A former team member reached out to me today. He was disappointed because he didn’t get an accessibility testing contract that frankly, he was overqualified for. When I asked what went wrong, he said “they wanted someone who knew more JAWS.”
JAWS, or any other accessibility testing tool or piece of assistive technology, is a tangible skill. You either have it or you don’t, and if you don’t have it, it is a skill that is not particularly difficult to acquire.
For an accessibility tester to be successful, intangible skills are far more important than tangible ones.
Creative problem-solving is a key skill Determining the best way to resolve the failure of following a WCAG guideline can require significant creativity. Good problem-solving skills can take a company from compliance to a company that publicly demonstrates that it cares about the experience of its customers with disabilities. Compliant is announcing everything that is seen. A good experience is figuring out how to suppress spurious announcements in inline field validation. Look for candidates with the ability to find solutions by working creatively both within and beyond existing systems and constraints. Many great accessibility testers can’t cite which WCAG guideline pertains to form legends, but they inherently know and more importantly can explain what makes a good form.
The ability to keep calm in the face of fire is a must Until an organization has a mature accessibility testing function, accessibility testing frequently comes at the end of the dev/QA cycle. Even if the organization has mature accessibility processes, the late discovery of serious accessibility issues can hold up a release. A good accessibility tester can find bugs, a great accessibility tester knows what is important and what isn’t (hint: it doesn’t always correlate to A and AA). They compromise when they can and stick to their guns when they can’t.
Learning agility is crucial The technology stack for users with disabilities is deep. Hardware, Operating Systems, Browsers and Assistive Technology belongs to dozens of different manufacturers all on their own release timeline. New assistive technology is continually hitting the market. When unpredictable change is the norm, whoever fills an accessibility testing role needs to have the flexibility and agility to learn and adapt rapidly.
The ability to get work done through influence and persuasion is essential Accessibility cuts across all aspects of an organization. Rarely do accessibility testers solve problems themselves, they need to influence others to prioritize solving the problem for them. A successful accessibility testing candidate should demonstrate the necessary emotional intelligence to collaborate effectively with others and enlist support from people over whom they will have no formal power. A good accessibility tester can tell you that a skip to content link is required, a great one can give you an example of where their favorite one is implemented and tell you WHY skip to content links are important which results in creating empathy for the disabled user’s situation.
Bottom line — tangible skills can be taught fairly easily, intangibles cannot. Look for the intangibles, and teach the tangible skills that the candidate does not have. Not only will you have a better employee, but ongoing opportunities for growth will likely reduce employee turnover which can be extremely costly.
If you have a candidate who has some or all the intangible qualities outlined above, and doesn’t know JAWS, hire them. Quickly. As far as my former co-worker goes, I am hoping he lands at a company that appreciates the intangibles he possesses as a great accessibility tester and gives him the time to learn JAWS if needed.