Interview Questions Accessibility Professionals should ask

Man using wheelchair and woman engaging in conversation in a business setting

How can you tell if your potential future employer is committed to improving things for people with disabilities or if they are just #Diversish.

A couple of months back, I wrote an article listing questions and behaviors that I thought were important for hiring managers to look for in accessibility candidates. In this article, I am going to turn the table and talk about questions that accessibility testers/managers should ask their potential future employers.

Will I have the authority to stop a release?

If you are going to ask difficult questions that put the hiring manager on the spot, might as well start with the biggest and gnarliest question first. The answer you want to hear is either “yes” or “yes under some very specialized conditions.” An unequivocal “no” answer is indicative that a company is looking for an an accessibility caretaker, not an accessibility leader. They want someone who looks good in an accessibility management position, but may not really care whether the accessibility needle moves forward. A true accessibility leader will have get frustrated working under these types of conditions.

Have you received any accessibility complaints?

The answer you want here, possibly surprisingly, is “yes”. If the hiring manager says no, that is a sign that either they are not really clued into what is going on, or they aren’t tracking the right details in customer support. Everyone has a history of accessibility complaints, even companies that are considered accessibility leaders like Apple, Google, and Microsoft.

What is your current budget (or if this is a new program, what type of budget do you think is reasonable)

The answer to this question will tell you many things:

  • whether the hiring manager really understands the scope of the job
  • whether the company is mature enough to have centralized the accessibility office and budget
  • whether or not you will largely have to offshore your accessibility testing resources.

A good followup question is whether a chargeback mechanism is used for accessibility costs. Departments are far less likely to voluntarily use accessibility resources when they are charged back for them. That will help you understand whether or not you are stepping into a role where an adversarial situation already exists between accessibility and the software development side of the house.

How is Design and UX research done here?

To run an optimal accessibility program, you need to get product input from people with disabilities. This is most easily done by integrating this type of inquiry into an existing design and UX research program.

How hard is it to set up a new vendor?

Given what a hot market accessibility testing is at the moment, you may need to set up crowdsourcing or consultancy vendors fairly quickly. If the vendor process is mired in red tape, this will really hinder your ability to set up a good accessibility testing program.

Can I talk to the head of D&I / Chief Diversity Officer?

Accessibility is rarely part of diversity and inclusion. Yet you can tell a lot about a company’s true overall commitment to people with disabilities from the attitudes towards disabilities exhibited by senior members of D&I. Find out:

  • What conferences the company speaks at or sponsors
  • Whether or not there is a disability ERG
  • What the corporate self-identification rate for disabilities is

What is the reasonable accommodations process?

If the hiring manager can’t answer that question, chances are there hasn’t been anyone with a significant disability working for them before. That should be a red flag. Accessibility is the easiest department to hire employees with disabilities into. If that is a new experience for that company, chances are people with disabilities are under-represented everywhere.

A good follow-on question to this one is whether the reasonable accommodations process is extended to contractors. A forward thinking company doesn’t distinguish between employees and contractors with respect to reasonable accommodations, they want everyone working at their best. A short sighted company will provide accommodations only to employees, which will impact the accessibility effort where contractors with disabilities are used.

Will I be able to talk about my work externally?

Companies that are scared of litigation will not let you speak outside of confidential settings. Good to know up front, especially if participating actively in CSUN or mEnabling, or blogging, or teaching at non-profit accessibility bootcamps is a big part of what makes you happy.

Will I be able to continue / start work on (committees, Open Source projects, etc.)?

If part of your own accessibility identity is the work you do with W3C, IAAP, or on accessibility components of open source projects, you should ask about this. Companies that don’t want you to talk about accessibility externally may also object to committee work or open source projects.

Lastly, some advice: Recognize your power in the current market

If you are a person with a disability, and many of us in the accessibility community are, we have the benefit of being in one of the hottest markets out there. Insanely high demand (with growth fueled by regulations) combined with very low supply mean that when accessibility professionals are looking for work, we can and should ask for everything we want while negotiating without fear that we are going to scare off the employer. That sounds easy; so why is it so hard?

Imposter syndrome is ridiculously rampant in our community. You know that sinking sense you feel in your stomach when you question yourself about whether you are a fraud in your industry, role or position, regardless of your credibility, authority or accomplishments? Yeah, that is Imposter Syndrome. Minorities who have been discriminated again have a higher rate of self-doubt. People with disabilities are the biggest minority group in the US. Lack of representation can make people with disabilities feel like outsiders, and discrimination creates even more stress and anxiety. Anyone with a disability has likely been discriminated against (either intentionally or unintentionally) more than once in the work setting.

Plenty of famous people have owned up to experiencing imposter syndrome, some of them on a very regular basis. Emma Watson, Sheryl Sandberg, Sonia Sotomayor, Tina Fey, Maya Angelou, Kate Winslett, Neil Gaiman and Seth Grodin all have publicly discussed their feelings of imposter syndrome. Many of us with congenital disabilities have it ingrained in our personalities that we should consider ourselves lucky for even being considered for a role. That is part of imposter syndrome. In actuality, you will never have more leverage than when an employer has made up their mind that they want to hire you.

So how do you overcome imposter syndrome? There are many articles on this topic, and several of them have no common suggestions at all. Here is what has worked for me:

  • Own the fact that you have had some role in your success. It isn’t all luck.
  • Focus on the good you can do in your role. As an accessibility manager, you can make it easier for other people with disabilities to participate equally in society, or help them get decent jobs by making software accessible. Even if you screw up now and then, that is still a great thing to be able to accomplish !
  • Understand that making a mistake doesn’t make you a fraud, it makes you human. It’s what you do with the learnings from failure that drive the ultimate lesson and outcome.

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