What Are Web Accessibility Specialist Certifications?

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What Are Web Accessibility Specialist Certifications?

Posted May 02, 2024


Posted May 02, 2024

An icon of a person wearing a ribbon that has an accessibility icon on it, next to a stylized webpage
An icon of a person wearing a ribbon that has an accessibility icon on it, next to a stylized webpage

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Web accessibility specialist certifications are certifications that enhance your knowledge of digital accessibility and how to create more accessible digital content. Learn which certifications are available.

You’ve familiarized yourself with the best practices of inclusive design and want to continue developing your skills. What’s the next step?

If you want to show a greater understanding of accessibility to potential clients and employers, consider earning a web accessibility certificate.

Of course, you don’t need a credential to advocate for people with disabilities. But earning one can help you develop the skills needed to build accessible websites and provide equivalent digital experiences for the 1.3 billion people globally who live with a disability.

To determine whether a certification will help your career, you need to understand how each program works and which skills you’ll acquire while preparing for your certification exam.

In this article, we’ll discuss some of the most well-known accessibility credentials (and a few lesser ones). 

But before we dive in, here’s a quick overview of why professional accessibility credentials are important.

What are Web Accessibility Specialist Certifications?

Put simply, web accessibility specialist certifications are certificates you earn after demonstrating your knowledge of digital accessibility. They show you have the knowledge and skills to create accessible, inclusive digital experiences that comply with accessibility laws and standards such as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).

These certifications are beneficial if you’re looking to further your skills in digital accessibility. They also:

  • Demonstrate your knowledge: Accessibility certification courses ensure you’re up-to-date on the latest accessibility standards.
  • Prepare you to succeed in the accessibility field: Most certifications provide in-depth information about accessibility laws, standards, and best practices. This understanding sets you up for more success in the accessibility industry.
  • Open up more job opportunities: Earning a web accessibility specialist certification can open the door to more job opportunities. In addition to your portfolio, you’ll have a professional certification that proves your accessibility skills and knowledge to potential employers.
A banner that reads International Association of Accessibility Professionals, next to a ribbon with an accessibility icon

IAAP Certifications for Web Accessibility

In 2015, the International Association of Accessibility Professionals (IAAP) created several certification programs for experts in the accessibility space.

People who earn these certifications can demonstrate their knowledge of inclusive design practices, international web accessibility laws, and WCAG — a widely used set of web standards focused on accessibility and inclusivity.

The accessibility certifications offered by the IAAP include:

Certified Professional in Accessibility Core Competencies (CPACC)

According to the IAAP, the Certified Professional in Accessibility Core Competencies (CPACC) credential is a “foundational certification” that demonstrates broad knowledge about disabilities, accessibility, universal design, and accessibility-related laws and management standards.

The CPACC exam does not require technical knowledge of web development practices, nor does it include detailed questions about WCAG. Instead, it focuses on management strategies and essential concepts. 

For up-to-date cost information, visit the IAAP website.

Web Accessibility Specialist (WAS)

The IAAP Web Accessibility Specialist (WAS) credential is a technical-level exam that assesses your hands-on technical knowledge and web accessibility competence. It is intended for people with experience in writing, remediating, or identifying accessibility issues in code. The test includes questions related to the latest version of WCAG (currently, WCAG 2.2).

It’s important to note that knowledge of JavaScript, HTML programming, and front-end elements will not be enough to pass the WAS certification exam. As we mentioned above, the exam is designed to test your current hands-on experience in accessibility.

People who pass both the WAS and CPACC examinations gain an additional credential: Certified Professional of Web Accessibility (CPWA). We’ll discuss this credential in greater detail below.

For the most up-to-date information about cost and qualifications for WAS, please visit the IAAP website.

Certified Professional of Web Accessibility (CPWA)

Earning your CPWA certification shows that you have a strong understanding of accessibility foundations as well as hands-on knowledge on how to build accessible websites, apps, and other digital content. The IAAP offers this certificate as “evidence of the significant achievement of passing both exams.”

The CPWA certificate is valid for three years; individuals can renew the certificate by completing 55 Continuing Accessibility Education Credits (CAECs), all of which are offered through the IAAP. 

For cost information, visit the IAAP website.

Accessible Document Specialist (ADS)

PDFs and other electronic documents need to be made accessible with disabilities, and WCAG can be applied to web-delivered documents. The Accessible Document Specialist (ADS) shows an individual has “hands-on experience with creating and evaluating accessible electronic documents (i.e. word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, desktop publishing programs, and PDFs). It also shows an individual has experience in remediating these documents.

The ADS certification exam includes questions about the latest accessibility standards and technical specifications for accessible documents.

For the most up-to-date information about the ADS certification cost and qualifications, please visit the IAAP website.

Certified Professional in Accessible Built Environments (CPABE)

The Certified Professional in Accessible Built Environments (CPABE) builds on the information covered in CPACC. The certification course focuses more on the actual built environment as well as the relevant codes, standards, and legislation. Additionally, CPABE requires individuals to apply universal design principles to digital environments. Successful CPABE candidates are recognized as associate, advanced, or expert level accessibility professionals.

For up-to-date information on CPABE courses and pricing, visit the IAAP website.

A banner that says JAWS Certification and NVDA Expert Certification, next to three graduation caps

Are Any Other Certifications Relevant for Digital Accessibility?

While the IAAP certifications are among the most well-known credentials for web accessibility specialists, several others may be useful for professional development within the accessibility space. We’ve included a few of them below.

JAWS Certification

Screen readers (software that converts text to audio or braille) are useful tools for individuals with disabilities as well as for testing digital content for accessibility. Freedom Scientific’s Job Access With Speech (JAWS) is currently the most widely used screen reader, and Freedom Scientific offers a certification that demonstrates proficiency with the program.

The JAWS Certification exam draws from more than 450 questions covering the software’s installation, keyboard commands, HTML customization, and other categories. Passing the JAWS exam earns you a spot on Freedom Scientific’s list of JAWS Certified Individuals. 

To learn more about screen reader testing, read what Kaely Wang, the Director of Quality Assurance at AudioEye and the proud holder of a JAWS certification, has to say about the importance of manual testing.

NVDA Expert Certification

Non-Visual Desktop Access (NVDA) is currently the second-most popular screen reader NV Access (the organization behind the software) offers the NVDA Expert Certification, an online examination that tests general knowledge of the NVDA screen reader and how to help others learn how to use the product.

For the most up-to-date information on taking the exam, please visit NVDA’s website.

How to Choose an Accessibility Course

If you’re learning about accessibility to improve your skills as a web designer, developer, or content creator, you can get started without paying for a professional credential. Learn about the four principles of accessibility, then read through WCAG to build your knowledge of the best practices.

When you’re ready for the next step:

  • The IAAP’s CPACC certification is an excellent starting point that doesn’t require extensive technical knowledge. 
  • For developers, the IAAP’s WAS credential is a logical next step.
  • The IAAP’s ADS credential is an excellent option for content writers and other professionals involved in the document creation process.
  • Regular screen reader users should consider JAWS/NVDA certifications.

It’s important to note that accessibility certifications, while helpful, aren’t strictly necessary for working within the accessibility space or advocating for inclusive design. 

Your experience and knowledge are the most important factor — and if you build your understanding of WCAG, you’ll be in a great position to advocate for accessibility.

A stylized webpage that shows a number of warning icons indicating accessibility errors

When Testing Content for Accessibility, Involve People with Disabilities

With enough motivation and experience, anyone can earn an accessibility certification that demonstrates their accessibility knowledge. However, every accessibility initiative should include people with disabilities. 

Why? People who use assistive technology (AT) in their daily lives often have a unique perspective that can be helpful when evaluating content for accessibility. Although WCAG is composed of pass-or-fail criteria, many of the guidelines require subjective judgment. 

For example, someone who lacks experience with accessibility best practices might determine that an image meets WCAG Success Criterion 1.1.1: Non-Text Content simply by providing a text alternative — but someone who uses a screen reader in their daily life might notice the alt text isn’t informative enough to provide an equivalent experience for those who cannot perceive the image.

Ultimately, the goal of web accessibility is to make the internet more inclusive. While accessibility certifications are a great first step in enhancing accessibility, it’s imperative to involve users with disabilities whenever possible. From setting goals and testing content to fixing accessibility issues, users with disabilities should have a chance to share feedback.

The AudioEye A11iance Team logo

AudioEye’s Certified Specialists and the A11iance Team

Earning a web accessibility specialist certification demonstrates an individual’s commitment to digital accessibility. At AudioEye, many of our employees hold one or more accessibility certifications, and we’re proud of their dedication. By combining technical skills with practical knowledge and real-world experiences from the disabilities community, our staff is helping to make online experiences more accessible for everyone.

AudioEye’s A11iance Team — many of whom use assistive technology in their daily lives — are deeply involved in testing digital content for accessibility. Based on their feedback, our team provides recommendations for practical remediations that impact real-life users.

In addition to expert human testing and remediation services that involve users with disabilities, AudioEye provides an automated accessibility platform that performs more than 400 automated tests to identify potential WCAG violations. We believe that our hybrid approach provides the best path to compliance — and the best results for users.

Whether you’re looking to work with an expert accessibility partner or want to provide accessibility training for your organization’s employees, AudioEye has you covered. Contact us to learn more about our accessibility platform and services.

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