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What does an Accessibility Engineer do?

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I was recently asked what an Accessibility Engineer does. This is a pretty common question, since accessibility hasn’t been as well defined as most IT roles. When I interview for positions, I sometimes shake my head at questions that feel like I’m taking a mid-term. I can only assume the person interviewing is attempting to assess my knowledge of issues in a manner that can easily be looked up and validated.

So what does an Accessibility Engineer do? It pretty much depends on the need of the organization. When I start a new project, the first question I ask is which guidelines apply. Are you following WCAG or Section 508, or both? Why was that set of guidelines chosen? What does the official documentation on the website say? Setting expectations is an important first step.

Once that is understood, I discover what steps have been taken to achieve compliance. What has worked and what hasn’t worked? Have User Experience and Development teams been trained? What development framework/s are used? How are issues captured, tracked and reported? Finding the current state of accessibility helps to create a baseline.

Next, the testing approach and methodology is defined. Automated tools are reviewed and decided on, and the manual tests are defined. I have a document that I created that walks a tester through the process, what to look for and how to test each page.

Auditing a site is a tedious process that involves automated testing, keyboard testing, visual inspection and using a screen reader. A pretty typical scenario is:

  • Run the automated tool, validate the findings and place them into the report.
  • Scan the page for visual issues.
  • Use the keyboard to navigate the page.
  • Navigate the page with the screen reader on.
  • Navigate form fields.
  • Fill out a form incorrectly and see how the error messages appear.
  • Open modal windows to see if they are accessible.

Every issue that blocks accessibility must be communicated to the team that is responsible for fixing it. I have created resources to assist in this process.

  • is a comprehensive library of ARIA roles, states and properties optimized for mobile.
  • contains accessibility best practices that I have gathered from a number of resources, optimized for mobile.
  • is the web version and contains the same information as the mobile sites, plus my blog and various articles about accessibility in general.

Educating about accessibility and building empathy for disabled users is a large part of communicating the need for reworking an element and including accessibility in the process. I will often talk about the type of users that will be impacted by the inaccessible element – screen reader users will not be able to complete this form. Keyboard users need to navigate backwards in order to apply the filters. Cognitively disabled users can be confused by this wording.

Once the team has fixed the issues, each issue is tested again to make sure that the disabled community is able to access the information, complete the form, watch the video and experience the site.

An audit can take a lot of time for an accessibility expert, but in and around this are the processes of reporting, recommending and communicating. Some of the other tasks that I have personally accomplished include:

  • Creating personas, scenarios and test cases, and mapping them to the standards.
  • Training and educating teams on Accessibility issues and testing practices.
  • Creating a method for creating Level of Effort estimates
  • Creating a database for iterative communication of accessibility violations
  • Presenting to teams about accessibility issues
  • Reviewing accessibility procedures and recommending a streamlined, consistent approach
  • Creating Accessibility Implementation Plan with recommended approach to training, testing, remediation and regression testing.
  • Authoring accessibility training for designers, developers, content creators and team members.
  • Presenting accessibility concepts to managers and stakeholders.
  • Reviewing design guide, wireframes, HTML and final code for compliance with Accessiblity giuidelines.

So what does an Accessibility Engineer do? We promote Accessibility!

Debra Kyles

I am an Accessibility Engineer,  working with accessibility for about ten years. I have also worked as a UX Designer for about fifteen years. I’ve worked with governments, enterprise businesses, educational institutions and small IT shops.

A few highlights of my work:

  • ·        Helped the University of Minnesota in their efforts to make a PeopleSoft site accessible using a Javascript overlay.
  • ·        Prepared an Accessibility Approach and Plan document for a T-Mobile redesign.
  • ·        Helped Getwell Network make their hospital-based platform accessible.
  • ·        Trained staff at CalPERS (California Public Employee Retirement System) and the Legislative Data Center to test, validate and fix accessibility issues.
  • ·        Served as SME for the State of California EDD modernization project
  • ·        Served as accessibility expert for the National Institute of Standards and Technology to define standards for accessibility in cloud computing.

I love making the web a better place for the 20% of the population who are challenged with disabilities. By including this population in our design, copy and coding decisions, we make the world a more compassionate, empathetic place to live.

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