This one deserves own blog post. Not to brag. Not at all – as to be honest I thought the exam would be far more difficult than it was.
I am not saying it was easy though!
My accessibility awareness begun years ago but it was not until few years back that I really thought about it’s implications for the average web user that include also people that are forced to access the web in other ways. Like for example screen-reader.
But before I decided to dedicate myself to really thinking of accessibility first – I newer studied it so thoroughly than I had done before taking this exam.
And I think this is the main point besides the official recognition – to understand the main points that can sometimes also be hidden in the details, sometimes even seem to be contradictory and quite often allow plethora of practical solutions.
So – divide and conquer – just like we people like to cope with big subjects, be it study materials or even other problems that scope out of IT – was the solution for this one.
The official content outline from the International Association of Accessibility Professionals (opens in new window) is a big help to cope with splitting the materials, I will not copy it here but let me just present key points from it in next chapters.
1. Creating Accessible Web Solutions part (40% of the exam)
Creating Accessible Web Solutions part stands for 40% of the exam and is covering all the principles, guidelines and techniques that accessibility specialists must know and I must say that I learned a lot about Authoring Tools Accessibility Guidelines (ATAG) as well as re-learning some parts of Web Accessibility Initiative’s Accessible Rich Internet Applications (WAI-ARIA).
Was not aware of all limitations of the specific guidelines before, so it was a very good thing to learn about those.
Coding practices and basic programming patterns were not a new thing but I was appreciating the different usability patterns that one must follow when developing new components.
Some quality assurance (QA) knowledge I gained will also be of use in my day-to-day development for sure.
The most valuable knowledge-gap filling experience for me was most definitely getting practical experience with screen-readers (especially on desktop but also on mobile devices). It is amazing how we can use the devices without actually seeing and it made me even more aware of the importance of accessible websites and applications.
In last few years and with React, Vue and other frameworks being almost a standard for some parts of the web I really appreciated the Single Page Application (SPA) accessibility highlights – with all the special details and best practices I have learned about. This was also very useful when I think of micro frontend‘s and other implementations that are on my to-do list.
And last – but not least – the different practices and strategies that persons with disabilities use when they interact with digital products. Again – anything that makes me more aware of the alternative access is directly transformed to my thinking and building my awareness.
We should be familiarized with alternatives of access on the first day of our careers or even better – the first day of our studies – as it is the key to understand the Why behind accessibility.me, reflecting on the lack of awareness and education about reasons for accessibility.
2. Identify accessibility issues in web solutions (40% of the exam)
For this part I learned a lot of testing practices, methodologies, some compatibility issues that can be a problem easy to forget, and also what is normative versus what isn’t, how to really test a web page (or web application) with a screen-reader on desktop and mobile devices and what to be extra careful about when discovering new pages with different semantics.
It was also useful to test with different disabilities in mind, and even more interesting to think of variations and combinations of disabilities that is unfortunately quite common in the real world. So we must never forget that some people may live with multiple disabilities and therefore we must also test with multiple simulations at once.
Testing tools for automatic testing are a valuable companion and I have written quite some posts on them and will still have to do as they are constantly evolving and improving and only time will show the implications of modern computational advancements on digital accessibility.
And this could not be a more proper time to include a tweet from Elon Musk as they will try to demonstrate a working Neuralink device today, 28.8.2020;
This device has a lot of potential for accessibility in my opinion as it can actually overcome some obstacles in the human – computer interaction – if the creators will make the right choices. As always – time will show – but I like to believe that it can be a big step forward to a more including digital world. Fingers crossed…
Back to preparing for exam – as mentioned – I’ve learned a lot on testing for accessibility issues and even done some additional courses with different tools and extensions that I liked to compare a bit. That is a subject for multiple blog-posts for sure, so let me continue with the preparation – I also learned a lot more about keyboard shortcuts that one must be aware of when using screen-reader. There are a lot of updated resources online, but it is important to say that I would like them to be more consistent. They are pretty much consistent in general, but still not overall. The same can be said with mobile device interactions in screen-reader mode – Android and iPhone using different ones.
Again my comments on this – I guess it is a matter of design choices and usability and we must give a lot of credit to the manufacturers but they should maybe make the interfaces more consistent and maybe even a standard – that would really be a true accessibility as well
3. Remediating issues in web solutions (20% of the exam)
Now – it is a very logical sequence – last part how to remediate issues – and here I was normally referring to all the knowledge before and adding setting the levels of severity and correct prioritization – thinking of implications for the user ranking the highest but also thinking cost benefits and potential legal risks as well.
The most valuable part of learning for this was the different techniques and strategies to fix issues – and understanding that sometimes there are multiple ways and not just a single one. And sometimes we must just re-design and maybe even drop some parts that can not be made accessible.
Some additional thoughts
Well, there is a big subject on how to make the video more accessible and there are also a lot of guidelines, suggestions and rules that has to be followed. It looks almost like a own chapter of accessibility and is sometimes scoping out towards usability – as also with other parts.
Screen-reader testing that I learned is very basic. I need more “real-world” experiences and I will try to get more information about it from real users. It can potentially also be learned wrong was my conclusion, so I will most definitely use more time on that.
Some recommendations are well documented but are still just recommendations. So I was sometimes a bit disappointed when I idealistically believed them and then found out that not all senior accessibility experts support them. It was a bit confusing experience for me – happened when I was already waiting for the exam and I will never know if I answered correctly or not (that is a policy that I respect because it prevents tests to become public and it is a correct thing).
The waiting period is a bit cruel at first sight – as I was actually doing the exam online (do not worry – I was monitored by my web cam the whole time and no cheating is possible – so it is best to really study and not try to cheat and you will be OK). But after returning to the page to check for the reasons I had to agree – the tests are reviewed also based on additional feedback and there are time slots for each exams that are then scored at the end, so that they have some possibilities to potentially adapt the scoring when needed.
I was thinking about it a lot and going through questions and answers in my mind for quite some days after the exam – and evaluated that I did some mistakes and that I should learn more about parts that I doubted about in the exam, so it seems that the waiting was actually encouraging me even more and I continued to study and attend to different online courses and webinars, so that I tried to fill some minor gaps.
We are not allowed to discuss the details about the exam, so please do not ask me about specifics but I can assure you that if you really study the WCAG, ARIA, about NVDA, JAWS, VoiceOver, TalkBack and other assistive technologies and other official resources you will most probably have enough knowledge to pass the exam.
WAS certification is only one step on my path to really master accessibility – it can be seen as only a paper – but there are a lot of lessons learned behind it.me, reflecting on this step of my accessibility journey.