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Developing in accessibility: interview with lead accessibility specialist

By
James Barber
We talk to Scope's Lead Accessibility Specialist for partnerships. We wanted to find out more about her experience and the training she offers to organisations.

How did you come to work in accessibility?

I started my career in content marketing. None of the content I worked on were accessible. I often had to understand complex subjects to create guides, articles, and infographics. Then turn that information into simple and easy to understand content.

This set me up with essential skills for creating accessible content.

Parliament

I moved into content design, working at Parliamentary Digital Service (PDS). Content design focuses on putting the user first. You write in plain English and design information to user needs. These needs are discovered during research and testing. This helps you understand the challenges and barriers people experience with content.

While at PDS, I developed my accessibility specialism. I discovered the accessibility community and I was instantly interested in it. As a disabled person, I’d found a way I could contribute to making our world better for us. A way I could fight for equality using my skillset.

I upskilled as much as I could. I went to talks and used the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). I read as much as possible from places like:

These helped me understand the best practices and how to meet the WCAG criteria. I learned how to use a screen reader. I completed level 1 and 2 qualifications in British Sign Language (BSL). I wanted basic BSL knowledge so that I wouldn’t be a barrier.

I also delivered training and learned a lot about:

  • how people learn
  • what they engage with
  • making complex topics accessible in a training format
  • using different ways of learning

Working with teams to improve accessibility helps add to your own knowledge. You have to research information when you don’t know the answer to a question. It means you constantly learn and develop.

Scope

After Parliament, I joined Scope as a content designer. Here I learned more about the lived experiences of other disabled people.

All the content we worked on was designed around user stories from research. And every content item I produced was tested. The insight from testing was so valuable.

Often, I thought I’d managed to simplify something and make it easy to read. But during testing, we’d find some topics would still be difficult to understand. You learn a lot about how people read and understand content.

During my time as a content designer, I developed and started delivering accessibility training. This led to me moving into Partnerships as an accessibility specialist. Here I deliver our accessibility training to external organisations and our partners.

Through the training and this role, I continue to learn more about:

  • the different types of assistive technology
  • the range of conditions and impairments
  • how barriers affect different people in different ways

I continually read articles, newsletters, watch talks and so on. Learning and specialising in accessibility is an ongoing process. There’s always more to learn!

I haven’t been through a specific training process or course to get where I am. A lot of it has come from on-the-job training and self-learning. With short training courses and talks in between. So, I’ve used a mix of techniques to develop my knowledge and expertise.

But the most valuable has been listening and working with disabled people. And working with the accessibility community. Training is a starting point.

Why should businesses and content creators sign up for your content accessibility training?

The training offers lots of things. When creating it, I wanted people to understand why you should do accessibility. And then how. And in a way that you can understand it, even if you’re completely new to accessibility.

My goal is to deliver training that truly engages people. That makes sure disabled people’s voices get heard. For their experiences and barriers to be understood. So that everyone who comes knows exactly what they can change to make our society more equal.

To do this, our accessibility training collects together all things I’ve learned from:

  • disabled people and my own experiences
  • Scope research on the accessibility of products and organisations
  • best practices

We prioritise putting people at the centre of accessibility. We want organisations to follow best practices. But it’s also essential they do user research and testing with disabled people.

Training with lived experiences

We use lived experiences to help explain the barriers people experience. This helps put the learnings into context and creates a better understanding. Particularly on why everyone is responsible for accessibility.

As a result, I haven’t based the training on the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). We share best practices and guidance that will help you meet the criteria, yes. But WCAG focuses much more on technical website criteria. It can overlook things like:

  • plain English
  • short sentences
  • paragraphing and layout

These can affect people with a range of conditions. Myself included as I live with chronic migraines. Reading through a large block of text can be incredibly difficult with:

  • a mild migraine headache
  • tinnitus
  • fatigue

So the accessibility criteria and legal guidelines will only take you so far. You’re not automatically accessible.

Training to inspire change

The training focuses much more on what you can do as a content creator in your daily work. And by content creator, I mean literally anyone who writes content. Whether that’s an email, job ad, presentation, social media post or webpage. I wanted to give people the tools and knowledge to start using best practices.

But I also wanted to give trainees the confidence to help others to start doing it too. To look at what you can do as an organisation to change your guidance and processes.

We include the business case and general statistics for accessibility. This is to help people go back and influence their organisations. To advocate for others to make accessibility a priority. Particularly senior staff and decision-makers.

Accessibility can also be confusing, especially if you’re completely new to it. So the training breaks it down. It uses a mix of talking, group activities and individual exercises. This helps explain it in an easy-to-understand way and digestible topics.

We share the slides with the transcript so everyone can easily go back to the information. We want you to be able to focus on the session without worrying about writing lots of notes.

I think our person-centred approach to trainees and disabled people makes our training unique and impactful. We help people understand why it’s important to create an inclusive culture. It shows that the disabled person is not responsible for accessibility, but society.

You can learn more about the course content on our events page:

Content accessibility training by Scope

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