One developer’s first-hand experience taking the CPACC exam

Are you looking to upskill as a Web professional by taking the IAAP CPACC (Certified Professional in Accessibility Core Competencies) certification? Pattie Reaves, a principal user experience developer at Alley, recently completed the certification through the International Association of Accessibility Professionals (IAAP) and she described what her journey to taking the test was like.

Accessibility Awareness

Reaves first became aware of the importance of making Web work accessible while working at a small Maine newspaper as a web editor. She would receive phone calls from a reader who was blind when changes were made to the website that would make it difficult to use with a screen reader. 

Reaves said this experience taught her to be proactively mindful of how inclusive we can make our work. For the one person who speaks up that the experience doesn’t work, there are hundreds, maybe thousands, that just give up on your site and chalk it up to a bad user experience. It is a reminder of the huge impact we can have on someone’s life as a web developer.  

We need to give power to marginalized voices. When someone says “this feature doesn’t work for me because my screen reader can’t use it or I can’t use it with a keyboard,” then we really need to step back, think about what we are trying to do, and listen to them,” Reaves said.

Pursuit of Certification

Last year, Reaves wanted to elevate her skillset as a user experience developer and began to pursue her CPACC after hearing about the certification in the web a11y slack community.  In preparation she joined the WebAIM mailing list and then took the Deque University IAAP CPACC Certification Preparation Course.

Reaves dedicated about 20 hours of studying over the past year. She planned to take the test in March, and then coronavirus happened, which canceled all in-person testing in the United States. IAAP began to offer the test remotely using remote proctoring – where you take the test on your own computer and a proctor watches you to ensure the integrity of the test-taking process. Reaves completed the exam in August and is waiting to receive the results.

The Certification Process

After applying for the test within provided testing timeframes, test-takers schedule a time to take the exam. Software is installed on your computer that allows a proctor to watch test takers through the three-hour exam window.  

It is a rigorous examination, Reaves said. Materials are not allowed on your desk. The proctor must be able to see your ears. The space you use needs to be very quiet, and no one can be in the room – not even your dog! Reaves said when she was taking the test, her dog Stella barked and she told the dog to be quiet. The proctor stopped the test and reminded her she could not talk to anyone during the testing period.  With the pandemic quarantine and those confined to working in small shared spaces, it is essential to know this to plan.

Accessible Boldness

Since studying and learning the CPACC coursework, Reaves has become bolder. “I’m not afraid to talk about accessibility — it’s made it easier for me to talk about the frameworks we have to include people,” she said. “What I really like about the CPACC certification is that it’s not exclusive to the digital medium. They do talk about building design and waypoints and physical accessibility. It’s really about models and laws of how we work globally, not just digital media. I now pay attention more to how are people excluded.”

Reaves agrees that there is more knowledge and interest in making the Web accessible in the developer community than there had been when she started. Referring back to the blind reader who called her at the newspaper a decade ago, “If he hadn’t called me, then I wouldn’t have thought about it,” she said. “I’m finding that it’s become a much bigger part of the conversation over the last five years because of the legal impact. And, I think people are a lot more aware of the usability benefits that you gain from accessible websites.”

Reaves invites you to join her journey to make the Web more accessible with her and her colleagues on Alley’s blog at Alley is a digital agency that does design, development, and strategy. They primarily work with publishers, nonprofits, and museums.