I’m a totally blind software developer who does mostly server side programming. I’ve had some experience with section 508 assessments and am an experienced screen reader user. While I have a full time job I’d like to get into accessibility consulting part time. Is there a market for this type of thing and if so what would be the best way to get started? I’m willing to do volunteer work or help out open source projects to build my resume but haven’t found any opportunities to do this with accessibility consulting.
I'd start with the industries/organizations that are likely to be held legally accountable for not following Section 508. That will likely be government entities and large companies. (That's not to say that small companies shouldn't, but it's often harder to get them to see the value in spending the extra money for 508 compliance, though your presence might make concrete an otherwise abstract audience to them.)
I sent this question to a friend of a friend who is blind, and works full-time as an accessibility specialist for a major bank. Here are his thoughts:
Without question, there is a growing market for accessibility consulting and expertise, particularly at big companies and within government. The emailer’s expertise as a screen reader user and developer give him some excellent tools with which to build a successful career. In particular, he’ll have the ability to clearly understand the special importance of, and relationship between, controls and how assistive technologies deliver and rely on them.
As is pointed out by other commenters to his question, the biggest challenge I suspect he’ll face is how to do work with those who’d contract with him outside their normal business hours, and outside their corporate environments. I started out as a contractor, and my manager will no doubt tell you that we faced sometimes significant difficulty getting me access to the credentials and expertise I needed to be effective.
As is also astutely pointed out by a commenter to his post, he’ll want to be able to explain and market knowledge of issues and solutions around disabilities in addition to his own.
Is there a possibility of starting an accessibility group at the company you currently work for?
I worked for a large online university and a few co-workers and I just started to meet. We proposed possible solutions to some of the issues the students were having. All this happened "under the radar" until we started solving student issues. Then management started to notice and "officially" recognized our group. When I left the company, they were looking to hire an accessibility expert.
One other tip I would recommend, if you are not already familiar with them, to learn more about designing/programming for other accessibility issues like hearing loss, mobility loss, cognitive loss, etc.
Personally as a corporate client and a UX professional tasked with carrying out accessibility testing I would much rather contract you for testing the sites and applications we audit than have some 'expert' who does not rely on the technology they are testing for. Your input, comment and real world experience will be far more insightful than anything theoretical or academic an 'expert' could offer.
This may sound like a bit of a rant but I've been on the receiving end of the damming accessibility reports from said 'experts'.
The organisation in question employees a number a blind staff to help with data entry and so their applications and back office systems need to be accessible via JAWS. After a report we were called in to face the music on the failing of one of their applications that was a number of years old to rectify the accessibility failings of the software - until that point no negative comment had been made by the blind users of these applications.
When we arrived it was quickly apparent that the software had been tested in JAWS by a sighted user as their comments were mostly related to what was display on screen when pages loaded - not something a blind user would be aware of! To cut a long story short we waited for about an hour until one of the JAWS users was able to drop by to 'show us' the problems, they sat down and their first comment being 'well this install of JAWS is not even configured for use yet is it'. They subsequently went on to prove all but two items on the long list to be inaccurate, both of which were quite complex scenarios that needed a little more thought to be accessible.
As Vitaly Mijiritsky comments on your original question I have had the pleasure of being at conferences where blind JAWS users have demoed site that have won awards for being accessible and duly fail even the most basic of tests. I strongly believe that all that care about accessibility observe and employ the services of those that rely upon the tools that they 'test' for.
I wish you good luck and success in your consulting career, you'll be in high demand!
Yes there is a market for this. However most people are going to want you to consult during their normal business hours, when presumably you are working your normal full time job. Also being blind does not make you and Accessability expert. You will need to customize your resume/CV to highlight your skills and abilities in Accessability development.
If you do not have any work experience then you may want to consider getting into usability testing. I am sure there are lots of companies that would love to leverage your abilities in a constructive manner. If this is the case you may be best served by finding a consulting firm and having them market you to potential employers.