Q&A: How do I find a knowledgeable accessibility consultant?
This article was developed as part of
The Accessibility Switchboard Project
National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute
January 2017, Version 1.0.
Creative Commons License: CC BY-SA 4.0
How do I find a knowledgeable consultant?
- Be clear on your needs.
- Understand the different kinds of consulting service that are available.
- Use this information to conduct a targeted search.
In-Depth answer: How do I find a knowledgeable accessibility consultant?
A web search on the term “accessibility consultant” will return a long list of names of people and companies with “accessibility” in their name and service offerings. Okay. But how do you find the type of consultant you need who has the particular skills that will help you resolve your particular problems? This article is intended to help by providing more information than you can obtain by googling “accessibility consultant”.
The field of technology consulting consists of generalists and specialists. Generalists can help you with typical or ‘mainstream’ business issues such as process and management. Specialists help you within a more narrowly defined field (a social media marketing consultant, an IT security consultant, a human resources consultant, etc.). Accessibility falls into the ‘specialist’ kind of consulting. (It’s hard to find generalists who also have expertise in accessibility, but they may know of and can link you to specialists.) This article is, therefore, about helping you find accessibility specialists who are consultants.
Note: Some accessibility consultants also use terms such as “universal design”, “inclusive design”, “design for disability”. For the purpose of this article, consider these terms interchangeable.
Note: This article does not provide general advice on ‘finding a consultant’, as this sort of advice exists elsewhere. In addition, the same sorts of considerations and cautions you would apply to finding any source of help apply. Seeking a contractor to refurbish your kitchen? You would do your homework, read available testimonials, look at their past work, use word-of-mouth referrals, and so on. The same is true for finding an accessibility consultant.
Establish what kind of help you need
“The role of a consultant is to improve the client’s condition.”—Alan Weiss
To communicate to potential consultants what needs improving from your current condition, it helps to have a good idea of what your current condition is. You may already have a specific condition and an associated need already in mind, such as “fix our website’s accessibility”, but accessibility is an interconnected concept that can span many aspects of your organization. If you are going to invest in a consultant, you may find a bigger return on your investment by hiring a consultant who can engage on related issues, such as identifying and fixing the reasons why your website wasn’t accessible in the first place.
Therefore, as you set out (and before you actually contact potential consultants) a useful exercise is to conduct a maturity assessment. That is, take measures of where you are now (your current condition) over several aspects of your business. This may provide you with insights on changes that you might be able to make by hiring consultants who have skills across several areas. There are free tools available to help in conducting formal or informal maturity assessments.
Policy Driven Adoption of Accessibility (PDAA) Vendor Self Assessment Tool. This self-assessment MS Excel-based tool is a useful starter resource for scoring and tracking maturity levels across common organizational elements. PDAA is an initiative of the National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO).
Types of accessibility consultant
To help in identifying the right type of consultant for your needs, the following three subsections cover typical accessibility consultant activities. The subsections are domain knowledge, service offerings, and additional factors.
Accessibility consultants typically work in one or more of the following domains:
- Human Resources / Equity and Diversity. Hiring, promotion and retention of people with disabilities.
- Information & Communications Technology (ICT). Software, web and mobile accessibility. Includes development, testing and remediation of ICT. Procurement of accessible ICT. (Consulting on physical accessibility of ICT, such as the design of devices, is not as common because there are few hardware manufacturers, and there are thousands of software developers.)
- Document Accessibility. MS Office Document (Word, Excel, PowerPoint) accessibility, PDF and E-Pub Accessibility. Includes testing and remediation.
- Accommodations / Assistive Technologies. Meeting the needs of individuals with disabilities who need procedural accommodations, or technology accommodations in order to conduct work tasks. Documenting needs, identifying and evaluating potential solutions with individuals.
- Facilities / Architecture. Building access, walkways, doors, restrooms, parking, lighting, signage, etc.
- Marketing & Customer Relations. Social aspects of disability. Communications with customers who have disabilities. Multimedia and Social Media accessibility considerations.
- Management, Organizational implementation. Establishing effective accessibility program offices. Gaining executive support. Management processes. Cross-departmental accessibility approaches.
Note: Consultants working in each of the above domains should know the applicable laws and regulations, as well as industry standards and best practices of those domains.
For each of the above domains, there are different levels of service that the consultant might offer. The following list is intended to be indicative of increasing service levels:
- Consultants who test and/or fix it for you. Either (a) you haven’t dealt with accessibility before; or (b) you are responding to a complaint; or (c) you have an ongoing need, but do not want to do accessibility tasks in-house. You provide the to-be-tested and/or known-to-fail product, and the consultant tests it and/or provides you with a remediated product.
- Consultants providing training. If you have ongoing needs, and you want your in-house staff to learn how to meet those ongoing needs, consultants can provide outreach and training services on a one-to-many basis.
- Consultants who provide accommodation services for your employees. For your staff who have disabilities, consultants can provide one-on-one consultations as needed, and/or provide ongoing support as and when needed as a service to all staff.
- Contracted staff. If your staff do not have necessary skills and/or the time to conduct accessibility tasks in their daily work, consultants can provide temporary or semi-permanent staffing. (This is the most common model of operation in the US Federal Government, where a small number of employees are supported by a group of contractors staffing the accessibility office.)
- Management consultants. Job shadowing, targeted training and coaching. Providing on-demand resources to achieve business goals. Providing tools to become self-sufficient and achieve sustainable operations. (This level differs from training, above, in that it deals with the management level only, and is mostly one-on-one.)
There are other factors that may be relevant to making decisions on selecting consultants:
- Size of consulting firm. There are very many accessibility consultants who are individual providers or partners. Many accessibility consultancy companies have multiple employees (less than ten is quite common, a small number are up to 50, and over 75 is rare). Finally, some bigger generalist ICT consulting companies that have thousands of employees may offer accessibility services as a minor aspect of their business.
- Involvement in the field. The accessibility field has associations (for a subset of associations, see the section on lists, below), conferences, and standards committees. Some consultants are actively engaged in promotion of, and development, and publishing in their respective domain areas.
- Tool providers. Some consulting companies also develop their own tools for sale, or are resellers. For example, accommodations consultants may sell assistive technology solutions for clients, and some ICT consulting companies produce automated and manual testing tools that they sell and/or license to customers.
Lists of accessibility consultants
With the information above, now comes the important part, finding the particular knowledgeable accessibility consultancy that can meet your needs. While the authors of this article can’t vouch for exactly how knowledgeable a particular consultant is, we hope that the differentiation of domains, service levels, and other factors give you an idea of terms that you can use to refine your search. Beyond conducting internet searches, there are also compiled lists that can help you identify potential consultants to contact.
Note: Most of the lists below include consultants, but they are not exclusive to consultants (i.e., the lists can also contain the names of other companies that do not provide consulting services).
The Accessibility Switchboard
This article, and related articles aimed at helping people in business identify and meet their needs around various aspects of accessibility, has been produced with the input of members of the Accessibility Switchboard Community Of Practice. The community includes consultant subject matter experts.
The Accessibility Switchboard Community Of Practice includes consultants and other subject matter experts who came together to produce this guide. Community member profiles are linked to from this page.
The International Association of Accessibility Professionals (IAAP)
“The mission of the International Association of Accessibility Professionals (IAAP) is to define, promote and improve the accessibility profession globally through networking, education and certification in order to enable the creation of accessible products, content and services.”—IAAP website
- The Organizational Directory of the IAAP lists founding and supporting members of the association.
- IAAP offers its “Certified Professional in Accessibility Core Competencies (CPACC)” examination to IAAP members. IAAP publishes a list of people who are CPACC Certificants.
Note: IAAP is a member organization of G3ict, The Global Initiative for Inclusive ICTs. G3ict maintains its own list of corporations that have a focus on ICTs accessibility.
The Rehabilitation Engineering and Assistive Technology Society of North America (RESNA)
“RESNA advances the field by offering certification, continuing education, and professional development; developing assistive technology standards; promoting research and public policy; and sponsoring forums for the exchange of information and ideas to meet the needs of our multidisciplinary constituency.”—RESNA website.
- RESNA is geared towards accommodations and the use of assistive technology (AT). RESNA has developed certification programs in AT and in mobility, and maintains a directory of certified professionals.
The US Business Leadership Network (USBLN)
“The US Business Leadership Network is a national non-profit that helps business drive performance by leveraging disability inclusion in the workplace, supply chain, and marketplace.”—USBLN website
- USBLN focuses on issues of equity and diversity in the workplace. The USBLN maintains a list of ‘corporate partners’ that includes some accessibility consulting companies.
- In addition, USBLN has affiliates in various areas of the United States. The affiliates hold local meetings and educational events.
About this article
This article is published as part of The Accessibility Switchboard Project, an initiative of the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute with support from the members of the Accessibility Switchboard Project Community Of Practice, and from the Maryland Department of Disabilities.
The Accessibility Switchboard Project. Q&A: How do I find a knowledgeable accessibility consultant?. January 2017, Version 1.0. National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute. Available: http://switchboard.nfb.org/
Feedback, additions and updates
The authors welcome feedback on this and other articles in the Accessibility Switchboard. Use the feedback form to provide updates, new case studies, and links to new and emerging resources in this area. The feedback form can also be used to join the mailing list for notification of new content and updates from the Accessibility Switchboard.
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‘Wrong Setup’ by Chris M. Law & The Accessibility Switchboard Project. CC BY-SA 4.0.