Although I am usually not afraid of confrontation, this is an article that I have avoided writing about for a while. No matter what I write below, I’m going to piss someone off. Spending the last two months in a really intense “pitchathon” program has helped thicken my skin in a few places, so upon multiple requests, I am putting my thoughts out there on salaries and cost per hour that accessibility consults should expect to receive, and organizations should expect to pay.
Disclaimer: I currently work (or have worked in the past) with several accessibility consultancies, but have not spoken with any of them about this article. I was a Level Access contractor in 2014 (when it was SSB Bart Group).
A friend of mine reached out on LinkedIn. She had recently interviewed at a large university in a very big city who was currently in litigation over lack of WCAG compliance. They offered her what would be effectively poverty wages in that particular city for a position with an end date (funding was not guaranteed after a certain point) where they were requesting someone with:
- Five years of experience
- IAAP certification
- WCAG testing skills utilizing many forms of assistive technology
- Coding capabilities in Drupal, WordPress, and PHP, and;
- Curriculum development skills.
So basically what they were looking for was:
– someone with incredibly elite skills (testing/coding/training)
– to dig them out of the accessibility hole they deliberately put themselves in
– where they had already incurred hundreds of thousands of dollars if not more defending their inaccessible and discriminatory web pages
– at effectively fast food wages
– with no guarantee of ongoing work 🙁
Here is why this should never, EVER happen.
At its most basic level, accessibility is a specialized form of QA.
Accessibility testing involves regulatory compliance. This means software is being evaluated to demonstrate where regulations are NOT being followed. That makes accessibility no different than GDPR, IPV6, HIPAA, PCI, security testing, performance testing or any other form of black-box or white-box QA software testing.
In fact, accessibility testing is harder than other forms of regulatory compliance QA for the following reasons:
- Accessibility regulations can be quite vague, and occasionally require significant interpretation based on experience to determine whether the guidelines are being adequately followed.
- Accessibility testing is currently largely manual. Only 30 % of the guidelines can be tested through code analysis by a tool.
- Accessibility testing also requires a fairly high EQ (emotional quotient). The most effective accessibility testers either:
a) have disabilities; or
b) can genuinely and authentically place themselves in the position of their users with disabilities.
– You would not expect to pay peanuts and find someone qualified to test software PCI, security, or performance.
– It is offensive to offer peanuts to accessibility testers
– It is bordering on the discriminatory to offer peanuts to accessibility testers with disabilities, and blatantly discriminatory if you pay more to testers without disabilities
It is also incredibly short-sighted to underpay accessibility testers given the current high demand and short supply triggered by the Domino’s case.
- High staff turnover will seriously impede remediation efforts and progress.
- Poorly executed accessibility programs develop “reputations” in what is a fairly small community. There are several programs I am aware of where contractor/employee churn is so high, payment is so low, and the standards are frequently undercut by people outside of accessibility (for “business reasons”) that high quality accessibility testers and managers would never consider being associated with them.
- Accessibility testers with disabilities do not need to be grateful to be receiving work from vendors/organization. The person with the disability is helping the organization needing accessibility subject matter expertise, not the other way around.
So, how much should I pay for an accessibility tester?
Not surprisingly, qualifications and location are the two criteria that impact pricing the most.
Accessibility testers from established overseas consultancies can be found for as little as $20-$25 an hour. If cost is of paramount importance to you, that could be a good way to go. But there are a lot of headaches associated with overseas contracting including:
- language barriers
- time zone differences
- security for pre-release code
- establishing test environments
- facilitating conversations between the testers and design/development teams
- and last but not least, finding people with experience with American regulations and attitudes towards disability
India is really the only tech nation overseas with any significant qualified accessibility testing consultant base.
Full-time US employee w/ Benefits
In the US, you should expect to pay the same amount for an accessibility tester as any other type of technical QA.
According to PayScale, a mid-level QA Analyst in San Francisco should expect to receive a salary of up to $75K, with a 20 % bump for “regulatory compliance” experience, and a 10K bonus potential as part of the benefits. This puts the mid-range for this level of experience at approximately $100K and the 90th percentile for this range at $138K. That is for someone who is not CPWA certified and cannot code, just a tester/analyst who finds and documents bugs.
The exact same skills in Omaha can be had for over 1/3 less (65K median, 99K 90th percentile) because the cost of living is so much lower in Omaha than in SF.
US contractor rates
Typically, a formula can be used to convert benefited full time rates into hourly contract rates. If you are going to pay 100K for a full time benefited QA engineer, that will cost you:
- a minimum of $100 an hour if you are going through an agency;
- $70 an hour for a W-2 contract not through an agency, and;
- $76 an hour for a business-to-business invoicing relationship
So a company who is offering under $50 an hour for this type of work for on-site in an expensive area like NYC or SF is frankly insulting and those types of organizations are going to get exactly what they pay for. The only companies who should legitimately think they can get someone competent with substantial accessibility testing experience for below-market rates are:
a) *true* non-profits. This means not universities, hospitals, or public agencies but organizations who really don’t have a lot of reliable income / donations coming in and put most of what they do get to further accomplish the mission of the non-profit.
b) companies providing types of flexibility or benefits that are more important to some testers than money (WFH positions or tuition reimbursement, for example)
Underpaying for accessibility testing will kill a program before it is even born. Please consider that when setting rates before recruiting begins.