Web Accessibility: 6 Tips to Pass the Specialist Exam
With accessibility lawsuits in the news—like one against Dominos— more companies are recognizing the importance of serving the almost 20% of the people living with disabilities in the U.S. As a result, specialists who identify and fix website accessibility violations are in demand. If you’re interested in accessibility, you too can become an expert by getting certified as a Web Accessibility Specialist (WAS).
WAS is one of four Certifications from the International Association of Accessibility Professionals (IAAP). It’s a technical evaluation for professionals—developers, quality assurance engineers, or those who “design, develop, implement, evaluate, or manage” work in web development spaces. This 75-question, multiple-choice exam specifically evaluates your ability to recognize and correct accessibility challenges in code and content for the web.
At Velir, we’re committed to this level of knowledge about web accessibility — close to 20% of our Development team is trained and/or certified in web accessibility courses, and we regularly take time to further our learning with accessibility workshops and events. We also include accessibility checkpoints in our client projects to help ensure the websites we create are accessible.
We know that while the breadth of knowledge covered by the WAS exam can be intimidating, it’s not insurmountable! Here are the resources and tips that saw us through. We hope they’ll help you on your path to accessibility certification.
What is Accessibility?
If this question is top of mind, a certification probably isn’t on the table yet for you, but now is a great time to start your web accessibility journey. Check out How to Make Sure that Accessibility is Actually Accessible.
Regardless of your study strategy, your primary sources are going to be the IAAP’s Book of Knowledge (BOK) and the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). Learning their information can be daunting considering the BOK is a 42-page document, and WCAG has 78 Success Criteria to memorize, but with proper pacing and the right strategy, you can conquer them!
As a supplement to the BOK, we invested in prep courses with Deque University. Deque is a leader in the accessibility space—you may already use one of their aXe tools in your workflow—and their courses are a great introduction to the basic rules and vocabulary of accessibility professionals. The Book of Knowledge will still ultimately be your most valuable resource since it is written by the IAAP.
Now that you have your resources, here’s how to break them down.
1. Start Early
There's a lot to cover, so don’t cram it all in at the last minute just for a passing grade. Remember: your career as an accessibility professional does not begin and end with certification. This is all practical knowledge that you can and will use in practice on future projects. Start studying at least six weeks before your exam to ensure you can retain the information.
2. Form a Study Group
Even if you’re passionate about accessibility, finding the motivation and time to study for a formal exam can be difficult. Studying with at least one other person can keep you accountable for hitting the milestones needed to stay on track. Ask around at your company – because the more WAS certified members on your team, the better —or join like-minded communities like the A11Y Slack.
3. Create Flashcards
Flashcards are especially useful for getting to know your Success Criteria. Test your ability to match Success Criteria to their respective principle and conformance level. Is it Perceivable, Operable, Understandable, or Robust (POUR)? Is it A, AA, or AAA? Understanding POUR and the different levels of conformance will help you understand how these rules are interconnected, making them easier to recall. Flashcards are also useful for testing your keyboard shortcut knowledge for screen readers.
4. Practice with a Real Screen Reader
We suggest getting familiar with at least one popular screen reader and browser combination on both desktop and mobile. As a starting point, NVDA is a robust, free screen reader for Windows users, while Mac users should become familiar with VoiceOver and Safari. Try using your phone on accessibility mode for a day! Do you need to know every screen reader for the exam? It would help, but it’s not practical. Cheat sheets are available for common screen reader shortcuts, and you can cover your bases by recognizing the patterns between screen reader shortcuts.
5. Practice Making Your Code Accessible
6. Focus on the Study Methods That Work for You
Think about when you were in school and what study techniques worked best for you. Maybe you get distracted with study groups, or you know that you absorb auditory information better than written text. The important thing to remember is that this isn’t a cram exam: you’re hoping to retain this knowledge for use in the field. So, focus on learning the information in the ways that will help you remember it in the long run.
Last on your checklist—and maybe the most important—is to make all your preparations to take the test! Make sure to book a slot through the IAAP website and check out the hardware requirements to make sure that you have everything you need. In our case, taking the exam during the height of the pandemic meant remote examinations and being responsible for setting up our desks, cameras, and test taking software in accordance with IAAP-provided guidelines. In other cases, you may need to find an exam location.
Good luck with your studies!