Sanna Kramsi - Blog A peek into my life

My journey with Web Accessibility Specialist certification

January 19, 2023 | Accessibility

When I started learning about accessibility, I quickly decided it was something I'd want in my career. I encountered IAAP (International Association of Accessibility Professionals) while searching for training and certification options. I noticed they have a few accessibility certificates. And also that the more technical WAS (Web accessibility specialist) required at least 3 years of accessibility experience. So this could be a long-term professional goal.

While working at my previous company, I did ask if they would sponsor me to get the certification. And at least at the time the company didn't see enough value in it and declined. As the exam is quite expensive, at that time I decided to leave it be for now. But after switching to my current employer, I brought up the certification possibility. We looked into the topic and noticed that the certification did pop up every now and again in our sales cases. So the certification could indeed be useful. I was quite happy that they didn't at least shut down the idea. And then last year when it was time to apply for a training budget, I decided to apply for the certification. As an extra positive, the company also paid me to take a preparation course I had offered to pay for myself.

Preparing for the exam

Preparing for the exam proved to be quite hard for me. I did take Deque's WAS preparation course. The course helped me study with a clear content structure. Definitely recommend the course if you are planning to take the exam. It's not required to be able to pass the exam, nor does it guarantee that you pass. And it's good to know that you won't have access to the course materials forever. But at least for me, the course provided some needed structure. I used the prep course section tests to review the study topics a couple of times after finishing the course. So I definitely got value from the course.

After finishing the prep course, I had difficulties focusing on studying. Partly because I felt like I knew the topics. But partly because I wasn't sure on what level I needed to know things. For example, should I know how to use JAWS, and if so, on what level? I didn't want to exhaust myself trying to learn every possible tidbit that I wouldn't need in my daily work. I also am the type of person who will want to remake a component done wrong instead of trying to patch it. So I didn't spend a lot of time looking at the ways to use all the ARIA properties. That was also because I know that if I need them at my work, I will still read through the specs and documentation before using them. So no need to remember everything by heart. I used the body of knowledge provided by IAAP quite a lot in my studies. It also provided some kind of structure.

Having these difficulties also caused me quite a bit of extra stress. Parts of my brain didn't agree on what needed to happen, and it was quite hard. I'm fortunate enough to have a good group of supportive people around me who helped me to try to cope with myself.

Applying to take the exam

I decided to take the exam at the last exam slot of the year to give myself some extra time to prepare. Applying for the exam required some work, but the required steps were quite clear. I decided against explaining my experience in detail and sent a CV with the application. But my CV wasn't detailed enough, and they asked me for clarifications of my knowledge and experience. This step really made me doubt myself and I even asked them if they thought I should instead wait for another year before taking the exam. I had pretty much then decided that they will reject me and I'll spend some more time learning more. But then they went and approved my exam. This sent me into a bit of a spiral, to be honest. I was super insecure about myself at that moment and I worried that they made a mistake and that I'd made a mistake. People reminded me that this will be a learning experience in any case. If I succeed, it will be great that I succeed. But if I fail, this will teach me the level of the questions in the exam and will help me prepare better for the next time. In theory, such good advice, but my brain didn't accept it immediately. I have a strong fear of failure and it took me a while to stop spiraling with my worries and start focusing on what should happen next.

After getting approved for the exam, all I needed to do was to book the actual exam slot. That was easy and soon I had the authorization code ready for the exam. Then all I needed to do was actually take the exam.

The exam

I had read quite a bit about the remote exam option. I felt like it could have been less stressful to me as an idea, but the setups and everything seemed super stressful. Especially after reading about other people's experiences with the remote exam, I decided to go take the exam at a dedicated company.

And I'm so glad I did. The experience there was pleasant and even quite calming. The person who took us in was helpful, friendly, and kind. I felt immediately safe there. When I sat in front of the computer and the exam, I was surprisingly calm. I was able to work on the exam and didn't really have much anxiety at all.

The exam by default is two hours, but I could ask for an extra hour because I'm not a native English speaker. I decided to ask for the extra time, mostly to have some extra recovery time if I went into a panic during the exam. Luckily that didn't happen and the language in the test wasn't as complicated as I expected. I'm always quite fast to finish exams and this was no exception. I went through the exam twice and was out in under two hours.

Life after the exam

After finishing the exam began maybe the most annoying time. Waiting for the results of the exam. I started questioning myself about the answers I gave and all the usual things. But luckily I got over that quite quickly as I assumed that I will not pass and I'll just then retake the exam and learn more of those details I needed to. The results were said to come around four to six weeks from the exam. But the results came already a little over three weeks after the exam. And to my relief, the email congratulated me on passing the exam. Did I pass with as great a score as I would have liked? No. But to be satisfied with the score, it would have needed to be 100%, as I have a bad habit of putting way too high expectations on myself. But I was still happy with the result because of everything mentioned above in this post. And now I can proudly call myself a certified accessibility professional.

I'm now just waiting to get my name on the list of WAS-certified professionals. I will also receive a badge. What I nice way to start the new year! Now I just need to start working on maintaining my certificate.