Accessibility & Inclusion - The Future Is In Our Hands


Posted on: December 5, 2014 by Neil Milliken

We who work in the profession or who advocate for greater accessibility are custodians and must work to be able to hand over to the next generation when the time comes.

There is a shortage of skills in the Accessibility profession.

Atos-Accessibility-Inclusion-The-Future-Is-In-Our-Hands

The accessibility world is a small one. For a world population of Billions the number of people working in the field of accessibility and Assistive Technology is counted in thousands.

The Webaim Survey of Accessibility Practitioners was very revealing, it highlighted some fundamental challenges:

Like the rest of the IT industry (Excluding the VC Funded Youth focussed Start up Bubble) accessibility professionals are not in the first flush of youth:

Over 84% of respondents were over the age of 30 and 35% were aged 45 and above.

“When compared to age demographics from surveys conducted in the broader web design and development field, those in web accessibility tend to be notably older. The 2011 A List Apart Survey for People Who Make Websites, for example, had 45.4% of respondents under age 29, compared to only 15.5% for web accessibility practitioners.”* source: webaim

Practitioners tend to be older and highly educated (84.1% reported having a College degree or above with 38.5% having a masters or higher), and therefore the labour costs of doing accessibility work are higher than in the IT industry as a whole.

We have a shortage of practitioners that are in high demand and a significant number of them are due to retire within the next couple of decades. The skills shortage becomes more pressing when you consider that in 1960 there were on average about 3 youngsters for every elderly person, by 2060 there may be more than two elderly people for each youngster. (Source: Eurostat)

Recently I saw on twitter that Google had recruited Viktor Tsaran to work on accessibility of their social offering; great for Google but a big loss for PayPal.

So talent goes to where talent is rewarded and it is good to see companies recruiting as this means they are making the effort to develop products that are inclusive. But rather than keep on hiring the same people companies need to grow the skill base.

So where is the next generation of accessibility people coming from?

I would like to get to the point where inclusive design is the norm, where products are created that can be used with ease by the widest range of people with a broad span of differing abilities (& disabilities).

However, I know that there is a long road yet to travel before that becomes the case and even if and when we reach that point we still need people with skills to support the Assistive Technologies (ATs) that are so transformative for many people.

Within our organisation we have a growing team of people dedicated to bringing to life our IUX (Inclusive User Experience) vision and delivering Accessibility Managed Services for clients. Given the market I described earlier finding the right skills and attracting people has been a challenge.

So I am really pleased that with the support of our UK management we have been able to do something that to my knowledge has not been done before.

Introducing our “Accessibility (IUX) Academy Programme”

Based in our Leeds offices we now have 5 bright apprentices who form our first intake on the Atos Accessibility Academy programme.

On the picture above, from left to right: Kyle White-Thackray, Jack Wood, Mark Wilcock, Patrick Savidge and Alastair Brown.

It is early days but we believe the scheme has great potential. It also signals our commitment as an organisation to supporting diversity in the workplace and for our customers.

How it works

Here are some details of the scheme:

The academy is a higher level apprentice scheme so incorporates a work-based learning programme and leads to a nationally recognised qualification at Level 4. Read about higher level apprenticeships on the Apprenticeship Scheme Official Website.

This is equivalent to a higher education certificate, higher education diploma or a foundation degree.

There is some funding from the government which varies based upon the age of the apprentices.

The programme lasts for 18 months and is structured to enable the apprentices to be proficient in:

  • Using and supporting a range of assistive technologies
    • Screen readers
    • Magnifiers
    • Speech Recognition Systems
    • Assistive Hardware devices
  • Programming frameworks and theory including:
    • Java
    • JavaScript
    • SQL
    • .Net
  • Testing methodology
  • UX theory and practice
  • Creative Problem Solving
  • Understanding and applying standards such as:
    • WCAG 2.0
    • ISO 9241-171
    • ISO 13066-1

I am really pleased that we are able to equip the next generation with the skills to help them support people live and work independently in the future. I sincerely hope that other organisations will follow in our footsteps.

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About Neil Milliken

Head of Accessibility & Digital Inclusion and member of the Scientific Community
With over a decade of experience in the assistive technology industry, Neil is the subject matter expert on Accessibility and Assistive Technology for Atos, delivering consultancy, expertise and supporting bid and delivery teams across customer accounts and internally. Neil is the Atos representative on the Business Taskforce For Assistive Technology which has members across industry and government. He also sits on various advisory bodies including the e-accessibility forum for the UK Department for Culture Media and Sport. Previously Neil ran the operations for one of the world’s leading Assistive Technology suppliers where he was instrumental in the creation of industry standards and Supplier SLAs for the Disabled Student Allowance. He was also a director of a Joint venture company that developed an award winning Mobile app for dyslexia. He has a passion for his subject matter and loves mobiles, technology and music in no particular order.

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