As a freshman in college, I moved to New York, a city I’d loved since childhood but in which I’d never spent more than a day at a time. I was ecstatic to be starting this next chapter in the greatest city in the world. Fast forward four months.
I was facing my first set of finals as an undergrad and I wanted nothing to do with it.
I was stressed out, somehow managing to feel trapped and isolated on my little campus even though I was smack in the middle of this metropolis. Seeing the same 300 faces every single day and not really getting to know anyone else (the couchsurfing would come later) took its toll. I needed to get out, do things, and meet people.
So, like any 18-year old student would, I decided to spend the time I was expected to study by instead volunteering with as many different organizations as I could. I quickly found New York Cares and probably signed up for five different opportunities in my first week as a volunteer. The one I stuck with for the longest, by far, involved helping out with the New York goalball team’s weekly practices.
Goalball is a sport for blind and visually impaired athletes.
Over the years, I’ve spent a ton of time explaining what goalball is. I thought I’d let a friend do it for me this time. The video that follows was taken as part of a documentary that was never released. If you watch closely, you might spot me!
Transcript: Narrator: Goalball. A description. Okay. I’ll see what I can do. This is really hard to explain without you seeing it but I’ll try my best. Player: Take your time. Narrator: It’s all on your sense of hearing and touch. Official: Play! [player rolls the ball] Official: Out! Narrator: Now, the court is made out of rope and tape so you can feel it with your hands and your feet. [player blocks the ball and another yells] Coach: Good block, Slick. Narrator: There’s a center and two wings and their goal is to not let the ball get past them. The ball is a three-pound rubber ball with bells in it. Goalball’s the sport for the visually impaired and, um, that’s goalball.
Super cool, right? Goalball is a paralympic sport. It was developed specifically for blinded veterans of WWII and is unique in that it wasn’t adapted from an existing sport. I loved the sport and this team, the New York Knights, from that first afternoon in 2009.
What This Has to Do With Tech
You might be wondering, and understandably so, why I’m telling you any of this. This is supposed to be about tech! And computers! And code! If you’ve taken a course with me (or simply talked with me about my job for more than ten minutes), you’re most likely aware of my deep commitment to web accessibility. In case you haven’t, I’ve taught courses and workshops, I’ve given talks, and I’ve helped lead efforts at my company to develop internal standards and practices which have begun to normalize the idea of designing and building with accessibility in mind from the beginning.
All of this, up to and including my discovery that “web accessibility” is a term that people use, grew out of my dedication to the Knights. At one point, after learning that I wanted to build websites for a living, a few members of the team asked me to create a new site for them. Most of the guys could see a bit but others were entirely blind.
I didn’t know the first thing about how a blind person went about navigating the web, so I set out to learn.
I searched online, read books, and talked to my professors. At this point, I really hadn’t tapped into the web dev community yet. I moved slowly but picked up a lot of the basics. Let’s fast forward one more time.
I’ve now been working at Detroit Labs for two years. Shortly after I was hired on full-time, I was asked to join a new work group focused on learning accessibility standards and coming up with ways for us to make sure, as a company, that we’re consistently building accessibility into our apps whether or not our clients specifically call it out as a priority.
We’ve made great strides in forming a team with solid knowledge of the existing standards as well as educating other members of our project teams. I’m proud that team members from other parts of the business have taken to coming to me with accessibility questions. Despite our successes so far, though, imposter syndrome has been hitting me pretty hard. Accessibility work has never been my full-time job and I still mostly figure things out as I go.
Getting certified by the IAAP is one way I feel like I can begin to feel more secure in my own knowledge but also give our clients a standard they can look to when setting expectations around our accessibility expertise.
Certified Professional in Accessibility Core Competencies (CPACC)
IAAP’s foundational certification, representing broad, cross-disciplinary conceptual knowledge about 1) disabilities, 2) accessibility and universal design, and 3) accessibility-related standards, laws, and management strategies.
This is a sort of baseline. The CPACC exam could reasonably be undertaken by any member of a project team or even folks in other parts of a consulting business. There’s no mention of any need to touch application code in order to earn this certification. If you’re a project manager or QA looking expand your accessibility knowledge base, I’d highly suggest looking into this!
Web Accessibility Specialist (WAS)
a technical level exam for an individual with at least an intermediate level of detailed technical knowledge about the WCAG guidelines and other related web accessibility topics.
This certification is geared more towards developers. If you are one of the people on your team who is actually going to address any accessibility issues you find, consider working towards a WAS certification.
Certified Professional in Web Accessibility (CPWA)
I’ve decided to go for the CPWA certification because it combines the two I’ve just described. I will earn this designation by passing both the CPACC and the WAS exams.
Timeline & Associated Costs
I’ll be working through Deque’s IAAP CPACC and WAS Certification Preparation Package. As I write this, the course is $170. The plan is to join the IAAP as an individual member, which is $185/year. That will save me about $200 on my exams, however. For IAAP members, the cost to take the CPACC exam is $325 and $375 to take the WAS exam. Both of these figures are for first-time exam takers.
All told, that adds up to $1,055 for the first year!
It will be worth it, though, to have something I can show to clients that will indicate a certain scope of knowledge and level of consistency with other professionals who’ve gone through the same process. I’ll also be listed in the IAAP’s Certified Professional Directory.
I’ve got what looks like an estimated 25 hours worth of content to read and absorb in the Deque course I’ve purchased. In the interest of my own well-being, those hours will be spread out over the next several weeks. My aim is to take my exam in late July or early August.
I’ll be blogging and tweeting my progress as I go along, partly as a means of staying accountable and partly in hopes that I’ll get someone thinking about web accessibility who wasn’t before. What’s your experience with building and testing for accessibility? Reach out on Twitter if you’ve got questions! As you may have guessed, I’m happy to share what I learn. If I don’t know the answer, I’m certain I can point you to someone who does!