Some of my A11y books

Career switching - the how to guide

I've been in recruitment for the last 11 years, doing a variety of roles - recruitment admin, experienced hiring, MBA hiring, PhD and research hiring, internal account management for our engineering sites...You name it, I probably did it. As much as I poured my heart into it, lately there was a little voice "Hey you, yes YOU, you are getting too comfortable, what are you going to do next?". 

The nagging voice was not taking any BS, it was present all the time - while doing the dishes, when closing my laptop after work, it was no longer whispering, it was full on yelling. 

I am SUPER happy to report the voice is now quiet, I am joining a new team doing something which is incredibly close to my heart, working on accessibility. You know, the type of work I didn't in my wildest dreams thought I would get the opportunity to do as a full time job. "Wait, waaaaait, wait" you might say. "Recruitment to accessibility, how did you manage that?".

Here is my recipe of "what got me here" (item lists don't need to be done in a particular order).

1. Figure out WHERE you want to get 

I made a list of:

  • Skills I have, I am good at, but don't necessarily enjoy doing. What jobs have a high degree of those skills needed? Safe to say, I wouldn't be happy doing those jobs so strike them off the list. This helped massively, I had a misguided idea I would really enjoy doing a chief of staff role. Guess what, lots of the skills needed in that role, while I can do them, I wouldn't like much.
  • Skills I have, I am good at, and enjoy doing. What jobs have a high degree of those?This is a GREAT list for roles that are a lateral move. 
  • Skill I don't have, but I project I would enjoy doing. What are the jobs that match, with a medium to long term aspiration? Combined with the previous point, what lateral move can I make today to move into this space? Also, what are the skills I can develop today ahead of the "dream job"?

2. Get mentors outside of your function, industry etc

I mentioned I was part of university recruitment. ALL my mentors were outside of recruitment, specifically in engineering, marketing, accessibility. That might sound like a random list, it is NOT. By getting diverse perspectives, which were not pigeonholed to my existing expertise, I was able to discover a world of opportunity I had no idea about, and would have not otherwise considered. 

Since I was diagnosed with dyslexia, I was reading everything I could get my hands on to understand more about all kinds of disability. Yet somehow, the idea of working in accessibility never crossed my mind. More so, I would have NEVER had enough courage to go for it, because I thought I am not be good enough, I am not an expert, etc. It was one of my mentors who pushed me to apply when a role was available. I thought I had ZERO chances to get, my mentor yelled at me otherwise. Great mentors will kick your bum and push you to do things you are capable of doing, but are afraid to. 

3. Lateral moves are your best friend

If what you are trying to achieve seems waaaay out of reach, make a lateral move which will help you get closer. 

In my case, I don't have deep technical expertise of assistive technology, so going for a specialized technical role in accessibility from the start might not be the smoothest of transitions, nor the easiest pitch for a hiring manager to buy into. 

When I applied to my now role, I identified the things I CAN do - skills I developed over the years that will set me up for success: I sure can PM project, I am good at building relationships, I understand what it is to work with people from different cultures, and while I might not be an accessibility expert (yet!) I sure will give it my all because this is a life's passion and sure ain't gonna be wasting an amazing opportunity.

I also was very clear of the things I can bring by having a diverse perspective, there is a LOT to be said about a fresh or different view point. 

4. Have tons of informationals

I researched the heck out of the type of roles I thought I could do, and then mapped them to teams in the company that had those roles.

I then reached out to people who I might have known or who I didn't know at all and asked tons of questions about the work they do, they type of people they hire, how often they hire, what is the size of their team, what skills do they need, what type of projects they work on, what makes people successful long term in their space. 

I had about a billion questions. HOWEVER, and that however needs capitals, I never entered a discussion without doing research. I didn't approach things as "Tell me more about your team". Instead I would say "I see you are working on X, Y, Z which have this impact into the market / product etc, can you tell me more about your team's goals and impact etc". 

Nobody, and I do mean nobody, wants to speak with somebody who comes to the table unprepared. Do your homework. That includes doing your homework on the person you are talking to - what is something cool they posted about their work? Address it, mention you read about it ,and what your take aways are. Show interest!

5. Foster and bring value to the network

I heard this from Dona Sarkar who, in one of her talks, explained that before you take you need to give, give, give, give, give. It resonated a lot. Imagine you have a debit card and you want to make a money withdrawal. Unless there is money there to begin with, there is nothing to withdraw. Relationships are the same, before you take you need to make sure you put some money in the bank and bring value. 

When reaching out to people, asking for their advice and perspective, how can you build value to them first? Research, yes that word again, see what their interests are (professionally and personally) and share things with them - news articles that might be of interest, news of opportunities, make connections with people who might have goals etc. Don't just take, you might be lucky enough for the bank to give you a short term loan, but it won't take you far.

Once those relationships are established, nurture them. Stay in touch, provide value to the other person, don't just consider things as a transnational one off.

6. Learn in the open and follow experts 

As I was embarking on my accessibility quest, I was consuming a lot of content - either books, or video training, whatever form of learning. In order to shake off some of my imposter who was telling me "You know nothing, Jon Snow" I started sharing in the open what I was learning. I wrote articles on my blog and published them on LinkedIn, I would share small things via Tweets, I would share things with my team at work about accessibility and try to help others make their work more accessible. 

Equally, I was following the experts. A friend told me "You don't have Twitter, but that's where all the accessibility folks hang out". So, I opened a Twitter account. Figure out where your target audience prefers to gather - is it Twitter, is it Facebook, where is it? Once you have it figured out, join the crowd and engage them. Experts LOVE to share their expertise (most times). 

7. Show you can do the work before you had to do the work 

I did this out of passion, but it was a MASSIVE booster on my CV, interviews and ultimately getting the job. I became a self proclaimed accessibility advocate. In the space I was in control off, personally and professionally, I started building with accessibility in mind.

I looked at my side business and the website, I discovered it wasn't accessible at all. Trial and error, starting doing small things to make it better. I documented what worked, what didn't work. I also thought of the type of products I made, and started playing around with new concepts of shoes which can be easier to use for people with disabilities.

Then in the day job, I did a full accessibility audit in terms of what is accessible and what it not. I presented this to my management, together with a fully fledged plan on how to fix it and volunteered to fix it. You might ask "but isnt that more work?". Well of course it is, but it's  work I was passionate about, was desperate to get to do, I was doing in a safe environment, and I was developing skills. Those are things ANY hiring manager will very much care about.

Now, it's your turn. Make your dream a reality.

Accessibility 

I am getting tons of questions from people interested in accessibility which is amazing! Here are some things that helped me switch to working on accessibility (on top of the points mentioned above). 

Books

Yes, dyslexic people can read and enjoy reading too. In no particular order here are some of my favorite ones:

  • Mismatch (Simplicity: Design, Technology, Business, Life): How Inclusion Shapes Design by Kat Holmes. I would recommend reading this one first. It's a brilliant introduction to somebody like me who knew next to nothing on the topic. It's simple and easy to read.
  • Inclusive Design for a Digital World: Designing with Accessibility in Mind (Design Thinking by Regine M. Gilbert. This was my favourite one foe understanding more about tech and how accessibility design ties into it. Again, as a beginner I found it very approachable.
  • Agile Accessibility Handbook: A Practical Guide to Accessible Software Development at Scale Hardcover by Dylan Barrell - for those using agile methodology, this talks about accessibility for agile practices.
  • Accessible America: A History of Disability and Design: 2 by Bess Williamson. This one was a bit hard to read due to my dyslexia, but fascinating history of disability in the US and progress to date.
  • Design Justice: Community-Led Practices to Build the Worlds We Need (Information Policy) by Sasha Costanza–chock. Focused on the importance of design and the role of diversity and communities. Motto is "build WITH not FOR". 
  • The Dyslexic Advantage by Brock L. Eide & Fernett F. Eide. It was really insightful, as a person who has dyslexia this enabled be to know so much more about myself. 
  • Demystifying Disability by Emily Ladau. Brilliant introduction to disability for those familiar with the topic or new to it. Equally Disability the basics by Tom Shakespeare is a great read.
  •  Being Heumann by Judith Heumann. This one is a gem. I will let you discover exactly how amazing it is.

Online courses and other video content

  • An introduction to Accessibility and Inclusive Design by the University of Illinois:  An Introduction to Accessibility and Inclusive Design | Coursera. It's a free course and while it's a bit of a time investment it was the best thing for me as a total newbie to learn about accessibility. 
  • The Microsoft Enable channel on MSFTEnable - YouTube. It's a great resources of easily digestible 3 min videos on all things accessibility. 

 Following A11Y experts and folks working in the field.

  • I am still developing my network of people to follow, but have a look at the people i follow on Twitter. My handle is @Ioana_in_a11y.

WCAG

Yes, it can be really daunting trying to break it down and understanding it all, but it's still useful to start reading even highlights and main topics of web compliance.

On top of WCAG, get familiar with other legislation out there such as ADA, section 508 and  EN 301 549. Understanding the legal normative is a massive advantage. 

Use AT (assistive technology)

For a few minutes a day get familiar with assistive technology. Some easy things to do is to learn the basic commands in Microsoft Narrator, use high contrast mode in Windows, magnifier, immersive reader in Office products, etc. You won't be an expert user of all AT over night, but it's a great soft landing into understanding how it works, the experience etc.

Trusted tester 

Full disclaimer, I haven't begun this one yet but it was recommended to me  Section 508 Trusted Tester Conformance Test Process Version 5 | Homeland Security (dhs.gov) . If you are a bit more technical and want to really take your skills to the next level in terms of compliance this seems to be a great way to do so.

Lead with A11Y

You don't have to be an expert to lead with accessibility. Do it constantly in all that you make and in your online presence. Use Alt Text on your social media, make sure your videos have captions, it's the small and consistent things you can do in order to make things more accessible to everyone. 

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