been thinking about the idea of certification and building a professional organization for years. As we developed the localized version of our government’s accessiblity standards (2007-2011), it became very clear that as soon as these documents would become enforced by law, just about every web agency out there would suddenly become a web accessiblity expert claiming a life long experience in web accessibility.

    Govt orgs, worried that they would end up hiring people that lacked any real expertise, voiced the need for a system through which these claims of expertise could be validated. As this was a challenge we could “easily” tackle, we decided to step up to the plate. But while we very quickly concluded that there was a definite need for certification (if only to preserve the good name of a11y), we felt the need to create a professional organization was totally unneeded because it could potentially lead to a select group of people with enough money to pay for the piece of paper or worse, a group where one just goes to show off skills they might (or might not) have.

    To us, the community is much more than flashy cocktails and annual awards filled with superficial people with their pockets full of business cards (maybe it’s because we hardly belong or can’t afford to go ourselves, but hey, we don’t mingle with that crowd anyway). To us, it’s about the people. Responsible people – developers, authors, designers, etc – willing to better the lives of other people – users – through a responsible use of technologies. People who care, people who see accessibility as an art more than a science, and certainly not a means to make even more money in an industry that’s already mostly souless. Looking at how professional organizations are up here, this is definitely not something we’d want to be associated with in the first place.

    On a strictly personal stand point, I get all the professional organizations I need in the time I can devote to the W3C. Everything else seems superficial to me. I can understand that others might feel differently and I respect that, but it worries me for the essage such an organization might mean when the “people” can’t have access to it or it’s resources.

    Like my unrepentant friend John, I’m a strong believer in advocacy and providing those who care with access to free information and free events. That has lead us to lose money more often than we should have allowed ourselves to, because we just put all our knowledge out there on our website for anyone to grab. So what we’re doing is creating this certification program that’s mostly free. Our content is out there, up for grabs. Of course, if people want to come to our training sessions, we’ll happily train them, but if they’d rather go through all of the content on their own, they are more than welcomed to do so. When they feel they are ready to pass the exam, then they can register for it and if they pass, then all the better, they actually saved money. At that point, there is an administrative fee (because someone needs to review the exam and follow-up with each individual), but this fee will only be charged once. Life can’t be all free, all the time. Unfortunately.

    In order to be able to keep the certification program afloat we’re considering an annual fee, but nothing like what John suggested. Could be more like 250,00$ or so. We’re still going over the details. And as we’re aware that even the smallest fee could jeopardize the ability for any given person to actually go on with the process, we’ll even allow some of them to get in for free, if we feel they can be a significant contribution to our field. And non profit organization will get a significant discount if they have limited budgets. You know, we try to be accessible.

    Of course, someone still has to pay for these things to happen and we’ve been lucky enough to have some governement funding provided to us in the past year to build this up. Same goes for the events we’re putting together, a11yMTL being the most visible of them. Again, we’ve had the chance of having large companies like Adobe, AMI, IBM and HiSoftware sponsor our unconference in the past two years, so we can do this. Nothing would have happened otherwise. We also managed to get governement and local companies like CIAO Technologies and Libeo to contribute money too. All in the name of providing people with a free event because ultimately, we feel the knowledge should be accessible to all.

    There is a whole lot more that could be said, but I’m hoping we can keep this discussion going during CSUN, especially during our Web Accessibility Community Collaboration session.

    I don’t know to this date if this program will work, but I feel it’s really important that it does. Actually, I feel accessiiblity certification programs are important all over the world, at least for one reason. I, too, have been involed in this field for over a decade. I’ve come a really long way talking about inclusion, best practies, open web and web standards. And while I don’t need to get so much recognition for bringing it up in the industry in Quebec, I certinly don’t want big companies with deep pockets come in now that the fruits are ripe and pick them all up while doing a clueless job and consequently, giving a11y a bad name (insert a little jingle from Bon Jovi here).

    Guess I’ve put myself in enough trouble as it is for one post, so I’ll stop here. 🙂

  12. As one of the people on the AIA Steering Committee that thought that the notion of a professional society was interesting enough to convene this event to further the discussion, I’d like to offer some comments related to my thinking.

    In organizations, topics which are not familiar to product managers and engineers (whether because they are new, technically difficult, time-consuming, expensive, or uninteresting) have a hard time taking root in standard practices. I think that we can all agree that most if not all of these apply to projects that we’re familiar with. But why? We’re all passionate about accessibility; why is accessibility so consistently hard to get implemented?

    The Steering Committee looked into topics such as security and privacy and considered how these are addressed. Privacy in particular has a strong professional society and it has some interesting benefits. They do offer a well-regarded certification, but they offer other benefits to members and non-members. We thought that it was worth exploring whether there were parallels that might apply to accessibility. At no point in setting up the agenda were we thinking that the sole focus, possibly not even the primary focus, of a professional society would be a certification program, or that the creation of a professional society is a given.

    We were thinking about a substantial increase in attention to accessibility and a state of unreadiness to deal with it at scale. Helping people build and maintain awareness of ongoing and important standards and policy activities that impact important decisions is a challenge. Educating and training design and engineering staff is a challenge. Understanding the impact of an expanding number of platforms which we need to build accessible applications on is a challenge. Does a professional society help address the core issues and build our collective capacity to support accessibility? I’m not sure, and that’s what the discussion is about – the discussion is focused on whether an accessibility profession is the needed and what it is needed for.

    It is possible that the discussion will reveal that everyone thinks that the W3C is handling all education issues, WebAIM is all the community forum that everyone sees a need for, there are unexpected problems with a certification program, and nothing else makes sense for such a group. If that’s the case I expect that we’ll publish the findings and move on to focus on other things. However, I believe that there are issues that need attention and hope that we can work to define areas for collaborative efforts.

    As far as the cost for the event goes, there’s the old saying about there being two kinds of free – “free as in beer” and “free as in speech”. With beer someone is paying even if each individual does not. When you hold an event at a hotel with space for over a hundred people and provide lunch costs are incurred. Knowbility’s AccessU is $425 for one day in the same building, and that may be too expensive for some also. I work for one of the “deep-pocketed organizations” that John suggested should fund such events. In addition to helping set it up and moderating a panel Adobe is also sponsoring the event to help keep the costs down for participants, since not everyone works for JP Morgan and can pay for pre-conference events. The bottom line is that events cost money, and while we can’t make the event free we can provide information from the event and accept public feedback on conversations.

    If as an outcome of the event people conclude that a professional society may be a help I’m confident that there will be ample opportunity for further discussion and input to help refine the vision. I look forward to seeing others at the event and am happy to discuss the day with anyone at CSUN or after.

  13. I am listening and reading about this issue with interest, yet mostly keeping quiet for now.

    One neutral thing I want to input into the discussion: Rather than privacy, perhaps a better example of a related professional society and efforts towards certification is usability and UPA

  14. Denis, Andrew

    Thanks for your addition to the discussion. Since money unfortunately seems to be on the top of everyone’s mind, I should probably clarify one thing first. The fees for AccessU at CSUN go to CSUN, not to Knowbility.

    But the cost discussion actually obscures the (to me) more important issue of segregating accessibility into a separate skill set, apart from mainstream development skills. I think that is unwise and counterproductive.

    If we make an analogy to the profession of architecture, there is not an Association of Accessible Architects. if an architect is licensed, he or she is trained to meet ADA standards among the other myriad skills needed for acceptance and respect within the profession. Why not similarly require web and application developers to be trained to create universally accessible information structures? More efficient, more equitable, and more likely to succeed in my opinion.

  15. My first thought is that an association of accessibility professionals would set accessibility apart as a separate discipline.

    This conflicts with my belief that we should be moving towards a time when there is no concept of accessibility in isolation. I hope I’ll live to see a time when people design and build inclusive and user friendly technologies because that’s the *only way it’s done.

    We have a long way to go before we get there though.

    In the meantime, accessibility is effectively a separate discipline. There are enough of us out there training, demonstrating and doing it for that to be apparent.

    We (as the group of people involved in this discussion) understand accessibility and take our professionalism very seriously. Sadly there is a growing number of practitioners out there today who have neither the expertise or the scruples though. The trouble is that it’s difficult for a website commissioner to tell one from the other.

    A professional certificate for accessibility would undoubtedly help. For there to be a certificate, there would need to be a certifying body though. It could be an association of accessibility professionals, or it could be an existing organisation such as the W3C.

    So, having talked myself around in a circle (and not for the first time on this topic), I’ll leave you with a parting question. What is it we’re trying to solve here?

  16. Hey Andrew,

    Kind of upset at that cheap shot – for the record this year my attendance at CSUN is being paid directly from my own funds, with no corporate under-writing: I committed to being at CSUN long before I changed jobs to go to JPMC, and my timing was such that there is no budget for sending a 6 week-in employee to a week-long conference: this year I have moral support only. I am using squirreled away air-miles to fly there, have worked out a room-share deal with a friend so that lodging for the week isn’t costing me $1,000+, and outside of getting the “speakers discount” (which I also paid from personal funds) the cost of CSUN 2012 is totally on me – and I’m not the only one who is sticking their hand into their own pocket to be there. I’m not looking for any sympathy – I am happy to pay my own way to be at CSUN for many reasons – but I think that many of the people who you seem to want to add to the dialog and discussion are in similar circumstances.

    I’m not expecting Adobe to pick up the whole tab – never suggested otherwise – but I am also hard pressed to understand how a one-day event in San Diego can cost between $245 – $295 per person, even including lunch with $5.00 cookies. If, as you have suggested, you get 100 people to sigh up (at the low rate), that’s a whopping $24,500.00… PLUS additional underwriting by corporate sponsors like Adobe???? Sorry, but if a proposed Professional Organization needs to hold one-day events at that kind of cost (and worse, thinks that it’s not unreasonable), then I am very worried that it will quickly evolve into a pay-for-play buddies club, where the deep pockets get to call the shots, and the rest stand outside and watch the proceedings.

    As one of the old dogs on the scene, I’ve also seen similar efforts in the past try to take this route, and they’ve all been unspectacular in their adoption and slowly faded from sight: The HTML Writers Guild, IAW (International Association of Webmasters), GAWDS (Guild of Accessible Web Developers)… all organizations that I’ve personally been part of in the past, and all that have failed to really make an impact on the corporate world, despite their desire for otherwise, and the hard efforts of those who invested time, money and effort into them. It was the corporate world that didn’t care, not the members or organizers, so I have a certain amount of personal skepticism going in to this kind of discussion: been there, done that, have the scars to prove it.

    You wrote:

    “In organizations, topics which are not familiar to product managers and engineers (whether because they are new, technically difficult, time-consuming, expensive, or uninteresting) have a hard time taking root in standard practices. I think that we can all agree that most if not all of these apply to projects that we’re familiar with. But why? We’re all passionate about accessibility; why is accessibility so consistently hard to get implemented?”

    Andrew, I think you know the answer to this as well as most reading this: the Bottom Line. For those large organizations, it’s simply been a matter of cost and liability risk-management, plain and simple. As much as it pains me to say it, the only reason today that we are starting to see actual adoption of accessible web delivery is because organizations like the NFB have become increasingly vocal and strident, and are heading off to court to ensure that what should be done *IS* done. The cost of ignoring web accessibility is becoming more than the cost of doing web accessibility. The End.

    While it’s sad to admit this, I am also pleased that it’s finally taking root, and the ACME Corps of the world are waking up to the fact that web accessibility is a real thing, and that they need to take it seriously. It is now also those ACME Corps responsibility to educate their Product Managers on the new reality – frankly it’s their problem, not ours: we’ve been saying the same thing for over a decade now, they’ve simply chosen not to listen until now.

    “As far as the cost for the event goes, there’s the old saying about there being two kinds of free – “free as in beer” and “free as in speech”. With beer someone is paying even if each individual does not.”

    Here’s a question back to you: why should we, as the resources – the feet on the street – that these organizations are coming to realize they need, be the ones to pay to be valuable to them? Do “we” the practitioners, or “they” those uninformed large ACME Corps, need a professional organization? I can see a huge value to them for being able to “shop” from a catalog of certified ‘experts’, but outside of a marketing advantage, what benefit will individual practitioners see? Group Health Insurance? A Retirement plan? A fancy certificate to hang on the wall?

    Don’t get me wrong, we *do* need some kind of level set, for no other reason than we all know that a part of what we do is ‘subjective’ in nature: it requires an understanding and experience level that should be recorded and measured somehow. To me the question is, who should pay for that? And what is a reasonable cost? (I earlier suggested an annual fee of $500, and Denis came back with half that as his idea of reasonable)

    Finally, I think we need to go back to the point that Sharron and Léonie are raising – what I refer to as the ghetto-ization of “web accessibility”. What we really need is “Professional Web Developers”, not Professional Web Accessibility Specialists, and if industry needs that, then it is up to industry to put pressure on government and education to deliver that kind of professional: already we are seeing people like David Sloan and Christophe Strobbe (to name 2 educators I know at the international level) turning out web professionals who learned web accessibility at the same time they learned JavaScript and CSS. Efforts underway at the W3C to develop and spread a curriculum to train those kinds of professionals is a positive step in that direction, and efforts by friends like Sharron at Knowbility, Jared at WebAIM, and Glenda/Karl/et. al. at Deque (who are all doing training of different sorts) can help educate those product managers to the level where they can “get it” and likely also be in a position to evaluate and hire professionals who also “get it” and can deliver it. The key is education, not association.

    I think that this blog post has kicked off the discussion already, and I’m sure it will continue both here, in the hallways and gathering spots of CSUN, and perhaps other online forums, where the only cost of participation is to show up and speak up.

  17. The IT Accessibility Industry Needs a Professional Certification

    by Debra Ruh, Chief Marketing Officer

    Organizations often get confused as to how to select a credible and competent ICT Accessibility vendor. Anyone can say they are an “expert” in Section 508 compliance, but what does that really mean? I hear organizations complaining all the time that the laws and standards are too grey and too hard to manage, and they are never sure if they have successfully implemented accessibility into their systems. This is why they seek out an expert in the field to help them navigate through what can seem a pretty daunting challenge.

    I have witnessed organizations attempting to comply with Section 508 and other standards like WCAG 2.0, making efforts but spending time and money and many times missing the mark. I have seen what happens when a company uses someone to help them become compliant and accessible that doesn’t understand the complexities of the issues.

    Recently a large firm contacted SSB because of a Section 508 Compliance emergency. They had been working with an accessibility consultant but the consultant did not really understand the complexity of the system. This consultant assured the client they were Section 508 compliant and the client gave this information to their federal government client. The government client tested the system and found it did not meet Section 508 requirements and gave the company just a few days to correct the issues or be in default of the contract. The agency suggested the company contact SSB BART Group, and fortunately SSB was able to step in and help the client solve the compliance issues by the deadline.

    I firmly believe that a professional certification run by our industry could prevent a situation like this from happening in the first place. It would certainly need to be well thought out and vetted by our industry, and it would need to harmonize with all laws and standards across the world, but it could add great value to our industry.

    Having a professional certification could help buyers evaluate the skills, knowledge and overall competence of a practitioner in our field. It would protect the legitimate practitioners, as well as protect the organizations trying to assure their systems and processes are accessible by giving them another means to assess a potential vendor in addition to past performances and other traditional criteria.

    I believe that for accessibility to be a success it must be built into the processes of an organization and become part of the culture. Some have said that accessibility is an art and I might agree, but I also think that is part of the problem. Being an art form leaves a lot to personal interpretation. I believe we need to make accessibility more of a science and less of an art form. Some of the recent activities with WCAG 2.0 and the Section 508 refresh will help because they are clearly defining what it means to be accessible. Also the U.S. can continue to learn a lot from what the other countries are doing in this arena.

    In Certification Magazine, writer Martin Bean quotes John Cramer, branch manager of the Adecco Technical office, Chicago: “Certification is still the tiebreaker in a tight decision for hiring managers.” Bean also notes that staffing firms are more likely to place professionals with IT certifications than those without them and quotes an IT executive who believes that certified IT workers are “more productive, better prepared, and have more credibility with employers.”

    A research study conducted by Brainbench in Chantilly, VA, revealed that professional certifications are bankable assets for IT professionals, with those receiving certifications significantly more likely to achieve salary increases above the industry average of up to 3 percent.”

    The entire article can be found at:

    Bottom line, this is not only about certification but also about the support of a profession and an independent group made up of professionals to manage this community so that we can achieve what we all want. We need a strong driving force to get accessibility skills recognized and give professionals and consultants more opportunity to grow and expand in this field.

  18. Debra, you’ve done a beautiful job of summarizing my perspective on the prospect of certifying professionals. I have seen clear value from similar approaches in other fields, and more than one enterprise organization has expressed the desire for something like this in Accessibility. It offers a way for them to educate their staff and to know which vendors or consultants have been independently vetted as an a11y expert.

    Having said this, the question of certification is only one of the reasons I see value in forming some kind of professional organization. The challenges we are facing today are not restricted to technology or developer issues, so we must think more broadly about the problem space.

    I have been exploring some of these ideas over the past few months with people in the US, UK, India, Japan and Australia – and I can say there are a set of commonly shared painpoints.

    I see some objections in the comments, above, about approaching this idea of a society in a formalized way, but I believe that is the only path for success if we are to create a global approach to Accessibility. There is plenty of work to go around, so there is no goal to replace existing standards efforts or the various training efforts scattered around the world. The goal here is to bring all of this together to create a unified global profession and to identify the missing components needed to advance the state of accessibility around the world.

    That will not happen without a significant and focused effort; it will not happen by accident or by relying on volunteers. Cultural change requires either a very specific, intentional strategy or it requires great patience and time – and sometimes both.

    I believe it is time for Accessibility to become a professional pursuit, and for us to join together to pursue a more holistic and intentional change management strategy that impacts educational curriculum, product design, business practices, and the way accessibility expertise is applied across the industry. It is not a simple problem – but neither is Accessibility.

    I’m looking forward to discussing this further with everyone at CSUN – whether in the all-day session, informal evening gatherings, or in the hallways.

  19. A couple more thoughts:

    @Shawn, great point. Yes we should be looking at other organizations, like the Usability Professionals’ Association, to see what works. Perhaps a hybrid of multiple existing models would be the optimal path for a11y.

    @Sharon, I agree and my view of a professional certification is that it would not create a new job function (seperate from others) but rather another skillset and training opportunity for people in a variety of roles: business leader, program manager, developer, designer, etc.

    @Leonie – love your self-described circular comments because i think it makes the point beautifully that there are pros and cons to any approach. For me, the goal is to find a way to evolve our approach to accessibility in a way that is scalable, internationally relevant, and has a chance of resolving the major lingering issues.

  20. Here are some of the reasons why I think exploring the idea of an international society of digital accessibility professionals is a worthwhile effort. I posted these thoughts as well to the Section 508 Accessibility Professionals LinkedIn Group, where a similar discussion is ongoing.

    I see such an organization having the potential of being a strong lobbying voice to industry, government, etc. It could facilitate mentoring, not only for new folks coming
    into the field, but also for folks who are looking to take their accessibility career to the next level. It could act as a centralized speakers bureau. Finally, similar to other industry organizations, it could annually collect benchmarking data, such as job descriptions and salary data, which would be
    valuable to both companies and individuals working in the field alike.

  21. @Debra Your point about having a Standardized Level of Certification is not without merit. However, I remain extremely concerned with the current process and thrust of this initiative, and the current cost of the one-day workshop.

    I wholehearted agree that the current crop of professionals working in this space need to come together and find a way to protect both our own professional integrity as well as the larger industry’s. Yet it seems that if you want to contribute to that discussion today it is a pay-to-play shakedown, where only those who can afford to cough out an additional $300.00 get to sit and be part of the discussion. This might work well for software vendors of testing tools seeking lucrative government contracts, but it completely sidelines the legion of caring and dedicated existing base, who often will “miss-a-pay” because times are lean.

    This financial impediment succeeds in pushing aside many relevant and experienced voices who *do* have the skills set, who *have* delivered both professionally and consistently, and who *would* benefit from this type of organization. Meanwhile a bunch of deep pocket company representatives all slap each other on the back, congratulating themselves on a $30,000 1-day conference with “hey, what’s the problem? It’s not our money being spent to be here.”

    @RobS Never short of unpopular opinions, I would welcome the opportunity to further discuss this with you over the CSUN week. I’m pretty easy to find.

  22. Wendy, Sharron,

    I’d be happy to join your meet-up with the AccessU tutors on Monday evening, as I’m at CSUN early and will be going to the AIA event on the Tuesday to represent the perspective of what Jim Tobias calls ‘accessibility program managers’ (which I was at the BBC in the UK for years…)

    Please email me on and let’s meet up.


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