Web Accessibility Specialist Certification

I’m not new to accessibility (a11y) but because it is not the focus of my job, I’ve had to do a lot of self-study to gain enough experience to consider myself proficient. Through the process of studying for this exam (and applying for a job along the way), I think I have finally found my passion.

I work in the United States for a large Canadian company in Ontario that is under pressure to comply with the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA). It requires that websites updated since 2014 conform to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 Level A. Level AA is required by January, 2021.

At last year’s AccessU accessibility conference in Austin, Texas, I learned about the International Association for Accessibility Professionals (IAAP):

IAAP is a not-for-profit membership-based organization for individuals and organizations that are focused on accessibility or are in the process of building their accessibility skills and strategies. The objective of this association is to help accessibility professionals develop and advance their careers and to help organizations integrate accessibility into their products and infrastructure. The IAAP will provide a place for accessibility professionals around the world to gather, share experiences and enrich their knowledge of accessibility.

I heard they had a few certifications and I thought that would be a great way to test myself and perhaps come out with a credential that will help me in the future. The Web Accessibility Specialist (WAS) credential is where I started.

What is the WAS credential?

The Web Accessibility Specialist (WAS) credential is a technical-level credential for people who have hands-on experience with web technologies and accessibility. The exam assesses one’s web accessibility competence and takers are expected to know and use relevant technologies in a hands-on way, not just know about them. Per the IAAP, it’s ideal for intermediate level professionals (3-5 years’ experience) who have worked with WCAG 2.0 in context.

What is the WAS exam?

The WAS exam consists of 75 multiple choice questions with four options in the following content areas:

  • Create accessible web content – 40%
  • Identify accessibility issues – 40%
  • Remediate accessibility issues – 20%

The exam is pass/fail and administered by a testing service either remotely or in-person. I took it at a local testing center because I was worried about all the things that could go wrong remotely.

The exam is administered during a testing window for scoring purposes.

Preparing for the WAS exam

I reviewed the comprehensive WAS body of knowledge document which is a 20+ page overview of everything that could show up on the exam, from WCAG success criteria to testing with assistive technologies to recommending techniques for fixing issues. It’s a lot of stuff and honestly, I was pretty worried since I don’t work a job where I do accessibility evaluations every day.

I decided to study by going through a WAS exam preparation course offered by Deque University. I gave myself four weeks to prepare. My strategy was to cover about one content area per work day leading up to the exam. I took longer with those areas I had less experience in, such as ARIA widgets. I highly recommend this course and think it covered all the necessary subject matter.

My one piece of advice is to really practice using a screen reader and learn the common commands as two questions on my exam related specifically to hotkeys.

After the exam

They evaluate all candidates’ responses during the testing window and utilize a modified Angoff methodology and cut rate score exercise. Because of this, it takes a few weeks to find out if you pass. IAAP does not issue percentage scores or provide feedback on specific responses.

Three weeks after I took the exam, I got an email from the IAAP.

Congratulations!  We are pleased to inform you that you have passed IAAP – Web Accessibility Specialist (WAS) examination. Your hard work, study, and perseverance helped you achieve a significant goal – recognition of your skills and knowledge as a web accessibility specialist.

Per the email, just over 250 people have been WAS certified since the exam started in 2017.

IAAP web accessibility specialist certification logo

So what now? I am really  happy to have this certification and I know that going through this studying and exam process did a lot to get me used to looking for accessibility issues and communicating to developers how to fix them. I think this is a great exercise for anyone who wants a career in web accessibility.

IAAP WAS certificate for Rachele DiTullio awarded March 19, 2019.

Home Depot – A study in UX failure

I have a guest post today from my partner who works at the Pro-Desk at Home Depot helping contractors with large orders. Management decided to redesign the work space without getting feedback first. Enjoy!

photo of a checkout area in Home Depot

This is the redesigned Pro-Checkout area of Home Depot with four Pro registers: two facing south and two facing north; drinks & snacks in between.

Primary customers: Contractors

  • with large orders; and
  • large pieces of lumber

Problem 1: Register bottlenecks

This aisle is wide enough for one associate with a client, plus one typical lumber/flat-top cart, which are extra wide, yet there are two registers per aisle creating a bottleneck that prevents clients from getting around someone already checking out at the front register to an available associate at the back register.

When clients finish at the front register, they are unable to move past a working client at the back register, forcing them to push the line of waiting customers back so they can exit in reverse.

photo of a checkout aisle

This creates a further bottleneck at the output of all four registers where carts pile up and get in the way when clients have multiple carts of goods.

Problem 2: Bagging

Bags are located on the far side of the desk, away from where they are needed while checking out a customer, forcing an associate to look away from the client instead of engaging.

photo of checkout registers with stacks of paper bags on the sides

Problem 3: Lack of space

Our primary clients have large carts of long pieces of merchandise and the narrow aisles don’t leave enough room for turning the corner resulting in items getting bumped or ran into along with client frustration.

photo of the space between the end of the register aisle and the exit

Example: A customer has 20 pieces of 12’ drywall, 4’ wide; or 16’ long dimensional lumber. The back end will hit the drinks and snacks or the person manning the back register, plus the front end may likely hit the wall or desk.

To circumvent this associates have started having customers leave large carts in the main aisle, blocking throughput, so they can scan things there. There is potential loss of product since the associate cannot keep a close eye on the terminal to ensure all items are scanned properly. Additionally this blocks waiting customers from progressing to the next available associate because of carts in the main aisle.

Problem 4: Small drink fridges

One of our biggest sellers is PowerAid which does not fit in the narrow slots for soda or the RedBull slots on the other side.

photo of a small clear front refrigerator that is mostly empty

Problem 5: Light switch placement

Each lighted checkout sign has two sides that can illuminate independently. Instead of putting a switch on each side, both switches are on one side with no label. Which one turns on what light?

photo of two switches stacked on the side of a vertical beam

Problem 6: Desk height

The desktops sit at 2 feet 9.5 inches high, which works fine if you’re sitting in a chair. However, Pro-Desk associates stand all day making this setup less than ideal. This height creates back fatigue or severely bent wrists when using the terminal.

We devised some inventive solutions, like trying to raise the keyboard and mouse level up to a comfortable position, which management promptly nixed.

The monitor post is too short, making it impossible to raise the monitor to eye level.

photo of a man bending over to use a computer

Problem 7: Dead space

Lots of unused space that should have drink machines or something in it. Space is at a premium, use it efficiently!

photo of empty floor space between a wall and a register

Problem 8: Coffee

Our “luxurious” coffee bar is 10 times worse than it was and has gotten comments from customers already.

photo of a small cabinet with two coffee urns

Problem 9: Mouse pads

photo of a mouse pad shaped like a man waving that is barely large enough for a mouse

Whoever made these has apparently never used a mouse and needs to be fired.

AccessNow App

A new app out of Canada, AccessNow, aims to crowdsource the accessibility of communities. Maayan Ziv, a wheelchair user, has made it her life’s work to help others know which places are accessible before going out.

As she told CBC News in Access Now uses crowdsourcing to pinpoint accessible businesses

“Recently, I went to a place and there were three steps at the entrance, and I was told it was accessible. I get to the entrance, and there are those steps and then I’m stuck in the middle of the street without any options.”

I downloaded this app for iPhone to check out what’s going on in Austin. The app doesn’t have many places reviewed here just yet, with only four entries showing up for the Central Austin/UT Campus/Downtown area.

screenshot showing 4 map pins
AccessNow map view

In addition to a searchable map display, the app also has a list view. Icons from a green thumbs up for accessible to a red thumbs down for inaccessible help users know what to expect when experiencing a mobility impairment.

screenshot of the list view of map pins
AccessNow list view

Users can outline specific issues in a description.

screen shot explaining the accessibility issues with the Austin Panic Room
AccessNow app place details

Per the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, new construction and any existing construction that undergoes major renovations are supposed to be accessible. I see how this app would be especially useful for rating those places that were built before the act went into effect.

Users who have created an account can add new entries by tapping the ‘add pin’ icon, searching for a place, then entering details. The app provides several tags like accessible parking, automatic door and ramp, as well as an area to type out a description.

screen shot of the add place screen with options to rate how accessible it is
AccessNow add new place screen

Learn more from this interview with the creator.