Why fair pay for testers matters

When the project budget gets tight, and stress gets high, the temptation to cut costs and corners creeps in. We’ve all been there. Unfortunately, an area frequently cut is accessibility testing. You know someone, who knows someone who is blind, why not just ask them to test your website as a volunteer? Or maybe you could find a disabled person in one of your social networks who wouldn’t mind spending a few hours, for free. After all, by helping you improve the accessibility of your product, they’re really just helping themselves, right? 

This attitude is not helpful, in fact, it’s harmful. Not only to individuals, but to the disability community as a whole. Fair pay for testers matters, for many reasons. If you’re considering seeking out volunteer accessibility testers, hopefully the reasons below will help you reconsider. 

An illustration style avatar of a brunette male with a beard, wearing a black shirt with white collar.

Samuel Proulx, Community Manager at Fable

“When you pay a disabled person, it’s not just about the compensation (although that is also extremely important); employment is tightly coupled with a person’s self-worth and dignity.”

Accessibility testing is a skill 

Providing useful insights about the accessibility of a website involves multiple skills. Becoming an expert user of any assistive technology requires years of training, experience, and practice. It’s also a skill that requires frequent updating as interaction methods, operating systems, and assistive technologies change. While not every user of your website will, or should, be an expert with their technology, it does require a skilled user to explain to you what isn’t working correctly, how it is expected to work, and give some insight into what might be causing the issue. 

That’s not the only skill a good tester requires. They also need to be able to clearly communicate their experience, often to individuals who have never even heard of the assistive technology they use. Testers need to not only understand your familiarity with assistive technology, but also be able to communicate in a way that makes sense based on that. 

Above all, an accessibility tester must be able to provide high quality, clear and actionable feedback.  Anyone who has ever worked in tech support knows this skill is rare even in the non-disabled population.  Ask anyone in tech support how often they get requests along the lines of “It doesn’t work. Fix it.”

Unpaid testing is not taken seriously

When you aren’t willing to put in the money to make your product accessible, it can often mean that your accessibility efforts will not be taken seriously.  If your company hasn’t paid for the accessibility advice it receives, it will likely not give that feedback the attention it deserves. It may get a token reading, or it may be filed away unread, and eventually lost. It raises the question: If your company isn’t willing to pay testers fairly, will your company be willing to pay a developer to fix the problems they find?  Too often, the answer is no, and those with a disability know it. 

It’s about more than money 

Does anyone at your company work for free? If the answer is no, why are people with a disability an exception to this rule? When you expect disabled people to work for free, it can sometimes show that you think that they, and their time, are less valuable than an able-bodied person.  Unfortunately, this message is repeated so frequently in the working world, that many disabled people come to believe it themselves.

When you pay a disabled person, it’s not just about the compensation (although that is also extremely important); employment is tightly coupled with a person’s self-worth and dignity.  Speaking from experience, I can say that constantly hunting for any job at all on one hand, while constantly being asked to work for free on the other hand, is one of the most frustrating and degrading experiences I’ve ever had.  When you pay people with a disability fairly for their time and skills, you’re not only giving us work, you’re valuing us, and helping us to continue to have faith in ourselves and our abilities. For you, this results in working with people who take pride in their work, and in themselves.  For us, work with fair pay gives us the validation to continue the job search, and means the workforce doesn’t lose even more diversity.