Job: Web-accessibility specialist
The role: As more tools and services move online, accessibility issues are no longer confined to the physical world. Those who live with auditory, visual, mobility, cognitive or other disabilities are often able to participate in digital activities with a few additional pieces of hardware or software. The role of a web-accessibility specialist is to ensure that websites, applications and other digital tools are compatible with these technologies.
“What web-accessibility specialists like myself do are both audits and remediation of existing websites and software to make sure they are accessible for people with disabilities,” said Janos Sitar, a web-accessibility specialist for Vancouver-based Central 1 Credit Union. “And when new systems are developed, we also work to make sure that the designs are amenable to everyone.”
Mr. Sitar explains that most web accessibility specialists will spend a majority of their time testing the accessibility of websites, and about a quarter of their time researching and designing solutions, often alongside a web-development team. They also spend a portion of their time staying on top of trends and advancements in the industry.
Mr. Sitar adds that within Canada, the role is heavily concentrated in Ontario thanks to the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA). The act stipulates that all newly created websites must meet provincial guidelines for accessibility, and all websites regardless of when they were created must meet those same standards by January of 2021. The role is also common among larger organizations that service markets where similar standards are enforced, such as the United States and Britain.
Salary: According to the online career resource Neuvoo, the average salary of a web-accessibility specialist in Canada is $72,919 a year. Furthermore, an international study by Web Accessibility in Mind, or WebAIM, found that 67.6 per cent of practitioners expect to earn more than US$60,000 in 2018, or about $78,000.
“For entry level, it’s usually somewhere in the $40,000 to $60,000 [per year] range, and mid-career would be $60,000 to $100,000 [annually] or higher, and then management is usually $100,000 [a year] and higher,” Mr. Sitar said.
Education: While an educational background in computer science or software engineering is of benefit, it is often not a requirement for entry-level employment, as web accessibility specialists typically prescribe solutions that are implemented by dedicated developer teams.
“If you can do the work, nobody really cares what your educational background is,” Mr. Sitar explained. “It can vary depending on the workplace; there are people with backgrounds in computer sciences, but I had a degree in Greek and Roman studies and a degree in English and a Masters in film studies.”
The International Association of Accessibility Professionals also offers a Certified Professional in Web Accessibility (CPWA) designation to those that successfully complete an online training program and pass an exam, but Mr. Sitar says the certification is not necessarily a requirement for employment.
“You could get higher compensation for it, and at the same time it also enables you to enter more of a leadership role,” he said. “It's not absolutely required, but at a certain point if you've been in the field for four or five years you should probably get it.”
Job prospects: While job prospects have been largely concentrated in the province of Ontario, the recently introduced Bill C-18, known as the Accessible Canada Act, could soon mandate the same requirements countrywide.
“There’s definitely a shortage of qualified people, and a federal law is coming,” Mr. Sitar said. “If Ontario doesn’t have enough people who can do this now, then when this goes federal there will definitely not be enough people across the country.”
Why they do it: Web-accessibility specialists are motivated by the ability to make technology accessible to all.
“One of the things I love about my job is the fact that my entire role is dedicated to making things better for people,” Mr. Sitar said. “So a person who is blind could actually be working as a professional lawyer or an accountant.”
Misconceptions: Mr. Sitar says many mistakenly believe that those with disabilities are unable to utilize modern technology.
“I still run into people who think that a person who is visually impaired can’t use a computer,” he said. “The technology is so powerful now that there are people who are legally blind and are also photographers with their own Instagram accounts.”
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