This is Part 2 of a blog series. The first was Web Accessibility and Coming of Age
The 27th Annual International Technology and Persons with Disabilities Conference will be held in San Diego between February 27 and March 3, 2012. On Tuesday of that week, the Accessibility Interoperability Alliance (AIA) – the technical and engineering division of the Assistive Technology Industry Association (ATIA) – will host an Accessibility Forum. For a $245 – $295 additional fee beyond the cost of the regular conference, attendees may participate in a series of panels and discussions entitled “Taking Accessibility Mainstream – Making the Case for an International Society of Accessibility Professionals.”
CODE for Accessibility Task Force
The forum discussion is based on research, commissioned by the US Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP), about the barriers to the implementation of accessible design techniques by mainstream developers. I participated in the research project as Chair of the Sub-Committee on Education for the project which ATIA led and named the CODE for Accessibility Task Force. The Task Force describes itself as “driven by the private sector and focused on the accessibility-related needs of the developer community.”
It is quite a worthy project and ATIA is to be commended for organizing it. I was pleased to be part of the Task Force, sharing and updating much of the research I had done several years earlier for Knowbility’s own certification studies. The Education sub-committee worked collaboratively with input from universities, software companies, and technical services companies. Our conclusion was that a certification in web accessibility skills could be quite useful, but the report stopped short of recommending a framework for the delivery of a certification program.
ATIA went on to compile case studies to explore the possibility of creating a professional association dedicated to training web developers and certifying skills. The full CODE Task Force Report can be downloaded from ATIA as well as a Case Study Implementation Analysis based on scenarios similar to Task Force recommendations.
In summary, the Task Force Report is a compilation of the work of the four sub-committees and the Case Study document compares the need for web accessibility to parallel needs identified within the web privacy and security arena and other areas of web specialization.
I won’t be able to directly participate in the forum since I am teaching two days of accessibility policy and web development skills at preconference session called AccessU at CSUN that occurs at the same time. But because my name is included as a Task Force member, I feel like I must contribute to the ongoing discussion to say that I am by no means convinced of the need to create yet another professional organization. My hope is that our community will step back and think long and hard about universal accessibility goals and ask ourselves if this is really the best way to accomplish them.
In some ways it may not be fair to comment without hearing the case fully made. But on the other hand, I have been involved with this research effort for over a year and have thoroughly read both referenced documents. At this point, Knowbility does not support the formation of a new professional organization. I wrote background in an earlier post to put the following remarks in context. Here are three top reasons for being skeptical about creating a separate professional organization for accessibility. We could offer more, but are especially interested in hearing from others who have been watching or considering this issue. Please respond with your own thoughts.
Three reasons to think twice about creating another professional organization.
1. There IS an authority in web accessibility standards and design techniques
The case study document refers several times to the need for an “authority.” However, there already IS a global authority on web accessibility at the W3C. It is the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) and develops global standards that align with other W3C technical specifications. (Full disclosure, I serve as an Invited Expert on the Education and Outreach Working Group for WAI). Work there is done by consensus and is largely free of vendor bias. They have a process to develop certifications and are already global in scope. The W3C also works in open, non-proprietary methods that are consistent with accessibility. We all know that the consensus process at the W3C can be cumbersome and tedious, but they have recent success in streamlining that process through community groups and other methods. WAI works collaboratively (much more important in the context of accessibility than for the privacy comparison that was made in the case study). With the exception of IBM, I am not aware that the corporate sponsors of the Accessibility Forum have made major, significant, sustained contributions to the field of accessibility. Rich Schwerdtfeger and IBM of course provides outstanding leadership on the development and promotion of the completely open WAI-ARIA guidelines, one of the most significant advances in recent accessibility history. Note that the ARIA work was done at the W3C.
2. Too expensive – needed voices will be excluded
Which brings us to item two, the costs associated. The case study contains plenty of multiple million dollar budget items that will need to come out of someone’s pockets. Whose pockets will provide those funds… developers? … the companies that employ developers? Why not spend those projected millions to support organizations that have history and existing leadership in accessibility rather than reinventing the alt tag? Before proceeding any further I would want to know more about how the planning has engaged with the community most affected – people with disabilities. While there seem to be individuals with disabilities serving on some committees, I have not seen any indication that this planning process reached out to and included the full community. My hope is that associations, such as the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD), the Coalition of Organizations for Accessible Technology (COAT), and other groups that speak for the wider community of people with disabilities are being consulted. But no groups like these are listed as major sponsors. Remember “Nothing about us without us?” If you are attending CSUN and can’t afford the additional fees to participate in the Accessibility Forum, head to the Wednesday conference session on “Web Accessibility Community Collaboration” and WAI staff and volunteers from the W3C will be happy to hear your thoughts.
3. Accessibility must be integrated everywhere, not only commercially
The last and probably the most important reason for not segregating accessibility into the purview of a professional organization is the need for it to be woven into the fabric of any and all web and application development. The analogy to the privacy issue that is cited in the case study document only goes so far. For privacy issues, it makes sense to create highly regulated oversight for concerns that impact the protection of citizen and consumer financial and personal data. Privacy is an issue that is easily subject to the development of strict protocols. Accessibility is more of an art. Accessible design and development must be taught in context. That is one of the reasons Knowbility’s AIR program turns developers into advocates so effectively. Creating a separate society of accessibility professionals will reinforce the notion that accessibility is something outside of the basic development process – just the opposite of what advocates have been working for for years. Accessible design is more likely to catch on, in my opinion, if it is seamlessly integrated into all training for web and application development offered in all educational settings. The integrated approach makes the most sense to me and promises to have the greatest impact in making true the adage that the late John Slatin used to sign off on his emails – Good design IS accessible design.
An excellent example of how this can work is in progress at – you guessed it, the W3C, under the leadership of Chris Mills from Opera. It is the newly formed Web Education Community Group and has the potential to integrate accessibility training into any training received by web developers at any level – trade school, community college, university, or elsewhere. So by all means create certifications, but not within the context of a new professional association to which we must all pay dues and whose conferences we must add to our annual round of expenses for travel and fees (see number 2).
Let’s figure it out together
I don’t want to leave with a list of complaints like a truculent teenager. I want also to recognize that this was a great deal of useful research by ATIA and the AIA. It is an important conversation to have. They deserve a round of applause and thanks for bringing this up, creating the Task Force, and sparking the discussion – kudos for moving the conversation so far forward.
I strongly agree that it is time to think about certification. But can’t we think of another way to do this? Please?
OK, now you know what I think. As always, we at Knowbility want to hear from our community. What do you think?!