I love my work and I love getting questions from people asking what access consultants do, or asking how to find work in the industry. The following information hopes to answer a few of these questions.
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How Do I Get into Access Consulting?
I’m often asked by people who are thinking about a career in accessibility how I came about to work as an Access Consultant. So I thought I’d put some thoughts down to try to help people make an informed decision about whether they want to pursue a career in this field. Hopefully, this which might help people make better decisions when planning their career move.
What Exactly do Disability Access Consultants Do?
Access Consultants (also known as DDA consultants, or Disability Access Consultants), work in the built environment and can provide a number of different services. Some consultants specialise in particular areas (such as project management, hearing augmentation system, architectural design or luminance contrast testing), whilst others offer multiple services (like me!).
Although I personally try to specialise in the building compliance and accessibility compliance area and do a lot of work in ‘performance-based solutions’ (also known as ‘Alternative Solutions’).
I’m also actively campaigning for accessible ‘egress’ concepts into how we design buildings, as I believe we need an inclusive approach to get people out of a building in an emergency (as it’s not just about getting everyone into a building).
One thing is common though with all Access Consultants. We are all working to achieve a greater level of accessibility in the built environment for people with a disability.
Services Access Consultants can provide include:
- Desktop reviews of architectural drawings, schedules and specifications at each stage of design documentation;
- Inspections for compliance in existing buildings, in the form of ‘Access Appraisals’ or ‘Access Audits’;
- Feasibility reports, determining the viability of projects, in terms of the impact on accessibility;
- Due Diligence Reports;
- Luminance contrast testing;
- ‘Affected Part’ inspections and reports, identifying and outlining what the impact of any ‘New Part’ building works will be on existing building entrances, lifts, and the accessways linking the principal entrance to the ‘New Part’;
- Preparation of ‘Alternative Solutions, professional opinions, and unjustifiable hardship claims;
- Preparation of wayfinding and signage strategies;
- Preparation of Disability Action Plans (DAPs);
- Preparation of Access for People with Disability Management Plans;
- Preparing architectural drawings for new works;
- Project managing home modifications.
In the past few years, I’ve worked in most of these areas, other than the last two.
Planning for People with Disabilities ‘v’ Planning for People of All Abilities
More recently, there has also been a push to include universal design into our roles.
Our recent conference in October 2015 was a testament to that. The entire conference took a ‘universal design’ theme (in fact, I also had the honour to speak at the conference on the topic of exit signs and evacuation).
I now consider universal design (or inclusive design, or ‘design for all’) an important part of my role and I’m thinking more and more about providing access into buildings for people of all abilities, rather than people with disabilities. Anyone who follows my work on Sourceable.net would have read my thoughts on the ageing population and know that we need to plan for the ‘greying’ of the Australian population. It just makes sense that we design environments and products that cater to the widest range of abilities throughout a person life cycle.
What is the Industry Association for Access Consultants?
Like most industries, there is a professional body overseeing the conduct and accreditation of Access Consultants. The Association of Consultants in Access Australia, Inc. (or ACAA) is the national association administering the membership of accessibility professionals in all fields of access consulting. The membership of ACAA are major contributors to the advancement of accessibility within Australia, with members sitting on Standards committees and industry advisory committees.
ACAA was incorporated in 2000 and primarily established as a result of consultation with key stakeholder groups and individuals working in the area of disability. The Royal Australian Institute of Architects (RAIA), Occupational Therapy Australia (OTA) and the Australian Institute of Building Surveyors (AIBS) contributed to the establishment of the ACAA.
The objectives of the ACAA are to act as the national body representing Access Consultants, and to:
- develop and implement a set of standards for accredited members
- administer the national process for accrediting of members
- assist with the planning of educational courses suitable for the accreditation of its members
- to promote Accreditation of Access Consultants
- continuing professional development of members
ACAA also serves as the national advisory body for accessibility for people with a disability, in relation to equity of accessibility within the built environment. ACAA contributes to:
- Government and community policies, codes, and regulations
- Assists with the education of other built environment practitioners, including building designers
- Undertakes research on built environmental accessibility
My Own Background
Every Access Consultant has a different story as to how they came to specialise in this area. The office I work in has a mixture of consultants from the fields of occupational therapy and architectural design, as well as my background in risk, compliance and construction.
Generally, most people working as an Access Consultant have some form of motivation to work in the area and make a positive difference: This could be due to their own disability, a family member’s disability, or some other intrinsic reason. My personal reason is a little different to most, after many years as an advocate for vegetarianism and animal rights I came to the conclusion that my own personal values must also extend to human rights and it seemed natural to steer my career from general building compliance towards access consulting.
Since that time I have published some articles discussing the development of disability access and universal design concepts and their founding in disability rights and human rights movements. At present, I also have an interest in campaigning for gender inclusive / all gender bathrooms.
What Are the Steps in Becoming an Access Consultant?
- Firstly – Join ACAA. The very first thing anyone considering becoming an Access Consultant should do is become an Affiliate Member of ACAA. It is simple to join, not too expensive and definitely value for money in terms of the exposure it will give you to the association, the online forum we all use, relevant publications and generally just keeping in the loop.
- Where possible, attend the ACAA State Chapter quarterly meetings. This will get you known locally.
- Attend as many of the Access 101 training session as you can, to provide an overview of particular accessibility topics – https://www.eventbrite.com.au/o/access-101-17177053550
- Enrol in the Certificate IV Access Consulting course. This is now a requirement if you want to advance your career as an Access Consultant. Note – to be an Accredited member you will first need some time as an Associate Member. To become an Associate Member, you must have completed the Certificate IV Access Consulting course. Please visit the ACAA website to read up on the levels of membership and how one can move towards being an Accredited Member.
- Join LinkedIn and connect with like-minded people (including me!), I can’t emphasise enough how important LinkedIn is for professionals. In my five years on LinkedIn, I’ve connected with so many people who welcome new connections and previously had been out of reach.
- Join Groups on LinkedIn to meet new people, learn new concepts and keep up to date with what’s happening around the world. Accessibility and universal design are relatively new fields (compared to other building professions) and we are all learning. What these Groups provide is a path for access professionals to educate each other. Once you have joined some Groups get involved in discussions. Not only does this help you to learn, but it also helps to get known to future employers.
- Find a mentor. Even if you are not currently working in the area it is beneficial to find someone to help steer your career transition.
- Seek student placements. If you are studying and have the opportunity to take a placement approach the larger access consulting firms to see if they have an available place for you. You might be surprised.
- Subscribe to industry newsletters and follow blogs in the area. There is so much information on the internet, you just need to look.
- I’m not a huge fan of Facebook, but I do manage some industry Facebook Pages and they do have a place. Social Media is as important as newspapers were twenty years ago, so consider ‘Liking’ a few pages to get regular updates.
- If you have access to a work library or a university library, see if you can get your hands on copies of the following documents and start reading them.
- The current Building Code of Australia Volume 1 of the National Construction Code;
- Australian Standard (AS) 1428 suite of standards;
- AS 1735.12 disability lift standard;
- AS/NZS 2890.6 accessible car parking standards; and
- Highlight any areas you do not understand (or take notes if you borrowed them!) and ask questions (i.e. to your mentor, on a Facebook page or by direct message or post a new discussion on a LinkedIn Group or the like).
- Lastly, please consider reading my articles on Sourceable.net.
From my own personal experience, it is not easy to become Accredited. It takes a commitment from each individual to find a way to specialise within the area of accessibility and get the necessary experience.
But I believe if you follow these key steps outlined above you will be in a very good position to transition easily into an entry-level Access Consultant position.
I hope that helps in some way. Access consulting is a great industry to work in. It can be extremely rewarding, both extrinsically (good working conditions, good salaries etc.) and intrinsically (i.e. making a difference to the world, improving accessibility and the like). Good luck!