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The ICT Accessibility Industry Needs a Professional Certification
Debra Ruh argues the need for industry-run professional certification for companies and consultants working on ICT accessibility (Section 508).
Organizations often get confused as to how to select a credible and competent ICT Accessibility vendor. Anyone can say they are an “expert” in Section 508 compliance, but what does that really mean? I hear organizations complaining all the time that the laws and standards are too grey and too hard to manage, and they are never sure if they have successfully implemented accessibility into their systems. This is why they seek out an expert in the field to help them navigate what can seem a pretty daunting challenge.
Anyone can say they are an “expert” in Section 508 compliance, but what does that really mean?
I have witnessed organizations attempting to comply with Section 508 and other standards like WCAG 2.0, making efforts but spending time and money and many times missing the mark. I have seen what happens when a company uses someone to help them become compliant and accessible that doesn’t understand the complexities of the issues.
Recently a large firm contacted SSB because of a Section 508 Compliance emergency. They had been working with an accessibility consultant but the consultant did not really understand the complexity of the system. This consultant assured the client they were Section 508 compliant and the client gave this information to their federal government client. The government client tested the system and found it did not meet Section 508 requirements and gave the company just a few days to correct the issues or be in default of the contract. The agency suggested the company contact SSB BART Group, and fortunately SSB was able to step in and help the client solve the compliance issues by the deadline.
I firmly believe that a professional certification run by our industry could prevent a situation like this from happening in the first place. It would certainly need to be well thought out and vetted by our industry, and it would need to harmonize with all laws and standards across the world, but it could add great value to our industry.
Having a professional certification could help buyers evaluate the skills, knowledge and overall competence of a practitioner in our field. It would protect the legitimate practitioners, as well as protect the organizations trying to assure their systems and processes are accessible by giving them another means to assess a potential vendor in addition to past performances and other traditional criteria.
I believe that for accessibility to be a success it must be built into the processes of an organization and become part of the culture. Some have said that accessibility is an art and I might agree, but I also think that is part of the problem, and leaves too much to personal interpretation. I believe we need to make accessibility more of a science and less of an art form. Some of the recent activities with WCAG 2.0 and the Section 508 refresh will help because they are clearly defining what it means to be accessible. Also the U.S. can continue to learn a lot from what the other countries are doing in this arena.
In Certification Magazine, writer Martin Bean quotes John Cramer, branch manager of the Adecco Technical office, Chicago: “Certification is still the tiebreaker in a tight decision for hiring managers.” Bean also notes that staffing firms are more likely to place professionals with IT certifications than those without them and quotes an IT executive who believes that certified IT workers are “more productive, better prepared, and have more credibility with employers.”
A research study conducted by Brainbench in Chantilly, VA, revealed that professional certifications are bankable assets for IT professionals, with those receiving certifications significantly more likely to achieve salary increases above the industry average of up to 3 percent.”
Bottom line, this is not only about certification but also about the support of a profession and an independent group made up of professionals to manage this community so that we can achieve what we all want. We need a strong driving force to get accessibility skills recognized and give professionals and consultants more opportunity to grow and expand in this field.
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Debra Ruh (born 1958) is an advocate for the rights of persons with disabilities. She is President of TecAccess, LLC, an internationally renowned consulting firm focused on accessibility of information technology products. Ruh's daughter was diagnosed with down syndrome. Additionally, she speaks around the globe about full accessibility of information technology for persons with disabilities, and on the subject of telework, TecAccess’ model for employing persons with disabilities.
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