How To Hire For Digital Accessibility Roles

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Kate Kalcevich is the Head of Services at Fable, a leading accessibility testing platform powered by people with disabilities. Kalcevich is an experienced … More about Kate ↬

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Quick summary ↬ Accessibility must be a permanent program within organizations, much like security. In this article, Kate Kalcevich shares tips on which skills and questions to keep in mind when hiring for digital accessibility roles.

I’m currently the Head of Services at Fable, a company that connects organizations to people with disabilities to make user research, design, and development more inclusive. Because of the nature of the work we do, we have many accessibility roles within our company and we also work directly with people in accessibility roles at companies that use Fable for accessibility research.

I’ve heard from people who don’t have accessibility expertise that it can be challenging to figure out how to hire for accessibility roles. I’d like to share with you what I’ve learned over the last decade of hiring while working at Fable and other organizations.

First, there are a number of reasons why accessibility is important:

  • Ethical
    Ensuring everyone can access digital products is the right thing to do.
  • Legal
    In most places around the world there is either a direct legislative requirement to be accessible and/or a risk of being sued for human rights violations if your products and services aren’t accessible.
  • Business
    People with disabilities are a huge global market (15% of the population) with disposable income that you can’t tap into if you’re not accessible.
  • Innovation
    Diversity within your team and inclusive design lead to better, more creative digital products.
  • Usability
    Accessible products are more user-friendly for everyone.
  • Technical
    Accessible products are more robust.
  • Brand
    Inclusive organizations develop better customer loyalty and attract more positive press coverage.

I could go on, but I’ll stop here. I’m going to assume if you’re reading an article about hiring for digital accessibility roles, you’re already on board with accessibility being important.

Now, you likely want to know what you have to do within your organization to staff up. What roles are critical to hire for? Which one should you start with? Where can you find people who know about accessibility and how do you evaluate their skills while hiring? These are the questions I will address in this article.

There are several ways to increase digital accessibility capacity in an organization:

  • You can

    Make sure that your training and onboarding program helps the team to understand various approaches to accessibility that should be used by researchers, designers, writers, developers, and testers. For example, if you wish to ensure that a percentage of all research participants have a disability, that’s a very different approach than doing accessibility-specific research studies. You may even want to do a mix of both, but it helps to have an organization-wide understanding of when to engage disabled people in user research, i.e. for what types of projects, how often and for what types of studies (generative research, evaluative research, surveys, and so on).

    If you design an accessibility training program that covers those kinds of details and also make it part of onboarding new team members, you’ll get better consistency. There are organizations who can help create custom accessibility training programs.

    Another great way to ensure consistency in design and code is to bake accessibility into your design system. For just buttons alone, you can standardize the following things that will impact their accessibility:

    • What colours to use for primary, secondary and ghost buttons;
    • What the default, disabled, focused, hover, and active states look like;
    • How labels should be handled if a button has text, just an icon, or both;
    • Minimum target sizes across large, medium, and small screens;
    • When to use ARIA states like aria-expanded and aria-pressed;
    • How to create a buttons that doesn’t use button semantics by using role=”button”, tabindex=”0” and keyboard event handlers to listen for the spacebar and enter key press.
      (Note: You really should use real HTML buttons, but if you don’t it’s critical that the <div>s or the tags that you use are coded with accessibility in mind).

    Finally, consider a chat channel dedicated to sharing accessibility approaches and feedback so that questions are answered in the open and are searchable. Accessibility documentation can help, but only if it’s done really well (in context, bite-sized, searchable, up-to-date, easy to find, and available exactly when people need it). In many organizations, documentation isn’t useful or well used, so definitely consider whether your existing digital documentation is effective before deciding to create more documentation.

    It’s quite difficult to secure the budget and prioritize the time for training a whole digital team without an executive champion in place. It can also be difficult to know what training to purchase if you’re buying paid training or who to hire if you’re doing in-house training without an accessibility specialist on the team. For larger organizations (50+ digital team members), it is best to make this the third thing you do, after securing a champion and a specialist.

    Upskilling your team first works really well on smaller digital teams of less than 20 people. At that size, your team is more likely to pursue self-guided training using free online resources or taking online courses that aren’t as expensive as the custom training a larger team will often purchase. Since the team is so small, you may not have the budget to hire an accessibility specialist so it makes sense to increase your existing digital team’s accessibility knowledge first.

    A small team often has direct access to leadership making it less important to have an identified executive champion for accessibility. Teams can have conversations as needed to prioritize accessibility. They are also likely to be more agile and won’t need to secure an accessibility budget in advance for a full year, but can tackle needs on a project-by-project basis.

    Executive Champion For Accessibility

    An executive champion for accessibility (or several) can pave the way for an effective accessibility program. They can bring accessibility considerations into all key conversations around budgeting, planning, and execution of projects. Accessibility is never effective as an afterthought. “We’ll audit the site after we build it” just doesn’t work unless you are willing to make major changes and even rebuild parts of it to make it accessible.

    Shawn Lawton Henry explains it well in her book, “

    If you can’t budget for a consultant to ensure your hiring is inclusive, make sure you have an accessible means of contacting HR or the hiring manager. For example, use a Google or Microsoft form to collect requests for accessibility accommodations and provide a link to that form on all job-related materials — the job posting, emails sent to candidates, and interview invitations.

    When a job applicant asks for an accessibility accommodation, make sure you have processes in place to facilitate that. It’s the worst experience to be hard of hearing and show up to a video-based job interview and not have captions. It’s terrible for your brand reputation if you offer to make accommodations and then fail to provide them.

    Conclusion

    There are many ways to increase your team’s capacity for accessibility and it’s less important where you start than it is that you do start. Accessibility must be a permanent program within organizations, much like security. You wouldn’t just do one round of security testing and consider it taken care of.

    Accessibility is an ongoing journey, one with many rewards — a more diverse and creative team, more robust digital products, more market share, and more meaningful work for everyone involved.

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