Karl Groves

Tech Accessibility Consultant
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Has IAAP gotten itself sorted?

If you follow me on Twitter, you may have noticed a recent Tweetstorm about IAAP and their certification(s). I’ve been rather open on my opinions about certification, in general. Despite having a handful of certifications myself, my observations on IAAP and their certification were that any certifications around accessibility must be rigorous, fair, reliable, defensible, and valid. My impression of IAAP did not give me much faith in the organization or their certification.

I need to be clear: The Accessibility industry needs a professional organization like IAAP and professional certification. I want IAAP to be it, but my experiences with the organization’s early days left me feeling frustrated by impressions of impropriety by initial leadership.

I’m not alone in these feelings. During CSUN 2012 and shortly after, people such as John Foliot, Sharron Rush, L√©onie Watson, and many others gave their thoughts. While many (most) people agreed on the need for an organization like IAAP, several people also voiced concern around a lack of transparency and a lack of involvement from the accessibility community itself.

To me, the IAAP felt as though it was foisted on the accessibility world, along with its preselected leadership – the product of Microsoft, Adobe, and SSB BART Group, the latter of which being the only accessibility company that apparently knew anything about the project. The first misstep, therefore, is that a professional organization dealing with accessibility didn’t actually invite the accessibility profession along for the ride.

I actually don’t have any problem with the “secretive” nature of IAAP’s formation. I personally don’t have the patience to deal with “consensus-based” work, the likes of which are necessary to put together something like IAAP. Despite my best intentions, my own involvement in various W3C activities have been very brief. Each time I tried, my lack of patience has gotten the best of me. So opening a broad call for involvement and comments on the formation of IAAP would only result in chaos. That said, the absence of other accessibility companies in the initial founding stages was certainly off-putting. The fact is that in 2012 there were very few “players” in accessibility. Internationally you could only name about 6-10 in 2012. Although I have immense respect for the volume of work in this field from some of those involved in the early days of IAAP, I think this initial list of companies should have included Deque and TPG, at the very least. NoMensa and Interactive Accessibility would also be good inclusions.

After IAAP was officially “a thing”, they aggressively sought founding members, and many of the aforementioned accessibility companies joined on as such. Though this was a step in the right direction, the leadership structure was already set. One of those early founding members became frustrated with the lack of transparency and other issues and decided to let their membership lapse when it came time to renew.

But things (may) have changed

Between that time and now, a lot has happened. Three things are most notable for me: Leadership changes at the top, the creation of a handful of certifications, and IAAP has become a division of G3ICT. On my end, I haven’t paid much attention to IAAP over the last couple of years. I had put them out of my mind and moved on. Sharon Spencer and I spoke very briefly during the 2017 ICT Accessibility Testing Symposium. The conversation was very short but we committed to following up further at another time, which we did at Accessing Higher Ground.

During the conversation, I conveyed my concerns to Sharon about the formation and early days of IAAP.

A summary of what we talked about

IAAP was formed without the involvement of the community

As I mentioned earlier, IAAP was basically announced at CSUN 2012. This left many people, myself included, feeling as though IAAP was foisted upon us. But, Sharon reminded me that this wasn’t actually the case. The initial founders of the organization had done plenty of research – market research, if you will – about the viability of such an organization. I recalled a survey making its way around social media about the viability of a professional accessibility organization. Because I had already had a few conversations with Rob Sinclair several months before, I knew what the survey was hinting at. So, I was wrong to convey IAAP as being foisted on the accessibility field. They had done a fair amount of background work before moving forward with the organization

IAAP was formed with the purpose of creating certifications for industry

I have the impression that IAAP’s primary purpose for existing is to create certifications. My conversation with Sharon did not really change this view. Depending on your perspective, this is a good thing, anyway. My objection is really just that I feel that professional development should be the primary goal of an organization like IAAP, with a certification being the by-product of the professional development. The converse seems to be the case with IAAP.

That said, they do offer a lot of opportunities for learning about accessibility, such as webinars and an accessibility body of knowledge (which I first proposed in 2011)

IAAP certifications lack rigor

Early efforts at creating a certification left me with the impression that it was about as organized as the Keystone Kops. The initial list of committee members contained an inordinately high number of people who, despite their enthusiasm, had not earned my professional respect and had no professional history that involved creating a professional certification. As the committee has evolved, however, my concerns have been somewhat allayed, especially thanks to the involvement by Dr. Reed Castle. I’m hoping that IAAP can eventually become ANSI 17024 certified.

IAAP is clearly moving in the right direction here. At the moment, I still do not have much respect for their certifications. The accessibility community is very small. As a consequence, I’ve gotten to know a number of people listed as having IAAP’s WAS Certification. Many of the names on that list do not have what I would consider to be sufficient web development skill. Furthermore, these are people who will openly admit that they have no development skills. While they may know a fair amount about accessibility, the WAS is supposed to be IAAP’s hard certification. Based on who I see listed as having the cert, I do not view the WAS as representing the level of skill that IAAP thinks it does. As the owner of a company that offers accessibility products and services, I would not list a WAS certification as a desired characteristic for job candidates.

Certain companies appear to have undue influence over IAAP – especially training and certification

Only two companies are listed as authorized certification providers: Deque and Level Access. Paul Bohman of Deque is the certification chair. Only one of those authorized providers offers online certification prep. It is an obvious Conflict of Interest that the certification process is driven by the only authorized training provider and one of only two authorized in-person providers.

Sharon assured me that steps were being taken to eliminate this conflict of interest. This is encouraging, for sure.


Overall, I left the discussion feeling enthusiastic. It appears that a lot of my negative view of IAAP was driven mostly by witnessing the growing pains of a new organization with lofty goals. I’m still not convinced all of the wrinkles have been ironed out, especially on the certification front, but I am convinced that our industry needs an organization like IAAP. Accessibility is too important and we need a way to grow the field and grow the skills of those who’ve chosen this field.

Is it time to get involved?

Fighting uphill battles has never really been my thing, nor has taking part in groups I can’t believe in. I avoided IAAP entirely because of this. My initial, highly critical and negative view of IAAP has eased quite a bit. But has it shifted enough to become involved? I hope so.

I’d like to see IAAP continue making improvements, especially in working toward ANSI 17024. I’d like to see a higher degree of transparency across the organization. I’d like to see more authorized certification prep providers. I’d like to see even more professional development resources and more outreach. All indications seem to suggest that progress is being made here.

Ultimately, an organization like IAAP lives and dies based on their ability to meet the expectations of the professionals they attempt to serve. Each person involved in the accessibility profession should consider joining and supporting the organization, with the caveat that you should also assertively let your expectations and desires known to its leadership.

Management: Avoid making this costly accessibility mistake

In a few months, I begin my 15th year doing accessibility work and my first year 100% self-employed. As I reflect on the path that brought me here, I’m reminded of so many people who work at accessibility consulting firms that had similar experiences.

In 2003-2004 I worked as E-Commerce Manager for NASA Federal Credit Union and became introduced to accessibility in rapid fashion. Prior to that time, I had cursory exposure to it hearing people like Patrick Lauke, David Dorward, and Mike Davies talk about accessibility on Usenet newsgroups. While accessibility was definitely something that made sense to me, I didn’t have any real exposure to users with disabilities until starting at NASA Federal Credit Union.

The credit union had two blind engineers who were members of the credit union. They were very assertive about contacting the credit union to discuss problems on the website and, as E-Commerce Manager, those calls went to me. Talking to real people impacted by accessibility problems solidified the importance of ensuring our online services were accessible. My existing interest in usability and accessibility intensified and I began evangelizing accessibility internally. For the most part I received mostly lip service.

My place in the org chart actually placed me within marketing (an interesting topic for another blog post) and my immediate superiors didn’t give a shit about accessibility. The people in IT didn’t really give a shit. The CEO didn’t give a shit. When I tried making accessibility a factor in purchasing 3rd party software, I was blown off. All of the accessibility “wins” were gained subversively. For instance, when someone complained that the HTML tables for loan rates were ugly, I took the opportunity to redesign them to not only be better looking but accessible. The same goes for forms, global template & navigation, etc. A microsite I designed for them won the CUES Diamond Award for E-Marketing. Still, online banking, statements, and many more things were still off limits.

One day, the CEO discovered an article about Usability in Credit Union Magazine by CUNA and asked the VP of Marketing “Why aren’t we doing this?”. And with that, the VP of marketing suddenly decided he gave a shit. After a short research project, I started seeking proposals from usability consultants to work with us to improve the site and our online services.

Along the way, I got to know Bill Killam of User-Centered Design. I was really drawn to his No BS sales approach and actual desire to help. Somehow, during our conversations, he communicated that he needed some web development help – part time, something I could do on the side. Very quickly, however, he had enough work come in for web development that he needed full-time help. Here was a guy who cared about users, had cool work to do, and wouldn’t argue about accessibility. My situation was the exact opposite at the credit union. I jumped at the chance and my life was changed forever.

Though the details will differ, the story is largely the same for a ton of people at accessibility consulting firms. People like Glenda Sims, Elle Waters, Marcy Sutton, Dennis Deacon, Billy Gregory, John Foliot, and many more who are at the big accessibility consulting firms were first working in accessibility elsewhere. While I can’t speak for the above list, I can say that there’s a definite theme to why they chose to work for an accessibility consulting firm.

Avoid losing valuable expertise

Turnover in professional environments is costly – ” the cost of employee turnover to for-profit organizations has been estimated to be between 30% (the figure used by the American Management Association) to upwards of 150% of the employees’ remuneration package”. For this reason alone you should seek to retain your accessibility resources. But there’s so much more.

Accessibility is a niche field. Expertise in accessibility is hard to find. Nobody teaches it in school and virtually all professional development efforts in this area are relatively recent. Mentorship programs don’t exist, and almost everyone involved in accessibility are self-taught. The challenges that these factors pose are a discussion for another time, but what this means is that if you have someone on staff who cares about and is already knowledgeable about accessibility, you need to keep them.

You need this person. There was once a time where there was a predictable way to determine your risk of a lawsuit oriented around your industry and your organization’s size. Since 2015 however, the discussion is no longer about “if” you get sued, but “when”. Whether or not you agree with it, advocates for the disabled are tired of waiting for organizations to make their websites accessible and are now sending out legal demand letters en masse and filing tons of lawsuits to all sorts of organizations, large and small. Your internal accessibility advocate can help you avoid getting sued (if you listen to them) and will definitely be important if you do. A number of the reasons people get sued, and several requirements called for in settlements are directly related to the type of work performed by your internal accessibility SME. If your existing accessibility SME leaves, you’ll need to hire one.

There’s really only one logical choice you can make when it comes to any internal accessibility advocates you may have: keep them happy. Foster their personal and professional growth. Support them. Give them a real voice and listen to them. Take them seriously. Let them mentor others who also care about accessibility. You will need them someday.

Applying Utilitarianism

The greatest happiness of the greatest number is what Jeremy Bentham stated as the goal of Utilitarianism. But this isn’t to say that our goal is simple “pleasure”. John Stuart Mill, for instance, differentiated between “higher pleasures”, which are intellectual and moral, and “lower pleasures”, which are purely physical. In my view, it also implies reducing pain. Maximizing happiness must include diminishing misery, especially if we’re focused on achieving long-term outcomes. Sadly, our nation seems to prioritize punishment – applying more misery – to situations where eliminating misery needs higher priority.

Almost a decade ago, I came home to find a burglar in my home. I had left my house to go to the eye doctor and apparently my burglar and his friends saw this as an opportunity to break in and steal stuff. Unfortunately for them, I had to turn around to get something I had left at home. When I got to the house I noticed their “getaway” car speed away, but thought nothing of it. I stumbled into the burglar as I was entering my office. He was walking out with my laptop and a pile of other stuff in his hands. Both of us caught by surprise, I punched him in the face as he ran past me. In less than an hour, both the burglar and his accomplices had been caught by the police.

I’ll admit: punching this guy felt great. I wanted to do it more. He had violated my home. He had tried to steal my wife’s jewelry box, which included sentimental things she received from her grandmother. But that would have satisfied only my own baser instincts for revenge. Make no mistake: I would have felt good about punching him – justified, even. But there’s no justice to be found in revenge.

The truth is, this burglar was a drug addict. Later, we learned that he and his pals had broken into several other houses in the area. The getaway car they were driving was registered to the burglar’s mother. This guy and his pals were drug addicts, paying for their habits by stealing stuff and selling it on the street or pawn shops.

Having your house broken into is, in a word: weird. It is unsettling. I’m 6ft and over 200lbs. I’m generally not afraid of much, but for the next 2 weeks even I was checking and double-checking the locks on my doors. Had they actually gotten away with the stuff they wanted to steal, my wife would’ve lost several things that had meaning to her. I would’ve lost 2 guns and ammunition (they were in a pile he had place by the door) and, even though they had trigger locks, I’d live every day terrified that my guns would make their way into the hands of even worse people than our burglar.

So here’s our situation: Burglar and his two accomplices are drug addicts who steal stuff from other people to pay for drugs. It is easy to simply regard drug addicts as losers. I had a lot of experience with drug users and addicts in my youth and there is a lot of truth to labelling people that way. But this is oversimplifying the issue. Once an addict has reached a point in their addiction that they’re breaking into houses, they’re now increasing the level of misery in the world.

Where is “justice” in this situation? How do we drive public policy from this? What do we do to maximize happiness and minimize misery here? This is where our Justice system fails not just the “bad guys” but the “good guys” as well. Justice isn’t measured by the proportion of retaliation applied. Retaliation causes more misery. Justice should be measured by the amount of misery we avoid or cease from occurring.

In other words, our goals should be to ensure that this sort of thing stops happening. We should reduce the likelihood that people’s stuff gets stolen, and to do that, we need to find the cause. Why was this guy going around breaking into houses and stealing stuff? Because the drug addict needed to pay for their habit. His drug addiction caused him enough misery that he had to steal to support the habit. His stealing increased the misery of his victims. Indeed there’s a ripple effect to addiction that sows the seeds of misery all around. The addict’s very existence is a net negative to society.

To stop this cycle of misery, you can’t just grab addicts and toss them in jail. You need to stop the addiction. No other option really exists. You can’t make the black market drugs more affordable. You can’t shake your fingers at the addict to tell them to stop it. You can’t really do anything that would be effective or just other than to stop the addiction. Merely sentencing people to jail just doesn’t work. Putting them on parole and making them pee in a cup periodically – expecting them to sort out their own habit – won’t help. The only thing that will help is taking targetted action that stops the addiction and keeps it stopped.

Addiction – as I understand it – is horrible. Getting off the drugs is hard enough, but staying off is also a constant struggle. Speaking merely as an ex-smoker, it was around 3-4 years before I was 100% able to fully reject the thought of picking up a cigarette, and even if I had one right now I’d be right back at it – and cigarettes are nothing compared to heroin or methamphetamine. Relapse happens and as a country, we’re doing nothing to stop it.

The real answer to this challenge is to provide services that help eliminate the causes for crime. In the case of an addict stealing to maintain their habit, the real answer is to provide ongoing drug treatment. To conservatives, this might seem like a waste of money, but drug addiction treatment is actually cheaper than throwing people in jail. While conservatives might say “I don’t want to pay for those losers to get drug treatment”, all of the other possible options cost taxpayers more and do nothing to stop misery. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the average cost for one year of methadone maintenance treatment is approximately $4,700 per person. Compare that to one year of imprisonment, which is estimated to cost about $18,400. This alone makes “Get tough” policies on drug crime bad policy no matter whether you’re liberal or conservative. After all, if conservatives want to stop wasting tax money, clearly the better answer is the one that costs taxpayers less.

In applying Utilitarianism we need to make decisions based on a holistic view of the happiness gained and misery ended/ averted and should do so with a strong preference to the “higher pleasures” and longer-term happiness. Complex problems rarely have simple solutions, and this one is no different. Our first goal, in the case of drug addiction, should be to avoid addiction in the first place. This requires a mix of law enforcement, social outreach, and education up front. As well as treatment for addicts even before they commit crimes. Simplistic and emotionally-driven negative reactions to such progressive ideas fail to consider the overall cost to taxpayers and quality of life.

This example is but one in which Utilitarianism helps lead us to a policy path that will most effectively improve society, free of ideological dogmas. By seeking to address the root cause of challenges in our society – and choosing the path that eliminates the greatest pain across the whole of society, we can improve the quality of life for all citizens equitably without irrational dogmas.

Facts have no political affiliation

On Tuesday November 8th, I was in Amsterdam with Job van Achterberg. I did a presentation for Fronteers monthly meetup. The organizers of Fronteers had set Job and I up in a fantastic venue to do a couple of accessibility talks. It was a TV studio that also had a bar. Fronteers brought in food and I met – and reconnected with – a ton of awesome people in the Amsterdam developer scene. The prior day, we did talks in Berlin at the Contentful offices. After the Fronteers event, we ran into Yoav Weiss and Jason Grigsby, both of whom were in town for a different event. Being election night in the US, naturally the topic turned to politics.

Whenever a political conversation starts, people generally dance around their real feelings. They tend to feel each other out to ensure that the conversation doesn’t turn into an argument. In this case, it didn’t take very long for it to become clear that nobody involved in the conversation wanted Donald Trump to become elected. Grigsby seemed clearly pro-Hillary whereas I viewed her as my 2nd choice after Bernie Sanders. Either way, Trump was an unacceptable candidate to everyone in the conversation.

After a few drinks, I went to my room. Because Amsterdam is 6 hours ahead of the US East Coast, by the time I went to bed it was still too early to see any results from the US election. Regardless, I was convinced we’d have our first female President of the United States. There was no "hope" about it at this point. In my mind there was no way the United States would elect Trump, so all I was waiting for was confirmation. The election would be over and we could close off the chaos of 2016 with the positive vibes from averting a disaster.

Around 3am I was awakened by the buzz of my iPhone vibrating on the nightstand. I had a volley of text messages from my wife, telling me that Trump was winning. "Whatever", I wrote back, "West coast hasn’t closed yet", and I went back to sleep. I woke up at 6am. “I am so sorry dude. Take your time if you need to. I can’t imagine how this must feel” was the text message I got from Job. My stomach sank. I looked at the news on my phone. Trump won. What-the-fuck?

Everything was a fog that morning. We were supposed to go to Dusseldorf that morning after breakfast. I was doing a new talk, but now my brain was filled with fear and uncertainty. I took my morning shower, got dressed, and met Job for breakfast. It all felt like my morning routine lasted both one minute and a year at the same time. How did we get here? How did my fellow Americans get this so wrong? When will the re-count start?

Donald Trump was a joke candidate. I half suspected he was planted by the Clinton campaign to ensure Hillary got elected. Trump had spent the last 7 years leading the Birther movement. He literally mocked a disabled reporter on TV. He was caught on tape saying that when you’re rich you can grab women "by the pussy" and "they like it". His speeches had the cohesiveness and logical consistency of the drunk bar regular who everyone tolerates – even mocks – when he gets trashed and talks about the latest alien conspiracy. I was relieved when Trump got the GOP nomination over someone like Marco Rubio – an attractive, young, white male who tows the GOP party line. I was convinced that Trump was so absolutely repulsive that there is no way he’d have a chance of winning. Trump is more like a caricature of the GOP. He’s the prototype for everything worth mocking about the uninformed, ignorant, fact-averse, dogmatic, and hateful GOP voter. He’s the type of guy the GOP has been exploiting due to their ignorance. Despite the way he wants to present himself, he’s not the kind of person who is a Puppet Master but one of the puppets. How could anyone actually vote for Trump?

It is 9 months later and I still don’t know. Pundits offer plenty of analysis, but none of it really adds up. The GOP has been in a continuous detachment from logic for decades now, but as a progressive the gap between George W. Bush and Donald Trump is a chasm. In the 2000 election, I felt the difference between Gore and Bush was a philosophical one. For the most part, Gore was left-of-center and Bush was right-of-center – both of whom moved to the center to gain votes but neither could have qualified as extreme at any point. The Reagan era really signaled the beginning of the trend, however, of Republicans embracing extreme social elements we see so clearly today. Bush Sr. was worse than Reagan, Bush Jr. was worse than Sr., Romney worse than both, but none of them could be considered “scary”. None of them seemed detached from reality. All of them seemed driven to push the country to the right as much as they could while also aware that they needed to ensure well-being of their party, protect their chances (and the chances of their party members) for re-election. They cared and were mindful of the pressures they faced from the left. They clearly had their own agendas, but wanted to carefully steer their agendas. The real goal of the GOP has been to lower barriers to profitability for the rich. The benefactors of the GOP agenda are people whose incomes are measured within quarterly financial reports. Regulations and taxes are barriers to short-term corporate profits. The "party elite" of the GOP still operate this way and the far-right elements of the GOP were viewed as nothing more than useful idiots. They’re loyal, but idiots nonetheless, and the GOP leadership appease these idiots simply to retain their loyaly.

In this context, Donald Trump can be viewed in one of two ways: As either Idiot-in-Chief or Exploiter-in-Chief. He’s either the Pied Piper of the extreme wing of the GOP – a master conman, embracing and exploiting these useful idiots – or he’s such an idiot himself that they’re just naturally drawn to him. In the former case, we can regard Trump as an evil genius. In the latter case, we’re faced with the fear and uncertainty of dealing with a profoundly stupid man at the helm of the most powerful nation on earth. Unfortunately, we have Hanlon’s Razor to contend with: Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity..

We must remember, this is a man who spent the entire Obama presidency trying to convince everyone that Obama was not born in the United States. Trump even continued this campaign of birtherism after Obama released his actual birth certificate. Even if Trump is evil, he’s still stupid enough to think that he could continue this type of shenanigan and be taken seriously by others. Evil and stupid are a horrible combination. And this takes me to the actual point of this blog post.

Voters have a moral obligation to make their voting decision based on facts

My friends on Facebook, where I’m truly unrestrained in my political expressions, know that I did not want to vote for Hillary Clinton. To this day I maintain that Bernie Sanders was the best option of all candidates of both parties. I voted for Hillary in the general election because she was objectively the best candidate of the two that remained.

Our political discourse in the United States is dominated heated discussion around lightning-rod topics like abortion and climate change. Left-wing conspiracy theorists claim that this is all carefully curated to keep “us” fighting with each other so that we remain distracted enough that “they” can continue with their own agendas. Regardless of whether or not that is true, it sure seems like the media has taken the bait, with Fox News and MSNBC leading the charge on behalf of the Right and the Left and freely giving airtime to pundits who continue to drive that wedge.

The true failure however, rests in the hands of the individual. American society has abandoned its ability to think critically. Never in our history have we had such the facts necessary to make informed decisions. Despite this access to information, we still seem just as uninformed as we were generations ago. The typical American has direct access to the entirety of human knowledge via the Web. Each of us can take the time to pause for a moment and verify the claims that politicians, pundits, and peers make (and repeat) during political discussions. Despite this, we still have partisans spreading lies and the public believing and repeating these lies instead of shunning these purveyors of deception.

Here’s one such example:

This sort of statement is unquestionably false, and the evidence of its falseness can be found in any history book in any secondary school in any district in the United States. The Confederate States of America seceded from the United States. Each seceding state produced their own Declaration of Causes or Articles of Secession citing their reasons for leaving the United States. Those conspiracy theorists who do not believe books can even read those original documents from the southern states themselves. At any rate, by definition secession means that these States were no longer part of the United States of America. General Robert E. Lee was commander of their armies during a war that they waged against the United States of America. Put bluntly: while Robert E. Lee was an American before the secession and he was very obviously stopped being one when he became an enemy combatant against the US. He didn’t fight against "The North", he fought against the United States of America.

After the war, many Confederate leaders were charged with treason against the United States. A large reason that many of the leaders of the Confederacy weren’t tried and hanged was due to the very gracious amnesty granted by Johnson in an attempt to reunify the country and bring peace. This does not mean they were not punished. Robert E. Lee lost his right to vote and lost property. In fact, Arlington National Cemetery exists on land seized from Robert E. Lee. The statement made by Walsh, above, isn’t merely incorrect but a blatant lie.

Our current political atmosphere is polluted by liars and deniers using falsehoods to trick other people into falling in line based on raw emotion and blind allegiances that are constantly bolstered by more and more lies. Facts exist outside of one’s political affiliation. A thing is either true or false regardless of how you feel about it. Emotions and ideals cannot influence whether a statement is accurate. It is nothing short of evil to knowingly bear false witness to reality or to deny truth in order to attain one’s goals. The same can be said for those who believe and repeat those falsehoods instead of verifying counterclaims.

Lying to the American public should be exposed aggressively, regardless of the political affiliation of the liar. Liars should be exposed, ridiculed, and shunned. Compulsive liars should not be given airtime on news channels unless the aim is to expose the liar, and the public should just liars harshly even if the lies fit into our political ideals.

…It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth. — Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, November 19, 1863

In my opinion we will never be a government "of the people, by the people, for the people" if we allow politicians and pundits to lie to the people.

Conditions for my involvement in accessibility lawsuits on plaintiffs’ behalf

I was recently contacted by a law firm who wanted to hire me to work with them on web accessibility lawsuits. They wanted to hire me to “…[perform] an initial, more economical review of the site for purposes of us confirming the violations and including within our demand letters”.

If you’ve been following me for a while, you know I feel that Drive-by demand letters and lawsuit threats to not help advance accessibility. That said, I do believe that legal channels can be used to help drive accessibility in cases where some companies resist going the right thing. Accessibility is a civil right and while I admit that ignorance is pervasive in IT, there’s no good excuse not to take accessibility seriously once you’re aware of the issue.

I realize these are opinions that contradict one another. One thing is for sure: I’m OK with suing companies who are violating a person’s civil right to access, but not if doing so enriches lawyers and does not help improve the accessibility of the website/ product discussed in the complaint. In short: do you want to use the law to help persuade a company to make their stuff more accessible? Awesome, let’s do it. Do you want to just get a quick payday? Count me out.

Here is the response I sent over

The below is what I would consider the minimum requirements to engage my services for this type of lawsuit and this is what I will send from here on out when approached by lawyers who make similar requests.

I’d be happy to help your firm vet and verify the veracity of the plaintiff’s complaints. I believe that legal channels are a good way to apply pressure for companies to do the right thing.

I’d like to be up front regarding my criteria for involvement:

As I mentioned during our call, my hourly rate is $xxx per hour. I require a minimum purchase of xxx hours. You can use them as you need them (they must be used within 6 months) and when they run out, you can have an option to do another bucket of hours.

Naturally, I’m happy to sell more hours up front. ūüėČ

I do not want to be involved in “drive-by” lawsuits. Some lawyers are out there asking for settlement amounts of $15k or even $4k. In my opinion that’s not ethical or useful to the cause of accessibility, because most defendants can just pay the settlement and move on without actually fixing anything.

Your client should have made at least one documented attempt at contacting the defendant to resolve their complaint.

You need to be asking for a substantial initial settlement offer and that the settlement not just be for legal fees but that they also must commit funding to their sites’ remediation, etc..

Your other settlement requirements should require that they remediate their sites and that they take other steps to address accessibility for the long term.

I was impressed by Scott Dinin’s complaint against Winn-Dixie and wrote about the requirements here, which should be used as a basis for what to require: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/anatomy-accessibility-program-karl-groves

You will not recommend my product or services to the defendants. That would be a conflict of interest. You will recommend that they engage a mutually agreeable 3rd party consultant to perform their evaluation.

I will be on hand to provide you with clear, factual, unbiased guidance to guide your cases.

If the above is agreeable to you, let’s get started.

This stuff matters

I sent the above message to the original law firm 5 days ago. So far I’ve gotten no response, despite having had a small handful of contacts in quick succession prior to this. This indicates that the law firm that contacted me wasn’t interested in working with me after I outlined my requirements. That’s OK by me, because I probably did us both a favor.

This stuff matters to me. Ethics matter. Ultimately, what I’m concerned about is improving access. The legal channel is just another means toward that end. I will prioritize my own involvement based upon the likelihood of my actions making a positive impact on others. If a law-firm is only interested in pursuing accessibility because they see easy wins, then we don’t need to work together. The converse is also true: If any firms reading this really want to use the law to fight the good fight for PWDs, then let’s go kick some asses.

Beginning a new chapter in this adventure we call life

A little over 4 years ago, I joined The Paciello Group and the last 4 years have been nothing short of incredible. At The Paciello Group, I made lifelong friends and got to do great work. TPG was the first place I worked where there was a universal appreciation and respect across the board. Mike Paciello and the other partners at TPG treat everyone like family, not employees and fostered a great atmosphere in which to work. Internal culture is the most important contributing factor to whether or not you’ll enjoy or loathe your job and the culture at TPG has been amazing.

The Paciello Group has always been supportive of Tenon as well. My co-workers at TPG regularly use it and give me feedback on what I can improve, and some TPG employees were some of the first paying customers because they wanted to support me.

As time has gone on and Tenon has become more popular, the strain of working two full-time jobs has certainly taken its toll. I’ve reached full burnout more than once during the last few years. It became obvious that at some point I’d have to leave TPG if Tenon was to succeed. June 30, 2017 is my last day at The Paciello Group and I’m switching my single full-time effort to Tenon.

I’m both terrified and excited at what the future holds. One thing is for sure, I’m not done with this Accessibility thing just yet. There’s important work to do. I will be offering accessibility consulting services, audits, VPATs, training, and development. For more information, head on over to Services.

Website Accessibility in the United States: What are your requirements under the ADA?

“Compliance” is a word I’m not a fan of. The reasons are many, but the most important reason is that it puts people into the mindset of “What am I required to do?” vs. “What should I do?” – and the latter mindset is the true path to risk mitigation. When it comes to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the dirty secret is that there are no specific technical requirements for any website. There are no standards which apply to the ADA and unless you’re a State or Local Government, there is no specific reference to website accessibility. Despite claims you may hear otherwise, the unfortunate truth is that there is nothing in the ADA Regulation itself that says you must conform to WCAG or any other technical standard. This is a long-standing source of frustration for accessibility advocates in the United States. Let’s unpack this a little more.

Laws against discrimination on the basis of disability in the United States

There are a number of laws in the United States that prohibit discrimination on the basis of disability. Among them are:

  • The Rehabilitation Act
  • Americans with Disabilities Act
  • Air Carrier Access Act
  • Fair Housing Act
  • Individuals with Disabilities Education Act
  • Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA)
  • and more

Among them, only the Rehabilitation Act (Specifically, Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act) actually has any specific technical requirements. When it was Amended in 1998, the technical provisions and other additions were made to ensure that EIT (Electronic & Information Technology) is accessible for both members of the public and federal employees to such technologies when developed, procured, maintained, or used by federal agencies. Even the CVAA, which is a regulation specifically about technology and accessibility, does not reference any specific technical standards.

Within ADA, there are 3 “Titles”

  1. Employment (Title I)
  2. State and Local Governments (Title II)
  3. Public Accommodations and Commercial Facilities (Title III)

Nowhere in any of the 3 Titles is EIT/ ICT accessibility specifically mentioned except in associated information.

Title II “protects qualified individuals with disabilities from discrimination on the basis of disability in services, programs, and activities provided by State and local government entities.” The DOJ has been pretty proactive in enforcement of Title II as part of Project Civic Access. In their view, if there’s a “service, program, or activity” offered by the State & Local Government, it must be accessible – and that includes any associated EIT/ ICT component. But there are absolutely no technical standards cited, apart from a discussion referencing WCAG that is located in Supplementary Information attached to the Final Rule submission.

Title III, which covers places of Public Accommodations, is essentially the same in this respect. In the Supplementary Information they say “Although the language of the ADA does not explicitly mention the Internet, the Department has taken the position that title III covers access to Web sites of public accommodations.” but, “The Department did not issue proposed regulations as part of its NPRM, and thus is unable to issue specific regulatory language on Web site accessibility at this time.” Title III also references WCAG in this discussion.

So what are your actual, real, honest-to-goodness requirements for Website Accessibility according to the ADA? I don’t know. I’m not a lawyer but it would seem as though there isn’t any specific requirement that a website be accessible according to the ADA. In fact, some have tried to make this argument. Some have even won.

Strategically, it seems like a risky approach. The list of settlements around website accessibility is far longer than the list of defendants who’ve successfully had lawsuits dismissed. If anything, that list of settlements proves that website owners agree that it is too risky. But given the rise in drive-by demand letters, some website owners may be willing to take that risk.

There’s a better way

One of the biggest mistakes that website owners make is in assuming they can wait until they get sued to deal with accessibility. That’s like waiting until you crash before you decide to get the brakes fixed on your car. Using Extreme Accessibility, you can save a ton of money while taking a proactive approach to increasing accessibility and overall quality. Whether or not ADA explicitly states that Websites must be accessible, one thing is for sure: The DOJ believes they should be and so do a whole pile of plaintiffs. Being proactive about accessibility turns the whole thing into a non-issue.

Drive-by demand letters and lawsuit threats do not help advance accessibility

Over the last 18 months, a handful of law firms in the United States have been sending out demand letters to website owners threatening to sue over web accessibility. The trend for this activity was started by the law firm Carson & Lynch out of Pennsylvania and has gathered enough attention that it has been discussed on this blog numerous times. It has also gathered enough attention that other law firms have started playing this game.

Basically, the pattern goes like this: Law firm sends over a demand letter. The demand letter features several well-worded arguments establishing their case. It is often also worded ahead of time as a “Settlement Agreement”. From there, the recipient of the letter has the choice to fight, settle, or do something in-between. In the vast majority of cases, the settlements set forth a number of requirements that include fixing the website (obviously), paying some sort of settlment fee, and paying attorney’s fees.

In my opinion, everything in the above paragraph makes sense. If you have an inaccessible website, you should fix it. If you do not fix your site, you are discriminating against users with disabilities by preventing them from having equal access to your products and services. If a user needs to use your site and cannot do so, they should be able to levy a complaint against you. If you still do not fix your site, the discrimination persists and therefore they should be able to sue you. Settling this matter out of the courts should – at the very least – require that the website be fixed, that it remain accessible moving forward, and that you reimburse the complainant’s costs for attorney’s fees. I think all of this makes sense and at least in the case of Carson & Lynch, this is what they require.

But there’s another reality to this, which is that these attorneys are playing a dangerous game of chicken. The Americans with Disabilities Act does not define the Web as a place of Public Accommodation. The only place where the ADA says that websites must be accessible is when referencing the requirements for state & local governments. The DOJ has gotten involved in past lawsuits and stated that their position is that the Web is a place of Public Accomodation. But, that is not the same as having it stated in the ADA regulation itself. Issuing an Amicus Brief or joining on as a co-plaintiff in a lawsuit is not, strictly speaking, the same as having it written into law that Title III of the ADA applies to the Web.

The DOJ knows this is a problem and has known it for years. In July 2010, the DOJ issued an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM) which signified what many hoped would be the first steps in clarifying this once and for all. Unfortunately, it seems that they’ve since commenced kicking the can down the road. Like the much-delayed 508 Refresh, this has far-reaching consequences that go beyond mere uncertainty. It could even backfire. In fact, it already has.

The Court chastised the DOJ for failing to follow through on its July 2010 pronouncement to regulate website accommodation for public accommodation…

Website Accessibility Under the ADA, A New Federal Court Ruling Helps Banks

See, for traditional ADA “trolling” of physical spaces, a person merely need drive through a parking lot, observe the fact that there’s no accessible ramp or no reserved parking spaces, and fire off a demand letter. The ability to fire off scores of demand letters each day is easy in these cases and a small but noticeable number of people do exactly this. Case law here is well-established and the law & associated standards are very clear. This is not the case for the Web, as I’ve already discussed.

There’s a very clear and important distinction between advocacy and trolling. Most importantly, advocacy requires actively working to make things better. It requires a lot more than signing an agreement and accepting a settlement payment. True advocacy involves collaboration. The collaborative approach of Lainey Feingold and Linda Dardarian – called Structured Negotiations – delivers real results. Using this method, Lainey and her co-counsel have negotiated more than 60 settlement agreements without filing a single lawsuit., says Lainey’s “About” page.

The recent trend of firing off demand letters – and filing lawsuits when website owners fight back – risks harming the effectiveness of real advocates. Over the past 8 years, the DOJ under President Obama was very active in supporting the rights of people with disabilities. We now have a new President who has mocked people with disabilities and a new Attorney General at the helm of the DOJ who has slammed the UN CRPD and IDEA.

“We have created a complex system of federal regulations and laws that have created lawsuit after lawsuit, special treatment for certain children, and that are big factor in accelerating the decline in civility and discipline in classrooms all over America. I say that very sincerely,” Sessions said at the time.

I feel that we’re now witnessing what will become a game of chicken that threatens the effectiveness of real advocates. I’m skeptical that we’ll see any positive movement toward clarifying Title III’s application for the web and that we may see more decisions like the one I referenced at the beginning of this post. The volume of legal threat letters being sent out simply raises the probability that we will see more lawsuit filings when companies start to fight back which, in turn, raises the likelihood that we will see more decisions referencing Title III’s lack of clarity. What will the DOJ under Jeff Sessions do in these cases? Given his previous record on social issues, I’m not optimistic about what the new DOJ’s position will become.

Regardless of whether or not you agree with the ethics of using legal threats to advance accessibility, it does have the very real and almost immediate effect of causing websites to become more accessible. Unfortunately we’re almost certainly facing four years of uncertainty around Title III. The risk that presents itself as a consequence is that more judges may cite this uncertainty as a reason to dismiss a suit – especially one brought about by an obvious troll. Meanwhile the hard work and effectiveness of true Disability Rights Advocates is threatened at the expense of trolls looking for a quick payday.

I’m available for accessibility consulting, audits, VPATs, training, and accessible web development,¬†email me directly at karl@karlgroves.com or call me at +1 443-875-7343

Automated Web Accessibility Testing Tools Are Not Judges

Recently social media has been abuzz regarding an article titled “ITIF: 92% of Top Federal Websites Fail to Meet Security, Speed, Accessibility Standards” – and for good reason. The article cites a study by ITIF which details rampant failings of websites of the US Government. American taxpayers, being both the audience and source of funding for these systems, have every right to expect those websites to be user-friendly, secure, and accessible. ITIF is to be applauded for doing this rigorous research and reporting this information.

When it comes to their research into accessibility, their methods and conclusions leave a lot to be desired. The first problem is in their choice of aChecker to do accessibility research. aChecker suffers from a very important technical shortcoming: It does not test the browser DOM. I’ve gone into this before: tools that do not test the final rendered browser DOM are not testing what the end user experiences. In this specific use case, it leads to horrible research outcomes. Using aChecker to test accessibility is like using a broken thermometer in your Thanksgiving turkey. Every single website that ITIF tested uses JavaScript and CSS and yet the tool they chose to use does not render the JavaScript or CSS before testing.

But there’s another, more important thing to understand about this type of exercise: Automated Web Accessibility Testing Tools Are Not Judges.

Before I continue, I want to make sure that first-time readers understand my background on this topic. I have a long history with testing tools. In fact, my introduction to accessibility started with tools (as described here). As my resume shows, I worked for SSB BART Group and Deque, two of the major players in the accessibility testing tools market. I contributed significantly to the development of SSB’s AMP product. I’m the founder of Tenon.io and I’ve been doing accessibility consulting, accessibility testing, training, and web development for over a decade-and-a-half. It is – quite literally – my job to know what can and cannot be done with automated accessibility testing tools and I seek to stretch those boundaries every chance I can.

This cannot be said often enough or loudly enough: There’s just too many things in Accessibility that are too subjective and too complex for a tool to test with enough accuracy to be considered a judgment of the system’s level of accessibility. An automated testing tool cannot even tell with 100% certainty whether or not a web page passes WCAG 2.0 1.1.1.

1.1.1 Non-text Content: All non-text content that is presented to the user has a text alternative that serves the equivalent purpose…

Read that again. “All non-text content”, which is defined as:

any content that is not a sequence of characters that can be programmatically determined or where the sequence is not expressing something in human language
Note: This includes ASCII Art (which is a pattern of characters), emoticons, leetspeak (which uses character substitution), and images representing text

The non-text content must have “… a text alternative that serves the equivalent purpose…”. Not only that, but the text must be programmatically determinable. If your text alternative is not truly equivalent, your document is non-conforming.

Think about this for a second. There are a lot of cool emerging technologies that allow computers to recognize the objects in an image. We can detect text inside of an image and we can even locate specific people’s faces. Add a lot of complexity to an image, and most computer vision falls apart. Even OCR, which has existed for around 50 years, can’t read the logo for a Death Metal band. But even if computer vision was perfect, we can’t determine why any specific “non-text content” was chosen. What was the web author trying to convey with that non-text content? Why was that specific non-text content chosen over other options? What benefit will that non-text content have for the user who can see it? Is that non-text content there for decoration, or is it critical to the content? Tenon has 25 tests for WCAG 1.1.1 and we have maybe a dozen more on our wishlist. Even then, we’ll never be able to determine the meaning that the user intended to convey via non-text content and therefore we’ll never be able to fully judge conformance with 1.1.1.

There’s only so much that can be tested for automatically. Some things are so subjective or complex that trying to test for them would result in so many false positives vs. accurate findings that having the test would do more harm than good (like testing for 1.3.3). The team over at the UK Government Digital Service have done a great job of demonstrating the limitations of automated tools.

One thing that is missing across all automated testing tools, is contextual understanding. Automated accessibility testing tools provide the ability to test against highly specific heuristics that are very tightly scoped. They have no insight into the broader document being tested. They have no ability to determine the specific purpose of the page as a whole. I have been present at usability tests where test scenarios failed because of one highly important technical failing that – within its own context – was relatively minor. Nevertheless, it caused all participants to fail the test scenario.

What can you base a grade on?

Given the above, we’re already at a significant disadvantage if we rely on an automated tool. Again, we can’t even definitively prove conformance with any given WCAG SC, so grading any specific SC as a “pass” is wholly impossible. This is important to consider, because it means that even if your tool of choice returns zero errors, you can still be non-conformant. A picture of a dog, with an alt attribute of “cat” will pass all automated accessibility tools, despite being completely inaccurate even in terms of what is displayed in the image.

At this point, the only thing you can “grade” is one document’s failures against another’s – turning this from an exercise in deriving an absolute grade to an exercise in deriving a grade relative to other documents. An absolute claim of conformance would require an ability to fully test all criterion necessary for conformance. For instance, if a product contains a mark from Underwriters Laboratories it means the product has been found to conform to all of the defined safety standards for that type of product. Because no automated accessibility testing tool can completely test the criteria for WCAG conformance, no absolute “grade” derived from an automated tool is at all relevant or accurate which is why, at best, we’re left with relative grading.

Once you’ve settled on relative grading, what do you base that grade on?

  • Using tests passing vs. tests failing fails to consider the volume and severity of the issues found for the tests that did fail.
  • If you base it on issues per page, you’re failing to consider complexity differences between tested pages. You’re also failing to consider the severity of each issue.
  • You can break down issues-by-page-by-severity, but the severity of an issue varies significantly based on the type of user impacted. Bad alt attributes don’t impact users who are color blind. A lack of keyboard accessibility doesn’t impact a mouse user or a voice dictation user who can still use Dragon’s mouse grid. The priority score calculated by Tenon handles this pretty well, but the truth remains that a generic measure of severity fails to consider the full specific nature of an issue.
  • When it comes to complexity differences of each page, you can try to use Issue Density – that is, how many issues exist per kilobyte of document source. We’ve even proposed a mechanism for doing that. Unfortunately relative grading based on issue density is of little value, because even with a statistically significant sample size, standard deviation is ridiculously high.

There are certainly ways to combine metrics in a way that can be used to perform relative scoring of one site against the next but it would require:

  1. Testing all pages of each site.
  2. Using a baseline derived from a statistically significant-sized sample of all other sites on the web and testing every page of those sites.
  3. Gathering and measuring the relevant metrics (assuming your tool gives you the necessary granularity, such as issue-density-by-severity-by-affected-population).
  4. Using a tool that uses the browser DOM, tests accurately and without false positives.

And even then, all you’d be left with is – at best – a “sniff test” based on the comparatively small number of things that an automated testing tool can test for. For the most part, you’d still have absolutely no idea how any of the sites performed for users who are deaf or hard-of-hearing, for instance.

Automated accessibility testing tools are not judges

Given all I’ve said above it seems the only reasonable conclusion that using an automated web accessibility testing tool to “grade” websites’ accessibility is an exercise in futility. The only claim that you could make is that “given the things that can be tested for by tool x, the following issues surfaced…”. In other words, automated testing tools are great at diagnosing issues.

Automated accessibility testing tools have an important role to play in ensuring that web-based systems are accessible. They offer a level of efficiency that cannot be matched by humans and they perform at a scale no amount of humans could match. Since launching in 2014:

  • Tenon averages over 1000 customer test runs per day (including holidays and weekends).
  • Every day, we have non-bot traffic 24/7/365 across every timezone on the planet from 66 distinct countries.
  • Tenon has logged over 51,000,000 distinct issues across more than 1 million distinct URLs on approximately 30,000 distinct domains.

The real power of automated website accessibility testing tools is in their ability to quickly and accurately detect the specific issues they were programmed to find. They are a vital component of any robust website QA testing process. They cannot be used to “judge” or “grade” the level of accessibility of a system.

I’m available for accessibility consulting, audits, VPATs, training, and accessible web development,¬†email me directly at karl@karlgroves.com or call me at +1 443-875-7343

Accessibility Business Case: Spending your money intelligently

Frequent readers know I write a lot about the business case for accessibility. In fact, 5 years ago I published a series of posts called Chasing the accessibility business case. The first post in the series outlined the core considerations for building a business case. In general, the value of an effective business case should be measured against one metric: Profit. Profit is Income minus Expenses. If your business case can’t be articulated in a way that shows that it increases profit, it isn’t a business case. The more profit, the stronger the business case.

There are scores of other KPIs that you may want to measure as a business, but most of those that contribute to a “business case” are really more granular measures of income and expenses. For instance, one of the metrics we measure at Tenon is called “CLV” or “Customer Lifetime Value”. This is a measure of how much income is derived per user during their relationship with Tenon. We can increase CLV by keeping our customer happy so they stay longer or by increasing the amount we charge to each customer (or both, of course). But CLV doesn’t provide a full glimpse into income. For instance, adding more customers doesn’t necessarily mean extra income if the CLV goes down. Also, if CLV goes up we can make more money with less users. CLV is a useful metric though. Increasing CLV is a good way to improve income, especially if CAC (Customer Acquisition Cost) lowers or stays the same. Lowering CAC, increasing CLV, and growing the number of total customers is the ideal situation for a company like Tenon.

Increasing income doesn’t happen on its own. Marketing and sales are vital to a business’s existence. This is why the Customer Acquisition Cost is so important. For instance, if your company spent $2.5 Million on a billboard in Times Square how many customers would you get from that? More importantly, would the revenue from those customers meet-or-exceed the $2.5 Million you spent to get them? Then there is perhaps the most important consideration: could you spend less money to get the same amount of customers?¬†

What does this have to do with accessibility?

Accessibility costs money. I believe that making things accessible should be required because it is the right thing to do. At the same time we must acknowledge that doing so costs money, both directly and indirectly. This is the problem that others attempt to address with their various business case arguments. Our existence, as either internal or external accessibility persons, costs money. Our work costs money. Implementing our recommendations cost money. What the company invests in us must have a return value. That return can be in the short term or the long term, but one thing is certain: expenses that don’t provide value are sure to be eliminated.

As a business owner myself, every penny I pay to another human to do work must have a benefit that is equal-to-or-greater-than the amount I pay for their services. That can be a short-term benefit or a long-term benefit and choosing to not do something could be just as beneficial as doing something. The time necessary to get something done has value, and the time during which nothing gets done has value.

So if a consultant is billing me $200 an hour and doing 100 hours of work, I’m paying a total of $20,000. My primary concern is whether am I going to get at least $20,001 in ROI from that work. Can I spend $20,000 on something else and get higher ROI? Can I get that ROI in less time? During that 100 hours am I also incurring other costs along the way? How long will it take to recoup those other costs? Can I get the same benefit at a cheaper cost?

This dance between cost vs. benefit occurs at every level and every department across the organization and the importance of this is amplified in the private sector. Every single person involved in accessibility should be able to answer to the specific business value they offer to their employers. This is where experience and knowledge must translate into action. This is why the accessibility consultant must be the absolute best at what they do and what they deliver must be immediately actionable. Massive reports are out, close integration with the team is in. Accessibility professionals must be leaders and agents for positive improvements by providing guidance that is immediately actionable by their customers. Not all accessibility problems are equal and the customer deserves the ability to prioritize accordingly.

The new contract between consultant and client

I’ve already touched on this a bit in the post “Accessibility consulting is broken“.The consultant must understand that they’re being paid to understand the customers’ environment and problems and that they must offer the most effective advice and service. The customer has chosen the consultant over all of their other options, because the customer believes that the consultant can help them address their accessibility problems and that addressing those accessibility problems has a value greater-than-or-equal-to the consultant’s fee. If that consultant was a developer, the customer would have long term benefit from the deliverables in the form of working code. In other words, if the customer’s software has bugs or needs new features, a developer can write code that fixes those bugs or adds those features.

What often gets delivered by a consultant is an “audit” – a long form document outlining all of the places where the customer’s current system needs to be improved in order to become accessible. I’ve worked for 4 of the biggest accessibility consulting firms and have seen the work of many others. Everyone does auditing in their own unique way. Each has varying degrees of detail and advice. All of them, of course, hope that their audit deliverables provide sufficient guidance to assist the customer in remediating their systems. But is an audit what clients really need?

What is the real value of an audit? How immediate is the return on that investment? All consultants will boast of the qualities of their audits and the skills of their reviewers, but is an audit actually what a customer needs? How valuable is that big pile of paper you get? How soon can that audit become actionable by internal development staff? More importantly: how many times was a customer sold an audit merely because that’s what they thought they needed?.

Maybe the customer got that idea from their lawyers, which is increasingly the case these days. Or maybe they got that idea because they read about accessibility audits on some blog post somewhere. Maybe they think that’s what they want because they don’t know any better. Regardless of why they got that idea, the consultant should first get a real understanding of what the customer needs before selling anything to them.

A skilled consultant will already have enough experience to know – at a high level – what most customers will need in a first engagement. In fact, a skilled consultant can tell you these things before they even look at your software that your design, QA, and development practices don’t include accessibility. A skilled consultant can tell you that even though you might have great developers on staff, they know far less about accessibility than they think they do. A skilled consultant can tell you that there are important internal challenges preventing long-term success in accessibility. (see “Ten blunt things…”). Furthermore, a skilled consultant should be able to predict, even after a cursory glance, what types of accessibility issues your system probably has. An audit would serve to merely document specific instances of those predictable issues.

The new contract between consultant and client must take into consideration the fact that the client needs and deserves a level of service that makes the greatest improvement possible in the shortest amount of time. Maybe that is an audit. Maybe not. Maybe that is training. Or maybe it is having the consultant roll up their sleeves and start writing accessible code. Chances are, the real solution is going to be a mixture of all of these. One thing’s for sure: selling the customer something they think they need vs. what they actually need is poor service. In my opinion, so is just delivering an audit.

I’m available for accessibility consulting, audits, VPATs, training, and accessible web development,¬†email me directly at karl@karlgroves.com or call me at +1 443-875-7343