A starter pack of accessibility resources
Workshops, meetups, online classes, and experts who can help you learn to make your work more accessible
Editor’s note: Aditi also wrote about her own learning process in making accessibility a part of her work. You can find her essay here: Why web accessibility matters to me.
If you’re new to accessible design, it may feel daunting to think of the work that lies ahead of you, but everyone in this field had to start somewhere. Once I realised accessibility was a baseline and not a ceiling, making my work more inclusive became an integral part of my workflow rather than an extra task between me and the publish button.
Learning something on the job is rarely a linear process. Here are some resources you may find helpful based on your preferred learning style. Many of them are free, and some of them are paid resources (here’s one possible place to look for financial support):
The International Association of Accessibility Professionals (IAAP) offers four professional certification options, including the Certified Professional in Accessibility Core Competencies (CPACC) and Web Accessibility Specialist (WAS) certificates. These certificates confirm that you’ve passed an exam and achieved a certain level of proficiency in digital accessibility, but more importantly they each have a structured syllabus that breaks down each topic into smaller, more manageable sections. Each certification exam has its own fee—people from developing nations may be eligible for a discount—but access to the syllabus is free.
NV Access, the charity company behind the screen reader NVDA, also has a paid expert certification, though the training course and exam are free. Getting officially certified is a personal choice, but I’ve found it helpful to follow the syllabus and fill in the knowledge gaps I’ve had. It gave me the starting points I needed to learn more about disability theory and international accessibility policies, and then I let myself jump down any rabbit holes I wanted.
If you would rather take a class that walks you through the syllabus using video resources, articles, and quiz exercises, you may prefer these:
- edX CPACC training course (paid)
- Coursera class offered by the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign
- Deque CPACC preparation course (paid)
There are also online tutorials that don’t follow the CPACC or WAS syllabus:
If self-study isn’t your thing, you may prefer an individual or team workshop led in real-time:
- Deque leads virtual and in-person workshops focused on topic areas (e.g. web accessibility, document accessibility etc.) and job roles (e.g. front-end devs). (paid)
- WebAIM offers workshops on web, Zoom and document accessibility, as well as customised training sessions. (paid)
Conferences and meet-ups
There are lots of accessibility conferences and meet-ups that feature talks, demos, and panels about various aspects of digital accessibility, from implementation to testing to policy standards and more.
- If you’re looking for an online conference to watch live or later at your own pace, you may enjoy Axe-con, a free online conference organised by Deque
- California State University’s Center on Disabilities also hosts an annual assistive technology conference
- The monthly a11yTalks series, founded by accessibility specialist Carie Fisher, is broadcast live on YouTube. “A11y” is a commonly-used numeronym for accessibility, abbreviated to stand for the 11 letters between “A” and “Y” in the original word.
- Local meet-ups such as A11yNYC often host in-person events but have moved them online since the pandemic began
Online communities and resources
- The a11y Slack channel is available for anyone interested in accessibility and has a ton of useful channels, including #training, #a11y-patterns, #beginners, and #certification-study-group. It may seem a bit overwhelming at first if you’re new to accessibility work, but stick around and you’ll find a passionate community that’s excited to discuss and share best practises and resources.
- If you’re already part of the News Nerdery Slack, check out the #accessibility channel for discussions more specific to news and information development and design.
- The A11Y Project is a collection of resources and articles focused on designing and building digital experiences that are both beautiful and accessible (because those things aren’t mutually exclusive).
- Accessibility twitter is very active and a useful way to keep up with new developments in the field. Lists like Accessibility voices, curated by developer and journalism educator Patrick Garvin, can even help you find accessibility consultants, trainers, and experts specific to your field of interest.
- The National Center on Disability and Journalism has a comprehensive style guide in multiple languages for reporting on issues related to disability. Your organisation may have a support network for disabled employees, so it’s worth also reaching out to a network leader to ask if anyone has volunteered or is interested in doing sensitivity reads for stories about disability. (Of course, the best time to involve a sensitivity reader is after you’ve done your own homework, and just because someone is disabled doesn’t mean they’ll automatically want to do it.)
Twitter can also help you find experts who create and share content about disability and accessibility. Many of them are disabled professionals in and outside the field of news and information, so they also have the expertise of personal experience. Here’s a brief list in no specified order of some experts whose work I appreciate:
- Alexa Heinrich, who is running an A/B study on how alt text affects the performance of tweets that contain images
- Frank Elavsky, creator of the Chartability metric for testing data visualisation projects
- Anna E. Cook, an accessibility designer who writes and gives talks about about digital accessibility and inclusion
- Imani Barbarin, who creates social media content about disability and accessibility and how they intersect with marginalised identities
- Amy Carney, an accessibility specialist who maintained a blog about her experience preparing for the IAAP WAS and CPACC certificates
- Chancey Fleet, who works in assistive tech education at the New York Public Library
- Crystal Preston-Watson, an accessibility engineer who has created talks and articles about accessibility testing and design
- Sarah L. Fossheim, a developer and designer with expertise in accessible data visualisation
- EJ Mason, a web accessibility consultant and engineer whose writing frequently brings to light the ableism built into the systems around us
- Patrick Garvin, whose enthusiasm for alt text has played a huge role in how I approach writing and editing it
- Keah Brown, writer and actress who created the #DisabledAndCute hashtag
- Carie Fisher, who founded A11Y Talks and designed the iconic A11y Cat illustration
- Eric Bailey, who helps run the A11Y Project and created a list of prompts that help designers and developers build empathy for people who experience things in different ways
- Amy Cesal, who wrote a very helpful guide to writing alt text for data visualisations
A short list of free accessibility testing tools
While you’re learning more about disability, here are some tools you can use to test your work. Even when you’re short on time, it’s much easier to test for accessibility at multiple stages of your design process than to try and shoehorn it in during the last few minutes before your project publishes. Above all, accessibility is about increasing usability, not just compliance with a guide or web standard like WCAG or Section 508.
- Check how users with different kinds of colour vision might see your work using tools like Colour Oracle, Contrast Ratio and Color Contrast Analyser. You can also use A11y Color Palette to find accessible colour combinations using the colours in your design system.
- Apple products come with a built-in screen reader called VoiceOver, and Windows users can download the free NVDA software to hear how their work sounds. These are two of the most commonly used pieces of screen-reading software, and keep in mind that they may not work identically so it’s best to test with multiple software if you can.
- Automated accessibility checkers like axe’s DevTools browser extension or Google’s Lighthouse can help you identify and fix some of the easier bugs like missing alt text or colour contrast so you can focus on manually testing more complex and unique designs—preferably with real users.
Aditi Bhandari (she/her) joined Reuters as a data visualisation developer in 2019. She has previously worked at the Hindustan Times and interned at several U.S. newsrooms after graduating from Northwestern University in 2017, where she was a Knight Lab student fellow. When she’s not researching web accessibility or good-naturedly cursing the inventor of [insert programming language here], she’s either watching food documentaries or listening to pop-culture podcasts.