How To Hire For Digital Accessibility Roles

By Kate Kalcevich | Smashing Magazine, January 12, 2022

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:

All three types of roles are critical for a robust and sustainable accessibility practice. Let’s explore each option in detail.

Accessibility Specialist #

An accessibility specialist is someone who deeply understands how to create accessible websites, mobile apps, and/or documents. They may be certified as a Web Accessibility Specialist through International Association of Accessibility Professionals (IAAP), have extensive work experience or have lived experience as a person with a disability and/or as an assistive technology user. The IAAP is a non-profit organization that works to promote accessibility as a profession globally through networking, education and certification.

The benefit of hiring this type of specialist early is the ability to understand deeply what is needed at a technical level to make digital products and documents accessible. The downside is that it’s easy to fall into a trap of relying too heavily on your accessibility specialist (or team) and they can become a bottleneck to making progress in accessibility across your organization.

Another downside is they can become frustrated if there is no executive support and therefore no budget and mandate for accessibility. It may be difficult for someone who isn’t a senior employee to get teams to make the changes required in order to create accessible products. Imagine someone highly skilled, who knows what needs to be done, but doesn’t have the support to do it. They can quickly become disillusioned and may leave the company.

Hiring an accessibility specialist first, can work well in a smaller organization with a digital team of less than 50 people. In larger organizations, it makes sense to have an executive champion for accessibility in place before you hire a specialist.

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