There’s recently been some turmoil over on the A11y Slack regarding the IAAP decision (since 2021) to require 3-5 years of documented experience in web accessibility in order to be eligible for the WAS certification.
Specifically, the IAAP says:
The WAS is an intermediate technical level certification that requires 3-5 years of documented experience in web accessibility. Candidates will be asked to provide written explanations that illustrate their roles or responsibilities with first-person, ongoing, regular work in technical digital accessibility as part of the WAS Body of Knowledge job tasks.
Comments within that Slack thread include sentiments that suggest that:
- The WAS exam is already hard, so passing the test should suffice
- Proving specific work in web accessibility is too stringent, and the knowledge is what counts
- The IAAP is gatekeeping with this requirement
Those who know me are well aware of my history criticizing the IAAP, but in this case I’m 100% on their side. Let’s look at why.
Certifications are not knowledge checks
A certification that is based solely on a person’s ability to answer questions in an exam is, at best, a knowledge check. In many cases they verify only that the certificate holder did a good job of cramming for the test. A professional certification needs to truly reflect the person’s ability to independently perform the work that requires this knowledge. While some would argue that if the test doesn’t reflect this then the test is bad, but I’d argue that it is simply impossible to have any test that – on its own – truly reflects a candidate’s capabilities without also carrying risks of bias, fairness, and validity. A good certification isn’t just based on an ability to pass a test.
Employers and hiring managers want this rigor
From private conversations with folks at IAAP, I learned that their team had done a Job Task Analysis Survey during the development of the certification and that nearly 900 people surveyed indicated a desire for WAS candidates to have 3+ years of demonstrated experience in successfully performing this type of work. In other words, the IAAP didn’t dream up this requirement. The people who are hiring accessibility professionals need the ability to trust that a person holding that certificate can actually do the work.
I don’t see that as a bad thing. As someone who ran my own multimillion dollar accessibility company, I personally found that a candidate holding an IAAP certification was no more likely to be a good job candidate than someone without it. In fact, I viewed the CPACC certificate as little more than an indicator that the candidate was committed to the field and the WAS certification holders tended to have only basic web development and accessibility knowledge. I believe that the new experience requirement for the WAS will raise the bar for job candidates and improve employer trust in the certifications.
This is not unique to IAAP
This requirement for demonstrated work experience is not unique to IAAP. Other professional organizations, such as ITSQB, SHRM, PMI, and BCPE all require demonstrated work experience for some or all of their certs. While many organizations will provide you with an entry-level cert without job experience, in some cases, you cannot get any of the organization’s certs without job experience. In many of those cases, you need to submit a portfolio of work with references to verify your claims.
Certification should be hard, especially when it comes to web accessibility
Some of the comments in the aforementioned Slack thread were lamentations that the WAS exam is hard. I say that’s a good thing! The WAS is not an entry level certification. Hiring managers and employers need to be able to trust that when a candidate has a WAS certificate, they have truly proven that they have the skills to do the job. While I would never trust a candidate’s credentials on their face, I should be able to trust that the credential was truly earned.
Let’s not forget what’s at stake here, when it comes to web accessibility. Digital accessibility is a critical compliance domain for employers. Accessibility is a Civil Right and every single day, dozens of accessibility lawsuits are filed in the United States to enforce those rights. A person employed in a job role appropriate for the WAS certificate is tasked with taking part in ensuring the accessibility of their employers’ web-based systems.
This is not an easy job and, as a result, the certification that verifies an employee’s qualifications for that job should be hard. An employee in this role is doing important work. While the CPACC exam is appropriate for people who are new to this field, the WAS is aimed at those who have advanced in their career. This, in my opinion, is as it should be. Those who lack the necessary professional work experience should therefore understand that they are still early in their career and look forward to the time when they’ve gained the work experience necessary for the WAS.