Personal Career Goal
The next step in the career of an Assistive Technology Specialist is unclear. There is no long history for people in my field, so we must be the pioneers. There is no defined career path. I have heard of a few people in the position of Campus Accessibility Coordinator or Digital Accessibility Specialist in Higher Education. These areas are possibly the next step just above an AT Specialist or at least a lateral move. In one of these positions I could have a broader campus influence but would need to give up seeing students on a one-to-one basis. I believe this would suit me.
To be honest, I love my current position. I find it extremely rewarding to work with students. I like supervising my student workers and I get along well with my boss, client department and my co-workers. I have a considerable amount of autonomy and I don’t even have to take care of my own budget which makes life easier for me.
However, I am not often challenged any more. I have learned the skills I need for this job and I could be replaced with someone with less experience and the work would continue. I like to think that I have a nuanced, empathetic touch with the students and that I can predict more accurately what they will need and what technology will work for them. But, I can’t pretend that I’m the only person on the planet with this type of talent and that someone newer to the field could not learn a lot being in my position.
Working as an accessibility consultant for the entire campus would be a fresh new challenge. I could use my new skills in instructional design technology to create training opportunities for staff and faculty. I would be able to create policy or at least best practices for our campus. I would work with many varied departments including facilities, maintenance, student facing offices, procurement, IT, residence halls and of course the colleges and faculty.
To be honest, I would also like a bump in pay. I am now over qualified and over educated doing my job and I’d like to put my skills, talents, experience and education to better use.
Research and Discovery
I subscribe to a list serve hosted by the University at Buffalo called DSSHE-L@LISTSERV.BUFFALO.EDU that pertains to Disabilities Student Services in Higher Education. I am also an active member in ATHEN which is a national organization for Assistive and Adaptive Technologists in Higher Education and also has an email feed. Through these organizations and others I see job postings regularly.
I have been seeing job openings for Accessibility Coordinators in Higher education for a few years now. Their titles are varied. I have collected some of these listings over time. The University of Kentucky advertised an opening for a Universal Design and Instructional Technology Specialist. This position concentrated on supporting the creation of hybrid and online courses. Brandeis University advertised for a Web Accessibility Specialist. Some of the job duties included outreach and training for all web content managers on campus.
Current Job Postings
Currently, Texas State University has an opening for an Electronic Information Resources Accessibility Coordinator. One task in their job description is to “educate the university about accessibility requirements, monitor for state and federal compliance, identify tools and resources that can help, collaborate on ideas for future solutions, and support efforts to make information and services accessible.” (2018)
Western Governors University in Salt Lake City has an open position called an Accessibility Manager. The description for this one includes leading and developing a team within the Academic Programs department. “The individual will ensure accessibility standards and processes are applied to the design and development of programs and courses.” (2018)
These jobs are most often new positions created out of a realization that there is a need. In 2015, at the Accessing Higher Ground conference for assistive technologists in Westminster, Colorado, I attended a panel led class called “Anatomy of an IT Accessibility Coordinator” with Greg Kraus, Kara Zirkle and Rob Carr. Rob stated: “An Accessibility Coordinator in Higher Education is a Pegasus with a horn, a unicorn with wings. There just aren’t that many of us.” (2015)
This past week, I contacted one of the panelists, Kara Zirkle by way of LinkedIn and she gave me permission to record a phone interview with her where she described her previous jobs in two universities.
One of Kara’s job duties included establishing a procurement initiative which addressed accessibility as part of the decision making. She built processes and testing protocol for procurement. Another major duty was the oversight of web compliance. This broadened to include captioning and other standardizations for the university’s web presence.
Her job titles were IT Accessibility Coordinator at George Mason University and Accessibility Technology Specialist at Miami University. She confirmed for me that there is no standard title nor is there a standard department in which the title lives. It could be in Diversity and Equity or Information Technology, or another office (K. Zirkle, personal communication, October 17, 2018.) I have also seen this position associated with the Office of Compliance, the Disability Services Office, the Faculty Teaching and Learning Center and the Chancellor’s office.
After speaking to Kara, I realized that there is another position I hadn't considered. She described her current job working as an accessibility consultant for Essential Accessibility as a dream job. She originally wanted to open her own consulting firm but working for them gives her the best of all worlds. She doesn't have to worry about marketing herself and billing since she has a salary and full benefits yet she is quite autonomous and has a good variety of work and numerous clients. She works with a small team and always feels challenged.
Kara and I have similar backgrounds. She has a master’s degree in Instructional Design. I realize that I am on the right path to becoming fully qualified to be an accessibility consultant outside of higher education. I am already in the process of working towards the certification that she suggested would be my next step. As a matter of fact, I have organized a year-long study group to work towards taking the exam to obtain the Certified Professional in Accessibility Core Competencies (CPACC) certification from the International Association of Accessibility Professionals.
Since I have already spoken to our CIO at UCCS about creating an Accessibility position in Information Technology to no avail, I must consider leaving this department and perhaps this institution if I feel strongly about moving up in my career.
Kara’s happiness as a consultant made me realize there are other options besides trying to convince the higher ups that we need an inhouse accessibility coordinator.
I need to decide whether pursuing a career shift is worth my while. I am closer to retirement than the majority of my classmates and I may want to stay where I am and wind down in the coming years. I had 2 reasons for enrolling in this master’s program. One reason was to learn more about teaching strategies to be able to impart knowledge effectively to my learners. The other reason was to have the preparation to be able to make the next leap in my career.
I don’t think I’m ready to give up on that just yet. Once I complete my master’s degree, I will continue to speak to other professionals about their related careers. At that point, I will reflect on my priorities and I may re-evaluate my career goals.
Carr, R. (2015, November). Anatomy of an IT Accessibility Specialist Panelist Presentation at the annual conference of Accessing Higher Ground, Westminster, CO.
Electronic Information Resources Accessibility Coordinator. (n.d.). Retrieved October 17, 2018, from https://jobs.hr.txstate.edu/postings/23669
Manager, Accessibility. (2018, September 14). Retrieved October 15, 2018, from https://www.wgu.edu/about_WGU/employment/manager-accessibility