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What Can You Learn from Getting Certified in Accessibility? - the CPACC Edition

A few months ago, I was nervous. I was waiting for the results of the IAAP CPACC (Certified Professional in Accessibility Core Competencies) exam. I took it in June, and right after the exam I was sure I'd pass it, but as the weeks went by, I grew more conscious about the mistakes I had (maybe) made. My confidence had turned into near certainty of failure. So finally, when the results arrived, and I got a mail with congratulations on passing the exam, I was so relieved and happy!

What is CPACC?

IAAP (the organization providing the certification) describes CPACC:

The IAAP Certified Professional in Accessibility Core Competencies (CPACC) credential is IAAP's foundational certification, representing broad, cross-disciplinary conceptual knowledge about 1) disabilities, 2) accessibility and universal design, and 3) accessibility-related standards, laws, and management strategies.
IAAP CPACC Certification

So, as the name states - it is a certification about accessibility core concepts - disabilities, accessibility, universal design, and laws and standards related to these topics.


What did I learn when studying for the exam? A ton. And also that I know just about nothing. In the CPACC Content Outline, there are three categories:

  • Disabilities, Challenges, and Assistive Technologies
  • Accessibility and Universal Design
  • Standards, Laws, and Management Strategies

I'll go through each of these categories and pick up some points from each section. I must point out that this blog post is a collection of thoughts and not a comprehensive guide to the CPACC certification.

Disabilities, Challenges, and Assistive Technologies

This section combines different aspects of disability; the theoretical models, various characteristics of disability, disability etiquette, statistics, and assistive technology. It was a lot to take in - and by far the most informative section of the three.

In this section, I think all of the parts were equally exciting. If I had to pick one to be the most fascinating, it would be the theoretical models of disability. It was interesting to read about them and how they are in conversation with each other, one being an answer to another one.

Learning about the different theoretical models of disability has given me some tools to have conversations about accessibility. I understood that in society, especially when talking about legislation, the medical model of disability is present. It gives something tangible - disability comes from the person, and it can usually be measured. For example, with low vision, the amount of vision-loss is calculated, and society provides help according to that score.

However, even if the medical model has been criticized to be too narrow, it acknowledges that there is a biological condition to disability. For example, there has been some criticism on the social model of disability, that it can de-emphasize the physical aspects too much. The main idea behind the social model is that the problem is disabling environments. For example: if there is a building with stairs and no wheelchair-accessible way to get in, the problem is the stairs and not the person using a wheelchair. It goes to the web too - the problem is inaccessible websites, not the fact that someone is using a keyboard instead of a mouse.

There are other models as well, and I recommend exploring them. For example, CPACC Body Of Knowledge (opens a PDF) provides good summarisations about different models of disability.

Accessibility and Universal Design

Universal design means, in short, services that anyone can use. So, for example, in the case of websites, anyone using a mouse, keyboard, screen reader, or any other assistive technology can use the website, and the experience is similar to all.

It also benefits people who don't (yet) have any disability. For example, if the color contrasts meet the accessibility requirements, it is easier to see the content of the webpage in direct sunlight. Having captions on Instagram stories helps people who are hard of hearing, but also those who don't want to bother other people in public places while watching those stories.

Another interesting topic in this section was the universal design for learning. Providing multiple means of engagement, representation, and action and expression helps all learners - with or without disabilities. I highly recommend checking out, for example, materials about universal learning in CAST.

Standards, Laws, and Management Strategies

This section was by far the most difficult for me. I had a hard time remembering the laws and standards, and especially where a law is applicable. The names of different regulations got mixed up, and questions related to this part were the ones I was sure I had too many mistakes.

For me, it was easier to remember the facts about legislation in the European Union. As the European Union Web Accessibility Directive 2016/2102 took effect in 2018, there have been some changes in Finland too. For example, all public websites should meet the WCAG 2.1 A and AA-levels, and the deadline for this was in September this year. Also, from 1.1.2021, all private websites where the law is applicable should meet these criteria.

Another topic in this section was about management strategies and integrating ICT accessibility across the organization. It was interesting how many aspects there are when thinking about accessibility in organizations - from supporting employees with disabilities and having non-discriminatory hiring practices to ensuring projects produce accessible results. I love the sentence from the CPACC Body of Content: "ICT accessibility ... must be a program, not a project".

Summing up

Learning about the core concepts of accessibility has helped me to understand the world more extensively and also be better in my job as a software developer. For me, web accessibility has been mostly about screen reader and keyboard users, but studying for the certification has opened my eyes.

For example, forms must have certain things to be accessible to the groups mentioned, but they also have to be simple enough and have clear instructions so that everyone can comprehend when using them. So it is not only about the code, but it also has to do with planning and design - and can't be done as an afterthought.

My journey in learning accessibility continues, and the next certification I'm pursuing is the WAS - Web Accessibility Specialist. That is more of a specialist certification. When CPACC has helped me to understand the why of accessibility, studying for the WAS has given more tools to create a more accessible web. Hopefully, I can soon write a similar post about the WAS-certification! 😊

Do you have any certifications in accessibility? Or have you considered studying for one?

Cover photo by Bruno Aguirre on Unsplash

Top comments (4)

kneeboarder profile image

Many congratulations on your your certification, I've just started down the path of CPACC and WAS.

I've completed the Deque CPACC course and just started the WAS and I will be taking the exams for both later this year.

The breadth of CPACC is huge (and I assume WAS is the same), what hints and tips do you have for learning such a large body of knowledge?

eevajonnapanula profile image

Thank you!

I would say the best thing for me was taking my time. With CPACC, I studied pretty intensively because I had the opportunity to do it on work time, but with WAS I went trough the material in six months or so.

Also, for me writing about the topics I was studying was helping; it helped to clarify some things, and especially when writing blog posts about the themes I was studying, I needed to really understand what I was writing about. So maybe I would say, that if you have anyone who would listen (or read), teach them about the topics you're learning :) And if not, writing (or documenting in any other way which suits you best) for yourself is also a good option.

lauravuo profile image
Laura Vuorenoja

Thanks for the interesting post! I wonder, do you need to have a programming background for the certification?

eevajonnapanula profile image

For CPACC, there is no need for a programming background. There is a small section about web accessibility, but it is mostly the ideas behind it (Such as websites should be perceivable, operable, understandable and robust), but not really about technical details. The WAS-certification, on the other hand, requires some programming knowledge.