Accessibility Interview Questions
So, you got permission to bring an accessibility subject matter expert on board. What accessibility-related questions do you ask candidates to figure out if they actually know what they are doing, especially if you are not an accessibility subject matter expert yourself?
In a previous article I highlighted four intangible behaviors that I thought were crucial for successful accessibility candidates. Just to recap (in case you don’t want to plow through that article) they are:
- Creative problem-solving
- Keeping calm in the face of fire / chaos
- Learning agility
- Getting goals accomplished through influence and persuasion
Verify any formal accessibility credentials
The purpose of credential verification is to confirm credentials presented in the application/resume. Rather than wasting time on this topic during the interview, this is something the recruiter should be doing for you in *advance* of the interview. If you are all on your lonesome and have to do this yourself, some credentials to ask about are:
- CPACC / WAS / CPWA (all from IAAP)
- JAWS certification from Vispero (formerly Freedom Scientific)
- NVDA certification from NV Access
- 508 Trusted Tester Certification from the US federal government. This certification is more relevant if it was achieved or renewed AFTER June 2018.
- Certified ADA coordinator from the University of Missouri Columbia — ask about specific subject matter explored in getting the certificate since it is possible to get this certification with minimal digital accessibility experience. But if all the electives taken were focused on digital accessibility, people with this certification can have a great deal of digital accessibility knowledge.
Much accessibility knowledge is self-taught, because there just aren’t that many formal college classes or programs on the topic. Sometimes there are non-credit classes or bootcamps that a candidate may have undertaken which don’t lead to a certificate. Even if the candidate hasn’t been able to go to a class or a bootcamp due to location or cost, they have to have gotten their accessibility experience somewhere, because no one was born knowing how to use a screen reader. This type of question might might include things like “What did you learn at X (or while exploring X) that you didn’t expect?” and and “What is your favorite CSUN session / Smashing Article / Accessibility newsletter.” Again, good question to give the recruiter to ask in advance.
It’s important to know what accessibility tools a candidate has had exposure to. It’s equally important NOT to make a decision based on the content of this list. If a candidate’s previous experience was at a cheapskate organization, they may not have had a full JAWS license or AMP Continuous available to them. Ask the candidate what the last accessibility tool they installed was, and why they chose it.
The answer doesn’t really matter but it is always interesting to understand candidates’ motivations for moving into a particular specialty area — accessibility or otherwise. Remember NEVER inquire about medical conditions — See the section titled “Don’t freaking ask anything illegal” at the end of this article.
It is super important to make sure that your successful candidate’s opinions on accessibility align with yours because so many of the W3C guidelines are subject to interpretation. Questions on opinions in accessibility might include things like “What would you add to WCAG that you feel W3C should have addressed?” Another one I like to ask is “What do you think about ARIA Live Region?” followed by “When would you use it, when would you avoid using it?” Another good one is “Is it more important to provide details to screen reader users or be concise?” My final questions in this area are usually “how do you convince someone that is anti-accessibility that it is important?” possibly followed up by “How do you tell someone they are wrong?”
Like many other recommended questions on my list, you aren’t looking for a right or wrong answer. If the candidate doesn’t have an opinion or only gives you surface level answers, then clearly they haven’t done a deep dive on the topic or faced these situations before. These questions are valuable because the answers disclose whether the candidate a) knows enough about the specific topic inquired about to discuss it in-depth, and b) can take a position on something and argue both for and against it.
Refrain from asking the trite “What is your greatest weakness?” question. Everyone has a pre-programmed answer for that. At best, it does not provide robust information about the candidate. At worst, it may make the candidate feel forced to disclose a hidden disability to explain their weakness. You don’t want to go there.
This type of open-ended question provides the ability to drill down into more details of a candidate’s answer to a previous question, or it can be a standalone question. And your legal department will love you for taking the “what if” approach because you can disclose things about your current accessibility state in the hypothetical.
“What if you run out of time and there are still open accessibility issues?” is probably the most important question you can ask, especially a candidate interviewing for an accessibility lead or manager position. This happens literally ALL of the time. The purpose of this specific question is to evaluate the candidates’ prioritization and problem-solving skills, especially how they would break down and analyze a potential real-world situation.
More specific questions along these lines would include something like “What if an engineering manager refused to fix a Level A defect in the release candidate? What steps you would take?” A thoughtful answer here will address the severity and complexity of the issue, ARIA workarounds, and not just land on the “fix it dammit” solution that all accessibility managers really want.
If this is a position that requires accessible coding expertise and if the candidate does not possess WAS certification, the interviewer will need to quiz the candidate on accessible coding techniques to make sure the candidate has the equivalent of WAS certified-level knowledge.
If the interviewer himself or herself is not at the WAS certified-level for writing accessible code, then make the question more abstract — “Tell me how to code custom tabs to make them accessible” or “tell me how to make a map work optimally for both for screen reader users and users without disabilities” Take notes on the answer (a picture if you’ve asked them to whiteboard it is a good idea) and check with someone who is WAS certified if you don’t know if the candidate’s answer was good enough or not.
If this is a position that requires accessible design expertise, ask the person which of the WCAG guidelines can be addressed in design and how designs should be handed off to developers. This is also a good place to ask questions related to universal and inclusive design classes and experience.
Some of the sillier questions I’ve personally been asked are “If you were a marsupial, what type of marsupial would you be?” (Google) “Rhomboid or Parallelogram?” (dot com startup which is now owned by Reuters). This type of question is intended to see how the candidate responds when they get thrown a curve ball. Which happens in accessibility. A lot. Save this one for the end if you still have time left and you’ve gotten all your substantive questions answered.
Don’t freaking ask the candidate anything illegal !!!!!
Don’t even think about it. Just don’t.
If the candidate volunteers something about a disability (i.e. I need one afternoon off per week for physical therapy or I can’t work under fluorescent lights) you should not, may not, MUST not ask questions about the candidate’s medical condition. The safest answer is “if you are the successful candidate, we will take that request up through our reasonable accommodations process.” And consider the consultative process required around reasonable accommodations triggered, and follow up IMMEDIATELY after the person is hired, preferably before their start date.
Do not fall into the trap of thinking “reasonable accommodations are not required for contractors” 1) That is not true in the 9th circuit, and 2) If you are going to pay someone a lot of money to do something for you, do you really want to ignore something that will make them more efficient? I think #2 kind of says it all.
I am probably carrying some baggage about this issue because I *literally* got asked once if I was going to wear “those ugly shoes” (i.e. bulky leg braces and custom orthotics inside wide sneakers that enabled me to walk) if I was hired. I was offered the job over this interviewer’s objections and did accept it because I believed in the company’s mission. The interviewer who asked me that question (head of HR !!!) was fired about 8 months later for doing different illegal things.
There are hundreds if not thousands of articles about other questions that are good for interviewing in general to determine other vectors necessary for a candidate’s success in your organization. My intent here was to only focus on those that address the very narrow range of things hiring managers should ask about to make sure accessibility professional candidates actually know a fair amount about accessibility. Gomez v. GNC recently informed us that courts indeed think this is important. GNC ended up on the wrong side of that one, and it probably cost them at least 7 figures.