Using the Accessibility Skills Hiring Toolkit to Build Capacity

Posted on Tuesday, 12 May 2020 by Sarah Horton

2020 is the year the web got real, and digital accessibility capacity is needed now, more than ever.

With the COVID-19 pandemic, many of us are shifting our lives from the physical world to the digital. But is that world sturdy and strong enough to handle all we need from it? Are digital builders and makers prepared to build for safety and accessibility, to support equality and human rights? While the foundations of the web were designed with universality as its core, its structures are often built without awareness and attention to accessibility features.

Most organizations that create inaccessible digital properties are not willfully seeking to exclude people with disabilities by ignoring accessibility requirements. Rather, they lack capacity, due to insufficient knowledge and skills across the workforce. Accessibility is not included in position responsibilities for current staff, and hiring processes are not geared toward finding accessibility-skilled product and project managers, visual and interaction designers, educators, instructional technologists, writers, videographers, and the many other positions that play a key role in building and shaping our digital world.

Teach Access is a collaboration of educators, technologists, and advocates who are invested in building an accessible digital world. Each sector brings its strengths to establish an ecology where digital accessibility can thrive:

  • Industry demonstrates the demand for accessibility skills by seeking employees who are skilled in accessibility, so that they can contribute to building accessible technology.
  • Education responds to the demand, incorporating accessibility into design, engineering, computer science, and other fields of study that impact digital accessibility.
  • Advocacy provides a beacon, guiding digital accessibility efforts in support of disability inclusion.

TPG is a founding member of Teach Access and remains a dedicated and active participant, along with supporters and contributors from leading U.S. colleges and universities, technology companies, and disability support and advocacy organizations.

Teach Access recently launched an Accessibility Skills Hiring Toolkit. The aim of the toolkit is to provide a resource that will help organizations establish and build digital accessibility capacity. Red, blue, green, and orange figures of people holding hands in a circle

The initial tool in the toolkit is position description language that describes the purpose, responsibilities, and qualifications of staff who have a role to play in digital accessibility. The position descriptions are intended to help various roles in the following ways:

  • Sourcing — Use the toolkit language to recruit skilled staff; hire people who can hit the ground running.
  • Managers — Define accessibility expectations for your staff and establish a baseline for tracking performance.
  • Staff — Understand your role in building accessible technology and develop the skills and knowledge you need to meet your responsibilities.
  • Students, Job seekers — Learn what skills and experience you need to quality for technology positions.
  • Educators — Fill digital accessibility gaps in your teaching materials and prepare your students for success.

Each position description has the following components:

  • A general description of the role
  • A list of duties and responsibilities that influence digital accessibility
  • A list of qualifications that applicants should have to demonstrate their ability to perform those duties and responsibilities

For example, a Content Author/Producer creates, produces, and publishes primarily text-based content. The duties and responsibilities of that role are:

  • Incorporate content accessibility requirements (semantic structure, meaningful links) into content authoring workflows.
  • Create content with accessibility in mind.
  • Create alternatives for media content, such as image descriptions and figure captions.
  • Use content authoring and publishing platforms that support accessibility.
  • Partner with colleagues and team members to prioritize accessibility in content production.

The required qualifications include:

  • Knowledge of the Plain Writing Act of 2010 and other regulations related to content accessibility
  • Knowledge of WCAG 2.1 AA requirements related to content authoring and production
  • Experience creating accessible content using plain language and clear and structured content, and providing alternatives as needed

The preferred qualifications include:

  • Experience creating content that follows Plain Language Guidelines
  • Experience incorporating production of alternatives (e.g., captions, image descriptions) into content authoring workflows
  • Experience incorporating accessibility into content authoring resource, such as style guides

The Toolkit currently has language for the following roles:

  • Product Owner/Manager
  • Project Manager
  • UX/Visual Designer
  • UX/Interaction Designer
  • Front-End Developer
  • Quality Assurance Tester
  • Instructional Designer
  • Content Author/Producer
  • Multimedia Producer
  • Sourcing/Procurement Officer

Teach Access is providing the position descriptions for people to use, so if you are involved in the hiring process, don’t hesitate to copy and paste whatever language is helpful to you! And the Teach Access team is working on more resources to help you with recruiting, hiring, and onboarding accessibility-skilled staff. To learn when tools are added to the toolkit, sign up for Teach Access updates or email info@teachaccess.org.

About Sarah Horton

Sarah worked as TPG‘s Strategy Lead until 2020. She joined TPG in April 2013, after 20 years working as a user experience designer, developer, strategist, and lead in higher education, at Yale University, Dartmouth College, and Harvard University. She has done outreach to improve user experience, including books (Web Style Guide and Access by Design), working groups, presentations, and articles, including an article on web accessibility for the New York Times. Her latest book, with Whitney Quesenbery, is called A Web for Everyone: Designing Accessible User Experiences. Sarah was closely involved with TPG‘s accessible user experience offerings, including usability testing and organizational process reviews.

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