Media Access Australia spoke with Professional Certificate in Web Accessibility graduate Ryan Chittenden, Director Web Development of Fuego Digital Media, about the benefits of further education in web accessibility.
Media Access Australia: What would you say your prior knowledge of accessible websites was before you started the Professional Certificate in Web Accessibility course?
Ryan Chittenden: It was very limited. I had taken a workshop on accessibility about a year ago, so I was aware of the issues, and why accessibility is good for all users of a website. However, the workshop covered very little of how and what to look for, and how you can improve everyday code.
Like for many people in the industry, work got busy and I was not able to follow up on what this initial workshop had taught me, and expand on that in my own time. However, I always had this nagging little voice in my head that I, and my team, could do better on website accessibility. So, when this course presented itself, I knew it would be the beginning of a new career journey in website accessibility and usability.
Why do you think that accessibility knowledge is an important skill set for web developers?
In a word: usability. Every single thing you learn in this course about accessibility will make the websites you produce more usable for every user. To date, I have not discovered anything in the WCAG Level A or AA that would not benefit ALL users of a website.
What attracted you about the Professional Certificate in Web Accessibility and led to you enrolling in the course?
I will be honest; the course was brought to our attention by Mada, an organisation in Qatar that is supporting that country’s assistive technology initiatives. They offered a two-for-one deal for the course: if my company pays for one developer to take the course, they would send another developer from my company at no cost. Because I wanted to improve my team’s skills this deal was the perfect opportunity for my company to send two of my team of ten to attend. Not only am I the leader of my team, I am often the mentor or teacher too, so I paid for myself and Mada sent another one of my team members.
How did you find mixing with other people from different backgrounds? Was that a useful addition to the course content?
It was very useful. Understanding another’s perspective is always beneficial. It is very important to talk to many people and hear their challenges and how they overcame them. That makes you a better developer. And something that you don’t see as important, could be very important to someone else, so learning in a group is also vital for learning this type of information.
What did you think were the main things that you learnt from the course?
The most profound thing I learned from this course was how to ‘hear’ a website. The first assignment of the course fundamentally changed the way I perceive the web. In the first assignment we were asked to use a text-to-speech tool, cover or turn off the screen, and use our keyboard to navigate a website of our choice. I chose my company’s website that I had built.
Quickly, I learned how badly I had failed. I had to turn the screen back on so I could see what I was doing and to figure out what I was listening to. The assignment really helped in learning about what I could do better, and importantly, what I needed to do better.
It was not all bad. I learned that through applying a few good best practices in my team, and my current web construction habits, that we could easily build WCAG Level A websites. Since completing the course we have begun the process of making that our policy — that all new websites we produces will be Level A compliant, regardless if the client requires it or not.
You said that you would like others in your organisation to do the course. Apart from gaining the knowledge in the course, why would you like them to do the course?
Honestly, I want them to walk a mile in another’s shoes. That first assignment really changed the way I perceive the web. I want my team to experience this first hand. Beside the group assignment, my staff will benefit from forum interaction that will allow them to talk to others, and experience things for themselves, not just because I am their boss and told them to do it.
What do you think you will do next to further develop your accessibility knowledge?
Practice it! We are fortunate here in Qatar because Mada will evaluate sites for free, and give you a comprehensive report. By submitting all our new sites to this process, and doing our own internal review and comparing the two reports, we can improve both our evaluation skills and development skills.
Research it! As web browsers and web standards evolve we will need to make sure we are continuously improving our knowledge and skills. By paying attention to mailing lists like WebAim, and organisations like W3C, Mada, and Media Access Australia, we can learn from, and hopefully contribute back to these organisations.
If you were to give a recommendation of the course to a future student, what would that recommendation be?
Take it! Learn it! Live it! I totally wish I had a course like this when I was first learning to build websites. Learning these principles so early in your career will lead to a lifetime of better websites. If the new generation of students are accessibility conscious and implement WCAG in every website they build, within one generation inaccessible websites will go the way of the dodo bird.
Any other comments/thoughts?
Keep up the great work! I would suggest also including this in a bachelor degree program, so that students of tomorrow are learning this early in their careers.
Ryan Chittenden is a Qatar-based web developer who completed the Professional Certificate in Web Accessibility in 2013. Media Access Australia works closely with Mada, the Qatar Assistive Technology Center, to improve web accessibility and access to media and information for disabled people in Qatar and the Middle East region. The partnership extends to professional web accessibility training via the Professional Certificate in Web Accessibility course.
Want to learn more about WCAG 2.0 and web accessibility?
The Professional Certificate in Web Accessibility, a university-accredited online qualification jointly conducted by W3C member Media Access Australia and the University of South Australia, is a fully assessed six-week program that covers both accessibility principles and techniques. The course provides students with all the essentials needed to achieve compliance with international best practice in accessibility.