The crisis is real: Where are the web accessibility professionals? *

Like everyone in the web accessibility field, WebAIM has a vested interest in a sufficiently-sized community comprised of skilled professionals. The shortage of qualified talent is felt by all of us. But from where will these individuals come, and how can we accelerate their availability?

The personnel drought will continue

The need is here now, and it will continue. The Wall Street Journal indicated that many companies are looking for personnel with accessibility skills and that they can’t find them easily:

“The number of job listings with ‘accessibility’ in the title grew 78% in the year ending in July [2021] from the previous 12 months, LinkedIn said in response to a data request from The Wall Street Journal. Such listings had risen 38% in the year between August 2019 and July 2020 compared with the previous year, according to the professional networking site owned by Microsoft Corp.”

A quick scan of job postings bears this out today. As of January 27, 2022, ZipRecruiter had nearly 45,000 positions referencing web accessibility. LinkedIn had over 3,100 jobs for web accessibility personnel. The need for jobs in digital accessibility will continue to increase. Several issues are driving this need.

As late as 2021, 98% of The WebAIM Million sample of top website homepages did not conform to current accessibility guidelines or legal standards. Straits Research reported that the global accessibility testing market was poised to hit $606.46 million in the coming 5 years (i.e., before 2027). Lawsuits due to inaccessibility continue to increase as shown by recent data from Seyfarth and UseableNet. This is happening because real people are facing real issues with respect to equitable access. When Covid-19 hit, this need only grew.

“The rise in accessibility jobs is fueled by a number of factors, including effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, disability lawsuits, and diversity and inclusion efforts, advocates and hiring managers said.”


How do personnel get skilled?

In the past it was left to the individual to become skilled in accessibility on their own. Of course that continues today. WebAIM is one resource that helps these individuals become proficient by providing content they need while supporting a community of practice for discussion and feedback. Other resources include widely available online courses and trainings. Numerous preservice and inservice initiatives also help ready the workforce for accessibility.

At the preservice level are hundreds of faculty who have added accessibility to their curricula. Sadly, in contrast to the numbers needed, this reach remains relatively small. The end result is a next generation of practitioners lacking the needed knowledge or skills in accessibility. Organizations such as Teach Access focus on solutions that can be applied broadly in higher education, such as getting accessibility into the curricula across many disciplines by leveraging the need of industry to hire these individuals and working to influence professional accreditation bodies (e.g., ABET and NASAD) to make accessibility a requirement in technology, design, and technical writing curricula. This is a slow process—accreditation bodies have not yet fully required that accessibility become part of courses at their member institutions. Even once they do, an institution may wait until their next accreditation refresh, which is typically in three- to five-year cycles.

At the inservice level, groups such as the International Association of Accessibility Professionals (IAAP) work on networking and knowledge/skill building. They promote the acquisition of knowledge and skills, and networking, and back it up with a growing variety of professional certifications. Over time they plan to cover more accessibility areas in their certification. Of course, many companies have internal processes to build and maintain their employees’ skills in accessibility. They do this because they must, not because they want to.

Rubbing salt into the wound

Web accessibility personnel tend to be older than other designers and developers. WebAIM’s 2021 Survey of Web Accessibility Practitioners had a significantly higher level of respondents that were over the age of 45 (37.3%) than did the 2020 Stack Overflow survey of web professionals as a whole (8.9%). While a single survey does not provide certainty, it is possible that personnel who have been in the field longer are also those who embraced accessibility skills at a different rate than those who are younger.

When these professionals retire, the impact on the field will be tremendous. The pool of professionals is small enough already—considering this eventual attrition, what will the field look like in ten or fifteen years?

An opportunity

“The Great Resignation” has seen millions of Americans voluntarily leave or switch jobs since the beginning of the pandemic. I agree with those calling this period the “Great Reshuffle”, as many people will reconfigure their careers or their jobs to a better, or more prosperous, fit. This is certainly happening in the tech industry. Wired calls it the “Great Reconsideration”, in part because those in tech are reconsidering how their work provides meaning.

Amid these seismic shifts in the workforce, how might this period provide opportunities to increase accessibility personnel? One way could be to consider why people left prior jobs to begin with: Salary? Work/life integration or balance? Feeling that their role has meaning?

We may never experience another period with so much promise to help personnel shift toward accessibility. Our ability to capitalize on the jobs phenomenon now could have long-term implications for accessibility well into the future—a future we all hope produces more equitable digital environments and content.

A call to action: Three things we can do right now

Evangelize to peers the importance of gaining web accessibility skills now from reputable sources.Advocate that your HR department include web accessibility in job titles and descriptions, and give preference to applicants who would bring that strength to the organization.Compete for talent with an understanding as to why people change jobs:Higher salary: Given that accessibility is a specialized and highly desired skill set that aligns with more seasoned professionals, could you boost the salary, grade, or title for personnel who come into accessibility positions?Work/life integration or balance: If you are in an area where employees typically make long commutes, could employees work remotely or with flexible schedules?Meaningful work: The ability to engage in social justice every day is for many the definition of “a meaningful job.” Web accessibility could sell itself, if enough people understood what it accomplishes. Consider devoting some time in your job announcements to how impactful the positions will be on the lives of others.

As you think of other ways to capitalize on the opportunity given us by the Great Resignation/Reshuffle/Reconsideration, please share them in the comments below. Let’s work together and make 2022 the year of the accessibility hire!

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