2.7: How do I find an accessibility specialist?


Sandi: So David I figured out for my business that I need to find an accessibility specialist to help me out with my strategy and making sure I’ve got everything in place. But how do I go about actually finding an accessibility specialist? 

David: I would first start with my stakeholders. Any business that wants to be profitable, obviously has stakeholders and their stakeholders have an interest in your business. Either they buy your products or they’re helping you to develop them. I would then go of course to our favourite search engine Google and just do some searches on what accessibility specialists are and how I can find them. 

Sandi: But what if I don’t know what I need help with? What if I just know our organization has a problem with our accessibility? We just haven’t delivered and I know we need to fix it and we want to fix it. Should I be looking for somebody who is a generalist who has a broad knowledge of accessibility? Or should I be picking and choosing depending on what help, what I need help with? Or it does it even matter? 

David: Well, you know the question is if you’re looking for an accessibility specialist the question is why? So obviously, you’ve been told that you need an accessibility specialist or you come across a problem with accessibility. So, if someone has come to you and said I can’t use your product or service because of some accessibility challenge, you know that’s your first hint that you have a problem and you gotta start looking. 

So, first of all you find out what is the problem? When you understand what the problem is, it makes it a lot easier to find a solution. But if someone comes to you, you go to a webinar, and they say you have to make everything accessible, well, you haven’t really experienced the problem. So, you’re looking for a solution before you even have a problem, and I think that’s one of the big problems of small and medium sized businesses, is that they’re being told constantly they have to be accessible, but without really understanding what the challenge is in most cases. 

Sandi: So, is it reasonable to expect that an accessibility specialist couldn’t solve all my problems for me? Or should I be looking for a team of specialists that might, within the accessibility field specialize in different areas? But, is it possible for one person to be able to solve all my problems, I guess is the question?

David: One person could be a specialist with the knowledge to know where to go to get the help. An individual, well like myself, if I can’t answer the question, I obviously don’t have all the answers to all of the accessibility challenges, but I have a very good idea where to go, or who to go to for answers.

So, if you’re a small business, you need somebody who is knowledgeable about where the resources are and who the talent is. If you’re a bigger company, you probably hire a full time person that has those types of skills. But in the world of website development and online application tools, no one person can possibly know all of the ins and outs of not only website standards, but the interoperability of browsers and video players and screen readers and other assistive technologies. So, you need to look in at your product or your service and determine what types of specialists you need. 

Sandi: So, I might be better to find one specialist who I have a great relationship with or I can build a good relationship with and work with them or rely on them to bring in the other players in that I might need, rather than trying to look for somebody who can handle everything for me. ‘Cause it sounds like I may not be able to find that person who can build me an accessible website, design the accessible website, make sure all the PDF documents on the website are accessible, make sure my videos were all accessible, my social media is accessible and all those other things that all come together into a website. Maybe I shouldn’t expect one person to be able to solve all those problems for me. 

David: I think a key success factor for any business, particularly a small business, is relationships. You have to have good relationships with your suppliers and your customers to build your brand. And someone that you can rely on to get the answers for you is really important, because you may not be able to afford a full time person all the time on staff. But you may be able to hire a consultant who knows where the answers are, who can come on board when you need them, and I think that is really an important asset to have because you’re building relationships. You’re not only building a good working relationship with that consultant that you’ve come to trust and respect, but he or she is introducing you to other resources and opportunities that they know of and have good relationships with. 

Sandi: So how do I know if I’ve found a good accessibility specialist? You know you talked about Google and all sorts of search results might come up, but how do I filter out all those results? What should I look for in an accessibility specialist? 

David: That is a good question. You know, what do you look for, for any specialists that you’re trying to hire? You know it’s buyer beware, and especially in the accessibility sector there’s no regulation for consultants, you know. Everybody is an expert. 

So, if you were to hire someone to come in and renovate your house, what would you do? You would want to ask friends and family to recommend someone. You’d go on search, but not only that, you would want to sit down with them and ask them, you know what do you really know about renovating? Do they understand what you want? A lot of times in accessibility the user does not know what they want and they call on an accessibility consultant. He or she comes in and they’re not given any instructions as to what is needed for the website or the tools, and so they just tell you as the business owner what you need and want for the accessibility strategy, and that’s not right. 

So, what you really do need to do is have a chat with whoever you’re going to hire and find out what their background is. What is their experience? Have they, you know they’ve obviously read a number of textbooks, but is that just head knowledge? 

Have they got real live experience with people with disabilities and do they really know how the users interface with the technologies? It’s one thing to get someone to come in and tell you what standards need to be followed to make your website accessible, but it’s an entirely different thing to find somebody who understands the user and tells you how to do those interfaces, so that they’re not only accessible, but they’re usable. 

Sandi: That, I think that is the defining factor because you can, you’re right, you can read and understand all the guidelines issued by the W3C, but if you don’t know how it impacts users by not implementing those guidelines, if you’ve never watched or listened to someone who uses a screen reader try to navigate something that’s so poorly built, you don’t know where the bumps are. If you don’t think about captioning for videos, you don’t get how challenging it can be for somebody who is deaf or hard of hearing.

David: When we go to hire a designer, whether it’s for a web page or for a building, I find that a lot of times those designers have been trained to design something that’s appealing to them. 

So, for example, we live in a very visual world. When the University of Ryerson built their student centre, they hired award-winning designers. And when it was done there was all kinds of complaints about accessibility issues, the stairways, and the objects in the halls. It was just not designed for people who are blind, and that’s because they design for visual effect and that’s what they were taught. 

And I find with accessibility it’s the same thing. We far too often, we have designers that come in and design your website, but it looks very nice, but it’s not very friendly for keyboard users. And so, I find that we have to find specialists who understand the user. They’re not just talking from their own perspective. 

Sandi: And I think it’s an industry that is still quite unregulated. There’s certainly there are associations that are trying to provide credentials for specialists. There are more and more diplomas and certificates available for training with accessibility specialists, but there’s not really, it’s not like professional engineers, or physicians. There’s not a general accreditation, so the only way to really know if someone is worth their metal is to have conversations with them. Get references, speak to people that they’ve worked with and certainly word of mouth is one of the best ways to find a specialist in this field. 

David: So, the question Sandi, I have for you, is how expensive should an accessibility specialist be? What should I expect to spend on that service?  

Sandi: Well, I think David that’s going to depend on what it is that the specialist is going to do for you. 

If they’re a consultant, you’re probably going to be paying typical consultant rates, you know $80, $100, $150.00 an hour would not be unheard of. If you’re hiring to remediate a PDF, it might not be as expensive. So, the salary or the rate that you can expect to pay is going to vary depending on what it is you need that person to do, but that’s only one part of the cost. 

It’s, if you don’t hire any accessibility specialists at all and you try to stumble through fixing your accessibility problems on your own, it may end up costing you a lot more. You might end up getting sued. You might end up losing business because people with disabilities can’t use your website, for example. You may find it challenging to hire people because they can’t apply for a job. All sorts of things. 

So there’s, how expensive is it to hire an accountant? It’s expensive, but if you don’t hire one and you don’t file your taxes on time and you don’t pay the right amount of taxes, it could end up costing you a lot more. 

I think we need to forget about this idea of an expense. As any specialist, any professional as an expense. They’re part of your team and they’re worth the money that you pay them because they’re helping you do something that you can’t do yourself, and that’s why we seek professionals in the first place to solve a problem that we’re not experts in. 

So expensive? I don’t think so. I think we, the money is what it is and we need to value what they’re bringing to our organization. 

David: It goes back to the baseline of a company’s goals and values, I think, because it should be considered an investment in your business. So, I always say, your investment into your business should be measured according to your productivity, not according to the abilities or disabilities of your customers. In other words, accessibility is a measurement of productivity. It’s not a measurement of disability, so your investment has to be measured according to what productivity gains you’re getting. 

Quite often I get the question well, how much will accessibility cost me to implement it into my website? And I say that’s not the question you should be asking. The question is, you know how much investment do you want to put into your website to attract as many people as possible?