If you’ve worked on a web development project where accessibility was important, you may have heard of, or even met, a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Trusted Tester. These individuals have gone through a rigorous code-inspection-based training program to test the accessibility of websites. This blog post will outline what is involved with this certification and give tips from OneSpring’s Trusted Testers on how best to obtain the certification.

If you are not familiar with Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act, it is a set of standards, similar to ADA and WCAG, that requires Federal agencies to make Information and Communications Technology (ICT) accessible to employees and members of the public who have physical, sensory, or cognitive disabilities. According to the DHS Office of Accessible Systems & Technology (OAST), “Section 508 was enacted to eliminate barriers to ICT, make opportunities available for persons with disabilities, and encourage development of technologies that will help achieve these goals.” Certified DHS Trusted Testers ensure the information on federal webpages is accessible to people with disabilities according to the standards of Section 508.

The DHS Trusted Tester certification training covers 20 topics with extensive documentation of requirements/examples, knowledge checks (open-book quizzes), and practical exams that all contribute to the final compliance test. There are subcategories, called lessons, that outline the specific requirements being tested within each topic. During the lesson, you learn how to identify the content being tested, methods to test it, when the test does not apply, and how to assess if the content meets or fails the requirement. For example, if you are testing whether all functionality on the webpage can be accessed using only the keyboard, the specific requirements you would test are:

  1. Keyboard access – determine if a keyboard can access all functionality
  2. No keystroke timing – determine if any functionalities require hitting keys in a specific order or timing
  3. No keyboard trap – determine if a user could get stuck in a loop anywhere on the page.

While all of this information is laid out well in the training, the program is completely self-paced and may be difficult for some to wade through on their own. To make this easier, OneSpring’s Trusted Testers decided to meet weekly for a study group to better understand what they were learning and how they were learning it. In addition, the group learned that it was best to fit the information to each of their own learning styles to get the most out of the certification. The two ways they did this were:

  1. Read the complete documentation in detail from top to bottom or
  2. Scan through the documentation and use the open book quizzes as a reference to go back and review the targeted information in depth.

While both of these styles had their pros and cons, each person found a method that was easiest for them to retain the information. Due to the self-paced nature of the course, it is highly recommended to use these or your own strategies and have a senior UX specialist to discuss the information with.

The latter suggestion will give you insights into real-world testing, preferred tools, and methodologies that will help you transition from the certification to an actual project. For OneSpring’s Trusted Testers, combining the online training with in-person discussions proved to be beneficial for retaining the knowledge needed to complete the training.

Once you complete all the topics and score 100% on all of the quizzes, a practice exam is required before the final exam. Both the practice exam and final exam are open book and 3 attempts on each are given to score 90% correct before having to start over. The key to passing these exams is to take your time evaluating the content and make sure to reference the previous lessons if unsure on a requirement. As a Trusted Tester, you need to pay attention to detail. The certification exam challenges your awareness and ultimately leaves you feeling confident and ready to start designing for an experience that is accessible to all.

You can learn more about the certification by visiting the DHS website at: https://www.dhs.gov/trusted-tester