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, Léonie 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.