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Careers in Accessible Technology in Higher Education: Salaries, Qualifications, and Responsibilities

ATHEN E-Journal Issue #4 (2009)

Terrill Thompson
University of Washington
Seattle, Washington USA


The field of "access technology" encompasses a variety of positions, including jobs in federal and state government, private industry, social services and other not-for-profit organizations, and education. This paper focuses specifically on positions within higher education, and seeks to identify characteristics of these positions by conducting two studies: The first is a content analysis of job announcements posted to the ATHEN on-line discussion list during a one-year period in 2007-08; the second is an analysis of staffing-related results from the 2008 ATHEN Survey on Accessible Technology in Higher Education, a six-part on-line survey conducted in April and May 2008 in order to assess practices related to technology accessibility in higher education. Results show that access technology professionals occupy a small niche within higher education: 61.5% of institutions who responded to the survey have only one access technology professional on their campus. In the United States, salaries are higher in information technology departments than in disability services departments, and higher in the Western United States than in other U.S. regions. California in particular appears to be an area where technology accessibility in higher education is taken seriously, accounting for 67.6% of the jobs posted to the ATHEN list during the study period.


Colleges and universities have traditionally provided accessibility accommodations to students with disabilities within the domain of disability services offices. However, as technology has become ubiquitous in higher education, the level of technical skill required in order to ensure accessibility of programs and services has expanded beyond the skill set of many disability services offices. In fact, the skills required are highly specialized, and often fall outside the scope of knowledge of information technology (IT) staff as well. Given the required level of specialization, many higher education institutions have recognized the need for skilled employees to help address their technology accessibility needs.

The field of "access technology" encompasses a variety of positions. Access Technology Higher Education Network (ATHEN) defines "access technology" as "Any assistive technology, accessible information technology, or alternate media that can be used to facilitate the success of individuals with disabilities" (ATHEN, 2008a). Employment within the access technology industry is varied, and includes jobs in federal and state government, private industry, social services and other not-for-profit organizations, and education. The current paper focuses specifically on positions within higher education, and seeks to identify characteristics of these positions. Toward this end, the author conducted two studies: The first was a content analysis of job announcements posted to the ATHEN on-line discussion list; the second was an analysis of staffing-related results from the 2008 ATHEN Survey on Accessible Technology in Higher Education (Thompson, Draffan, & Patel, 2008).

Study #1


In September 2008, job announcements covering one full year (September 2007 through August 2008) were collected from the archives of the ATHEN online discussion list (ATHEN, 2008b). The collection included all materials relevant to each job announcement, including relevant supplemental web pages linked from each announcement. A total of 34 unduplicated job announcements were posted during this period. Job announcements were then compared on a variety of descriptive variables, including location, position title, organization type, host department, education and skill requirements, and salary range. By the time the study was conducted, several of the positions had been filled and 12 of the linked web resources were no longer available. This resulted in partial data sets for some of the positions.

Most salary ranges were reported in monthly units, although some reported annual salaries. The latter were all full time positions, and were converted into monthly units for analysis. Most announcements that reported a salary reported a salary range.


Of the 34 positions, 23 (67.6%) were in California. Of these, 13 were positions at community colleges; 5 were at institutions in the California State University (CSU) system, 2 were at research universities, and 3 were development positions at organizations outside of the higher education sector (Apple, Mozilla, and Benetech).

Outside of California, there were three positions advertised in Illinois (all at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign), three in Washington, two in South Carolina, and one each in Nevada, Pennsylvania, and Texas.

Of 20 positions where the host department is known, 17 (85%) were located in departments that provide accommodations, resources, and other services to students with disabilities. This includes the three positions at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC), although at UIUC the Disability Resources and Educational Services division is organizationally unique, located within an academic college (College of Applied Health Sciences), and playing a leading role in technology accessibility on the UIUC campus and beyond.

Three positions (15%) were located organizationally within central computing or technology groups. Each of these was in California; one at a research university, and the other two at CSU campuses.

Although job descriptions varied considerably between positions, many positions tended to have common areas of focus. The most common of these was assistive technology (AT) (8 positions, 32%), including job responsibilities such as AT deployment, purchasing, student assessment, and student training on using AT. The second most common positions were focused on either IT accessibility or software development (4 announcements each, 16%). Three of the four positions that focused on software development were in industry, not higher education. There were two positions (8%) focused on provision of disability accommodations, and another two that were high-level management positions. There was one position where the focus was exclusively alternate media production, and one technical position managing departmental hardware, software, and data. One additional position was an all-encompassing position with primary foci on AT and IT accessibility.

Position announcements included various combinations of required qualifications. Of 19 positions where specific requirements are known, eight positions (42.1%) required masters degrees, and another eight required bachelor's degrees. Two positions (10.5%) required associates degrees, and one required two years of coursework. Most announcements also expressed some flexibility regarding specified requirements, and some provided a formal mechanism by which “equivalent experience” could be declared and justified.

The salary range of one of the two high-level management positions was $80,000- $116,342 annually (the salary for the other management position is unknown). This is considerably higher than salaries of other positions, and was therefore excluded from the salary analysis. There were 13 other positions where minimum salary is known, and 10 that additionally reported a maximum salary. The mean minimum salary (i.e., the bottom of the range) was $3702/month (SD=$625). The mean maximum salary (i.e., the top of the range) was $6153/month (SD=$1454). The mean minimum salary was slightly higher at community colleges ($3891, SD=$557) than at other types of institutions, but all community college positions were located in California, so this difference may be influenced more strongly by geographic location than by Carnegie classification.

Study #2



The 2008 ATHEN Survey on Accessible Technology in Higher Education was conducted in April and May of 2008. Participants included 149 individual self-selected representatives from 106 higher education institutions in seven countries. See Thompson, Draffan, & Patel (2008) for additional detail about the research method for the overall survey.


The on-line survey consisted of six sections, each of which was designed to be completed either by one individual per institution, or up to six, depending on how accessibility-related tasks are distributed within that institution. Each individual participant was required to create an account in a web-based survey application that was developed specifically for the current study. The section of the survey that is the focus of the present article was defined as follows in email announcements and on the survey home page:

Section 6. Staffing and Salaries - to be completed by the person most knowledgeable of position descriptions, salaries, qualifications, etc. for all positions whose primary focus is AT, IT accessibility, web accessibility, multimedia accessibility, and/or alternative format production at your institution. Alternatively, each relevant staff person can complete this information about their own position. Note that individual users, even if affiliated with the same institution, can not see each others' survey responses. Please coordinate completion of this section with others from your institution.

Once participants had created an account, logged in, and selected Section 6 as the survey section they wished to complete, they were presented with the following question:

  • How many staff positions does your institution have (either full or part time) whose primary focus is technology accessibility, including assistive technology, web accessibility, multimedia accessibility, IT accessibility, and/or alternative format production? (you will be asked follow-up questions about each of the positions you identify)
  • If your institution has multiple staff positions to report, but you are completing this section only for your own position, please enter 1.
  • If you are completing this section only for a subset of the total, please enter the number of people in that subset.

As these instructions explain, once the participant had responded to this first question by entering a value (i.e., the number of access technology staff for which the participant was providing data), they were then presented with a set of questions that was repeated for each position, according to the number of staff positions declared by the participant.

The set of follow-up questions included questions about the general roles of the position, the specific roles of the position, the organizational structure in which the position is housed, the degrees and/or certifications held by the person currently occupying the position, the number of years of experience of that person, and the current gross earnings of that person.

For gross earnings, participants were prompted for four pieces of information:

  1. Currency - choices were "U.S. dollars", "Canadian dollars", "British pounds", "Euros", and "Other" (the latter of which included a write-in option).
  2. Unit of measure - choices were "annual", "monthly", or "hourly".
  3. A value, representing the salary or wage.
  4. Number of work hours per week.

Prior to analysis, the salary information was converted to a consistent unit of measure. Most salaries (71.1%) were reported using "annual" as the unit of measure, so those values that were reported using "monthly" (17.1%) were converted to annual salaries. Also, some positions were only part time positions, so salaries needed to be adjusted to reflect a 40 hour work week. The following formula was applied to all salaries:
Annual salary = (reported annual salary OR (monthly earnings x 12)) x (40/Number of work hours per week).

Two individuals reported work weeks that exceeded 40 hours per week, but they were assumed to be salaried professionals and their salaries were included in the analysis as is, without pro-rating them down to a 40-hour work week. The earnings of nine positions (11.8%) were reported using "hourly" units. Converting these to annual units was not practical given that the number of hours per year for these positions was unknown. Therefore, these positions were analyzed separately.


The section of the survey on which this article is based was completed by representatives from 52 unique institutions. Of these, 32 (61.5%) only reported having one access technology position. Among the institutions that have multiple positions, 21.2% have two; 7.7% have three; 5.8% have four; and 3.8% have 5 or more (see Figure 1). Data was collected for a total of 95 positions.

Figure 1. Number of access technology positions per institution

Figure 1. Number of access technology positions per institution. A bar chart, showing that the most frequent number of access technology positions per institution is one. 61.5% of institutions have one position; 21.2% have two; 7.7% have three; 5.8% have four; and 3.8% have 5 or more.

Geographically, 66 of the positions (69.5%) were located in the United States, 11 (11.6%) in the United Kingdom, 10 (10.5%) in Canada, and 6 (6.3%) in Ireland. Australia and New Zealand contributed profiles of one position each.

In the United States, the majority of positions were from doctorate-granting universities (60.6%), while 31.8% were from associate's colleges and 7.6% were from master's colleges and universities. Geographically, 57.6% of U.S. positions were from the west region, with 22.7% from the Midwest, 12.1% from the northeast, and 7.6% from the south. 69.6% of U.S. positions came from public institutions, while the remaining 30.4% came from private not-for-profit institutions.

Roles and Responsibilities of Access Technology Positions

General Roles

When asked to identify "general" roles of each position from a list of choices, the most common role was "assistive technology", which was a role of 71.6% of all positions. The second most common role was "alternate format production", a role for 62.1% of positions. Positions were even more prominently AT-focused outside of the U.S. In the U.K., 90.9% of positions were said to have AT as a role, but only 45.5% of positions were said to involve alternate format production. In Ireland, 100% of positions were said to focus on AT, while only 16.7% were said to focus on alternate format production. In Canada, 70% of positions were said to focus on AT, but only 50% were said to focus on alternate format production.

Other general roles of access technology positions included "web accessibility" (46.3%), "information technology accessibility" (42.1%), and "multimedia accessibility" (37.9%). These percentages, and the statistical relationships between them, were generally consistent across all demographic groups, although IT accessibility in the U.K. was a more frequently selected role in the U.K. than elsewhere (63.6% in the U.K., 37.6% in all other countries).

Specific Roles

Participants were also asked to identify "specific" roles for which access technology positions are responsible, and were offered fifteen options from which to choose all that apply. Not surprisingly, access technology positions perform multiple roles on their campuses. The mean number of roles checked per position was 7.1 (SD=4.4).

None of the roles were selected unanimously across the sample. The highest percentage overall was 62.1%, a figure shared by two roles: "technical support for AT software and hardware", and "student AT assessment". On the low end, comparatively few access technology positions have "management" as a specific role (24.2%). Table 1 provides a list of specific roles sorted by frequency.

Table 1. Specific Roles Performed in Access Technology Positions

Specific Role


Student training on assistive technology


Technical support for AT software and hardware


Development of accessibility-related information resources


Research/investigation into new AT software/hardware


Alternative format production


Student AT assessment


Awareness/marketing/advertising regarding AT


Developing campus partnerships


Research/investigation into accessibility of IT


Teaching about AT


Policy organization and coordination


Strategic planning for AT


Train-the-trainer style training


Policy adherence/tracking/validation




The distribution of roles is generally consistent across demographic groups, although there were two roles with notable international differences. First, the U.S. focus on alternate format production described in the preceding section again appeared on the current question, with 66.7% of U.S. positions identifying alternate format production as a specific role, while in other countries this item was checked for only 30% - 36% of positions. Similarly, 65.2% of U.S. positions have "development of accessibility-related information resources" as a role. This role is also comparably high in Ireland (66.7%) but not in the U.K. (36.4%) or Canada (30.0%).

Organizational Structure

When asked "Where does the position reside within your institution's organizational structure?" and offered several choices, 65.3% of positions were reported as residing in "disability services", while 27.4% were reported as residing in "information technology (computing services)". Positions were said to reside in a variety of other departments as well, most notably "library services" (4.2%). Two positions (one in the U.S. and one in Canada) were said to reside in marketing departments, and two (one in the U.S. and one in the U.K.) were located within faculty training groups. Two U.S. positions were reported as being shared between departments.

The relationship between positions located in disability services and positions located in information technology was comparable across all countries, but there were notable differences across Carnegie classifications in the United States. All five of the positions at master's colleges and universities, and 71.4% of positions at associates colleges, were housed in disability services. In contrast, only 55% of access technology positions at doctorate-granting institutions were housed in disability services. The remaining positions at doctorate-granting institutions were located in information technology (45%) or elsewhere (5%).

Credentials for Access Technology Positions

The survey did not ask about job requirements for specific positions, but instead asked about the credentials of the person currently occupying each position. Specifically, participants were asked to identify the academic degrees and/or certifications held by the individual, and were asked for the number of years the individual had been employed "in the current position or in a similar position within a higher education environment".

According to the survey results, 55.8% of individuals in access technology positions have bachelor's degrees, 31.6% have masters degrees, and 5.3% have doctorate degrees. These percentages are similar across all countries. However, 11.6% of individuals in access technology positions have associates degrees, and 88% of these are employed at associate's colleges in the United States.

In addition to accredited degrees, 4.2% of individuals are certified by CSUN and 3.2% by RESNA. Also, "other" was checked 13.7% of the time. Write-in responses for these positions included "information management diploma" and "electronic engineering" in Canada; "diploma in assistive technology" in Ireland; "postgraduate teaching qualification" in the U.K.; and EASI, CRC, Microsoft, and Braille certifications in the U.S. Five positions in the U.S. also claimed to have no academic degree, but instead had computer experience or work toward an associates or bachelors degree without completion. Three of these positions were at associates colleges, and two were at doctorate-granting institutions.


Salary data was collected for a subset of 76 of the 95 positions identified in the survey (72.2%). The missing salary data may be due in some cases to the person completing the survey not knowing the salaries of individuals occupying positions for which they were reporting. However, in a few known cases university policy forbids the release of salary information. Results within select demographic groups are reported below, but should be interpreted cautiously given the small sample size within some groups.

In the U.S., salary data was provided for 52 positions. The median salary is $47,880 (SD=$27,399). There is little difference across Carnegie classifications, but there are geographical differences, with positions in the West earning higher salaries (median=$61,200, SD=$30,792, n=29) than positions in the South (median=$48,000, SD=$7,071, n=5), Northeast (median=$39,784, SD=$5,865, n=4), or Midwest (median=$38,500, SD=$14,208, n=14).

Host department also is a strong predictor of salary in the U.S. Salaries tend to be higher in positions residing within information technology departments (median=$65,696, SD=$38,791, n=9) than in positions residing within disability services (median=$46,548, SD=$21,568, n=29). In Canada, the median salary for positions in the survey was Canadian $60,571 (SD=$11,087, n=6). Expressed in U.S. dollars, the median is $47,378, SD=$8,672 (1 CAD = 0.7822 USD on October 24, 2008).

In the U.K., the median salary for positions in the survey was £30,857 (SD=£9,453, n=10). Expressed in U.S. dollars, the median is $49,102, SD=$15,042 (1 GBP = 1.59129 USD on October 24, 2008).

In Ireland, the median salary for positions in the survey was €49,231 (SD=€8,051, n=6). Expressed in U.S. dollars, the median is $62,005, SD=$10,162 (1 EUR = 1.26279 USD on October 24, 2008).

The earnings for nine positions were reported as hourly wages. One of these was a position at Canada, at Canadian $20/hour. All other positions were in the United States, and the median wage was $16.77 (SD=$6.28).


Access technology professionals occupy a small niche within higher education. 61.5% of institutions who responded to the ATHEN survey have only one access technology professional on their campus. Only two institutions have more than five positions. Despite these positions being few in number, they have a broad scope of responsibilities.

In the United States, compensation is higher within information technology departments than it is within disability services departments. The host department may depend in part on the institution's philosophy, and the nature of the position. Operating within a disability services environment allows the position to work closely with students with disabilities and with colleagues who are typically the first to hear about individual students' access problems. However, operating within an information technology department is based on the philosophy that technology accessibility problems are in fact technology problems, and the group chiefly responsible for technology on campus should therefore take ownership of these problems. Additional research is warranted to assess the efficacy of various organizational models for addressing technology accessibility. However, regardless of where an institution chooses to house its accessible technology staff, if positions require a high level of technical skills, then higher education may face challenges attracting and maintaining the best candidates at current salary levels, particularly those paid within most disability services settings. For comparison, note that Gabriel-Petit & Lang (2004) found that the average salary of user experience design and usability professionals in the United States ranged from $69,372 in an academic/research setting to $117,935 for independent consultants. Also, among 123 individuals who provided salary information and identified their job title as " Accessibility Expert/Consultant/Lead" in the 2007 A List Apart Web Design Survey (2007), 58.5% reported an annual salary greater than or equal to $40,000, and 33.3% reported an annual salary greater than $60,000. Salaries reported in the current study are considerably lower than those reported by participants in these other studies, which might suggest that access technology professionals currently employed in higher education could be earning higher salaries elsewhere.

In the present study, compensation is higher in the Western United States than in other U.S. regions, though still low compared to similar positions outside of higher education. The slightly higher earnings parallels the higher cost of living in the West, although another motive for the higher earnings may be that the West in general and California in particular appears to be an area where technology accessibility in higher education is taken seriously. In both of the studies reported in the current paper, California was disproportionately represented.

Both the California State University (CSU) and California Community College (CCC) systems have strong centralized efforts to address technology accessibility issues. The CCC began its efforts nearly twenty years ago when categorical funding was put in place to support services for students with learning disabilities, high tech center labs, and a centralized High Tech Center Training Unit that provides training and support throughout the system. In 2001, additional funding was provided for alternate media provision. With 110 campuses (the world's largest post-secondary system) and an established funding mechanism, the CCC is well positioned to hire access technology staff.

Accessibility activity within the 23-campus CSU system is relatively late-coming, but has grown appreciably in recent years, owing in part to the Accessible Technology Initiative, established in 2004 by the CSU Board of Trustees Policy on Disability Support and Accommodations (California State University, n.d.). The 34 positions advertised on the ATHEN list over the past year are an indication of continued demand, in California and elsewhere, for people to work in the access technology in higher education field. Overall results from the ATHEN Survey (Asuncion, Draffan, Guinan, & Thompson, 2008; Thompson et al, 2008) reveal that there is considerable work still needed in order to ensure that students with disabilities have full access to teaching and learning technologies in higher education. Therefore, employment opportunities should continue to be available in the field, depending of course on a variety of economic and political variables.


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  5. Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching (2006). Basic Classification System. Retrieved October 23, 2008 from
  6. Gabriel-Petit, P. & Lang, T. (2004). 2004 salary survey of user experience design and usability professionals. Retrieved October 24, 2008 from [PDF]
  7. Thompson, Draffan, & Patel (2008). 2008 ATHEN survey on accessible technology in higher education. ATHEN E-Journal, 4. Retrieved December 30, 2008 from


This article was developed in part with funding from the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Postsecondary Education (OPE #P333A030064). However, the contents do not necessarily represent the policies of the Department of Education, and you should not assume their endorsement.