(Digital) accessibility is no longer a niche market and there is an increasing demand for skilled talent. That’s why many countries have already sought the support of the International Association of Accessibility Professionals (IAAP). Soon there will be a Chapter that serves the German-speaking community called the IAAP DACH Chapter. REHACARE.com met two of its initiators at this year's M-Enabling Forum in Düsseldorf: Anne-Marie Nebe from T-Systems and Professor Gottfried Zimmermann from the Stuttgart Media University.
Used the M-Enabling Forum Europe parallel to REHACARE to draw attention to the establishment of a German-speaking subsidiary, the so-called IAAP DACH Chapter: Anne-Marie Nebe and Prof. Gottfried Zimmermann.
Ms. Nebe, Professor Zimmermann, what are your plans for the IAAP German Chapter?
Anne-Marie Nebe: Our plan is to expand, promote and improve the accessibility and digital accessibility profession in Germany. "Accessibility professionals" already exist in the international realm and our goal is to establish this field of work in the so-called DACH region in Europe, which comprises the countries Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. Our objective as a Central European chapter is not to reinvent the wheel, but to implement the mission and goals of the IAAP Global Chapter guided by the European legal framework, our tradition and culture within this region.
Prof. Gottfried Zimmermann: It is also critical to note that we plan to offer the certification process and exam in German. That would mark a pioneering achievement of the DACH Chapter. So far, the exam can only be taken in English and that's not an easy feat - I can attest to that, as I took the exam myself. That’s why we have to change this if we want to reach professionals.
What are some successes IAAP was already able to achieve in other countries?
Nebe: The US-based IAAP Global Chapter offers two types of certifications and essentially already implements what we seek to establish in the German-speaking realm. The first certification aims to impart core competencies and broad conceptual knowledge and awareness. The second certification takes a more targeted approach to the technical implementation of digital accessibility. Individuals can already earn both certifications in the Nordic and the United Kingdom Chapter, respectively. Another aspect of IAAP Global is to provide networking for experts in the field and increasing general awareness.
The IAAP DACH Chapter is committed to focusing more on accessibility in the digital world. Germany is far from being a pioneer in both areas - digitalisation and digital accessibility.
How does Germany fare on an international scale when it comes to digital accessibility?
Nebe: We actually still have a lot of catching up to do in this area. There is also still lots to do when it comes to overall digitization. We rank in the middle in terms of digital accessibility and we are certainly not the pioneers we think we are.
Prof. Zimmermann: I believe we have made some strides, but overall we haven’t done enough. We rarely see people with disabilities in the public arena, and if so, we are looking at the top small percentage who dared to be bold and have achieved higher education goals. All others, who are generally not less intelligent but simply weren’t lucky enough to obtain this type of education and training, rarely stand out in a professional context. Let me give you one example: I had two colleagues with disabilities, who managed to move to mainstream schools after they had navigated special education programs. And that’s where they both flourished and subsequently became my doctoral students.
Our weaknesses become obvious when we look at true accessibility pioneers. This includes the Nordic countries, followed by the US and England. The University of Southampton has 50,000 students and a department of 30 employees who support students with disabilities. Here at the Stuttgart Media University, we have about 1/10 of the number of total students, yet nobody who is responsible for accessibility measures in a comparable manner.
How can accessibility professionals help solve these problems?
Nebe: I come from a business background. Even though our company has a major department that’s dedicated to "digital accessibility", we simply struggle to find the right employees. This subject is not taught in vocational training or university settings. That’s why we are faced with an extended onboarding process to integrate new employees with the company and introduce them to company skills and knowledge in this area.
Prof. Zimmermann: At the university, I often notice a lack of awareness of the importance and relevance of this field of work. Many of my students consider it a niche. We need to make them aware that there is actually a big market out there. That's why I am excited about this industry partnership and collaboration. There needs to be a growing awareness that this is a sophisticated profession and certainly worth the investment.
What do you expect from your participation in the M-Enabling Forum, which runs parallel to REHACARE?
Nebe: We are still in the startup phase. The M-Enabling Forum provides a valuable opportunity to be present and alert people that this is something that might be interesting to them. We have had lots of inquiries. We would like to take this chance to increase participation and promote IAAP DACH membership. After all, the more people join in and engage, the faster we make progress and achieve success.
Prof. Zimmermann: I hope we can build a thriving German-speaking accessibility community. I see it working in other countries that already have established communities. In Germany, we tend to be lone wolves and sometimes even work against each other. My hope is that the M-Enabling Forum and the IAAP DACH Chapter will foster a spirit of collaboration.