100 Days of A11y

A reflection on my CPACC journey

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Let me start by saying, Wow! What a whirlwind this second round of studying felt like. I think it's because I dedicated only 45 days, rather than 100 days. Do I think I needed 100 days to study for this? Probably not. And yet, 100 days (or at least 70) would have let me spread out the material more. Most days I felt like I was cramming in a lot of information, and spending 2-3 hours each day walking through Deque coursework, Coursera videos and text, IAAP Body of Knowledge sections, and visiting recommended online resources. All the while trying to keep myself organized, stick to my self-imposed schedule, and output what I learned into concise blog posts about each topic covered in the CPACC Body of Knowledge. The exam showed me that I improved my understanding, but I still struggle in some areas.

It will be 4-6 weeks before I receive word of whether I am CPACC certified or not, but the following are my observations and feelings after I sat for the exam.

What I sailed through

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WCAG and its POUR principles were, by far, the easiest thing for me to test well in. How could I not? I'd already (over)prepared for the WAS (Web Accessibility Specialist) exam and passed with a very satisfactory score. I wasn't just trying to earn a certification; I was out to learn as much about web accessibility as I could. And I did. WCAG was a huge part of my learning earlier this year. To add to that, I work with those principles on a daily basis. I evaluate my own web design and development work by asking myself if my organization's content is perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust for people with disabilities. It's a part of me now, so I knew going in that I didn't have to spend much time studying that information. Again, I'm not saying I passed, but the POUR questions on the exam took me the least amount of time to mull over. Thank you, WAS Certification!

Universal design (UD). This one I worried over. The CPACC Content Outline gave me the first clue that these principles and concepts needed my attention and time. Did I want to spend a lot of time on them? Not really. And yet, I heeded the outline's implications, and took the advice from a few other people who earned their certification already. It didn't make sense to me at the beginning to be deeply familiar with UD, but by the end I was glad I was. Not only did it help me answer questions about the principles and application of the principles, but it motivated me to ask my own questions about the key differences between accessibility, universal design, and inclusive design. Thank you to everyone who contributed to a conversation on this topic, and verified what I was learning.

An honorable mention:

Looking back just now, I see that most of my strengths currently reside in the "Accessibility and Universal Design" section of the outline.

What I tripped over

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Despite the time I put into learning and the advice I took, I still experienced several dreadful moments during the exam, when I would read a question repeatedly, and cringe, thinking, "I've made a mistake! I was not ready for this at all." As a matter of fact, the first two questions were like that, which was not a good way for me to start the exam. I can't remember exactly what they were, but I do recall some of the topics I found myself questioning my own answers on several occasions.

Universal design in learning. This one I studied for. I even sketched out my own matrix before realizing there was one online through CAST's website. I think it was just the text-heavy content that I didn't memorize. I understand the underlying thinking behind it, but I started doubting if I'd truly incorporated it into my thinking. I'm still certain I couldn't rattle off most of that information, if it wasn't presented to me in multiple choice format. Oddly enough, learning about UDL got me thinking a lot of how to teach my co-workers about it since some of them create online coursework and webinars.

Laws. Thanks to the warning of others, I made sure I spent time with this section. However, I still couldn't quite manage to recall some of the names and details of some of the international laws (I won't deny I'm American-centric). It's something I'll continue to struggle with when someone inquires about other countries and the standards and laws they're following. On a positive note, knowledge about the UN Declaration of Human Rights, UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and their impact on legislation will forever stick with me.

Data trends. This one I knew I'd struggle with. Not because of numbers, but more due to my convoluted understanding of what I actually needed to know. How many people have a disability? I got this. You want more details and specifics. Umm... I know the perfect resource to direct you to! But, no, this information is not in my head. If I'm trying to build a case for accessibility, I'd like to be more confident in this area.

Types of disabilities. I thought for sure this was one I'd sail through. And I did with a several of those questions. However, there were a few that made me question my own competency about the people we're doing this for. I thought I knew a lot about conditions and their causes, but I am now convinced I'm not paying enough attention to the what and why of disabilities. I may have focused too much on their challenges and how to solve them.

Organizational management and governance. This was another topic that I questioned myself on. I worried a little about this one because I didn't get to that material until a few days prior to the exam. Additionally, I hadn't finished my blog post about that section prior to the exam either, so I didn't give myself the chance to internalize it well. I spent time changing and re-changing some of my answers about these, too, because the things I (thought) remembered well didn't match the language that was used in the exam. On a positive note, I was grateful for this section because it gave me affirmation that my organization is on the right track to maturing its accessibility processes.

Reflecting over the areas I was uncertain about, I had already identified these same areas during my study time, and knew they could still trip me up during the exam. Thankfully, multiple choice questions gave me some leeway in identifying what I was familiar enough with. And taking time to review all my answers (maybe more than once), before submitting them, restored some confidence in that I had still learned quite a bit about accessibility. Enough to have (felt like) I answered most of the questions correctly

When my results come, I'll know for sure how much I understood within the other CPACC Certification Outline sections: "Disabilities, Challenges, and Assistive Technologies" and "Declarations, Standards, Laws, and Management Strategies".

This is still not the end (for me)

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Throughout this process (CPACC, WAS, and even earlier), I've felt fortunate that I haven't yet experienced burnout. Taking a break between certifications was a good choice on my part. Dedicating a lengthy amount of time to study and internalize was a good choice. Choosing to study accessibility with definitive goals to reach was a good choice. Meeting accessibility experts and champions, listening more to things people with disabilities have to say, and pushing along my organization's progress... these were all unexpected bonuses along my journey.

But hear me when I say, I'm still learning. I'm still taking it all in. I still have stories to hear from people with disabilities. I am still addressing my own ableist thoughts and actions, despite living with my own impairment (disability) all my life. I still want to do better. More. I like being a web designer. I like taking accessibility head-on and making it a part of what I design and build. It's not a burden or extra for me because I see it as an improvement to my craft. Web design is accessibility. Web design is usability. Web design is inclusive. The web is for everyone. For everyone.

As I say farewell, for now, my hope is that it's not the end for you either. I'll be back here when I have some results to share. In the meantime, I have a lot more learning and work to do. Talk to me on Twitter or LinkedIn about your own accessibility journey, learning, and successes (or fails). We're all in this together. All of us.