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Nat's Tech Notes
Nat's Tech Notes

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From Former Special Ed Teacher To Future Web Accessibility Specialist

Chapter 1: Becoming a teacher

Like most people's lives, mine has been a mix of free will and pure happenstance. For example, it was my choice to get a degree in education, because I wanted to make a positive difference in this world. So much so, that I chose (world) religion as one of the two specifications within the general curriculum. I wanted - and did - teach some of the future contributors to our society about the differences between people, cultures, and religions. I dare even say that for most, I managed to help them understand and accept those differences, instead of fearing them, and assisted them in seeing the beauty in all of it.

Chapter 2: Learning from special education

It was fate, however, that nudged me into the direction of special education. While my degree's curriculum did include some introductory and pretty surface-level classes related to disabilities - mostly, but not exclusively, cognitive and learning disabilities - I had honestly never considered that route.

That is until I started applying for jobs after graduation and ended up getting only one reply out of many applications. It happened to be a position for both of the specifications I had chosen (the second being English as a Second Language - which has also served me incredibly well in many different ways). I went on the interview and about an hour after, I got the phone call saying they wanted to offer me the job. With no other options on the table for me, I accepted, and let me tell you; it was the best thing that could have happened to me. That was what first opened my eyes to how disabilities affect a person's life in so many different ways.

I ended up teaching teenagers with autism and got training from the school itself before I ever started the job. It was there that I learned that simple things that are so often overlooked, like what fonts are used, can significantly improve or decrease a neurodivergent person's chance of being able to process information. Or how to structure text and content in a way that isn't overcrowded and convoluted, a mistake that unfortunately is made so frequently.

All small, but important techniques, that taught me so incredibly much about styling, structuring, and organizing content in an inclusive way. Skills that, unbeknownst to me at the time, would be extremely valuable once I transitioned into programming.

Now my main focus was mostly neurodiversity and adaptive strategies for learning disabilities such as dyslexia for example. The school I was working for, however, did also have students that were hard of hearing or deaf and ones with low vision or blindness. I obviously did not have the proper experience to properly support students with those needs, but it did also give me a glimpse into some of the adaptive strategies they needed to be able to read, learn and process information.

Chapter 3: Switching to programming

Unfortunately, while I absolutely loved teaching, there were a few reasons I ultimately decided to step out of that sector. Not long after that I made a huge life change and ended up moving halfway across the world - to a country that did not even acknowledge my teaching degree as equal to theirs. So that left me with the question: what do I do now?

In another twist of kismet, I was obsessed with the tv show Silicon Valley at the time, especially the coding aspect of it. To the point where I started looking for other coding-related shows and movies that I could watch (though I never did quite find any I enjoyed as much). It was then that I had the not completely random thought that I could see myself potentially being a programmer.

Not one to let a possible opportunity go to waste, I sat down at my computer and started looking up how to start my coding journey. Like many others, I didn't have any specific path in mind. I wasn't sure if I wanted to go into gaming, software, web development, or any of the other routes that can be taken in programming. I just figured I would try coding and see if I liked it and if I didn't, well, no harm no foul.

Chapter 4: Code Newbie

Given that I didn't have a specific programming direction in mind, I decided to go about it a little differently. There were a couple of websites that mentioned that if you grasped C++, any other programming language would be much easier to learn. Of course, that settled it for me - cause why take the easy road when the hard road is so much more fun.

I will admit, I quite liked learning C++, right up until those dreaded pointers came up and I got completely lost. Before that though, I was pretty surprised by how much fun I was having. Given that the first program I ever wrote was a complete mock-up of a reset password process - with security questions and a 3 limit attempt and all - to practice concepts like loops and conditional statements, I clearly had a natural knack for it as well. Can't say I haven't surprised a ton of people when I tell them that was my first written program either!

Deciding C++ might not be the right fit for me though, I ultimately landed on web development and from there, everything naturally fell into place. I started learning HTML, moved on to CSS, then JavaScript - with lots of swearing and feeling dumb at times - followed by React and dipping my toes into the back-end with NodeJS and MongoDB. I especially took an interest in concepts like semantic HTML and accessibility, understanding the importance of them from my particular experiences and background.

Chapter 5: Tying it all together

It wasn't until recently that it dawned on me: I should become a Web Accessibility Specialist. Now granted, like most code newbies, it took me a while to feel confident in my own skills - we all know how real Imposter Syndrome is. It hasn't even really been that long since I stopped referring to myself as a code newbie in all honesty.

There comes a time in our journey, however, that a shift occurs, an ascension, if you will. I stopped feeling like I was still simply learning - though let's be honest, that's a never-ending process in programming - and started feeling like I knew what I was doing and what I was talking about. It was then that I gained the confidence to let the last pieces of the puzzle fall into place and to embark on the next phase of my journey: obtaining the required certifications.

Chapter 6: Sharing is caring

Not only am I incredibly excited to learn and expand my knowledge of the subject, but I am also thrilled to be using this platform as a way to document the process of obtaining the certifications. As I go through the body of knowledge for each exam, I will be writing posts - study notes, if you will - about the different categories and concepts that one should know to pass the exams.

If I can help out other people on the same journey as me, especially, but not exclusively, people that might be struggling with some of the (more theoretical) aspects, that would just be the cherry on top of the pie. Maybe I might even inspire some folks out there to start this journey themselves. After all, the more people become knowledgeable about web accessibility, the better for the future of the web - and all the people out there that are currently being excluded from a big part of it.

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