In a world of rapidly advancing technology it’s crucial to ensure companies and organizations are doing their best to make digital developments accessible to everyone.
While browsing the internet, catching up on social media, or texting on mobile devices might seem like second nature to some, accessibility-related barriers prevent millions of people with disabilities from easily using basic forms of technology and, in some cases, even discourage them from going online.
In 2012, Global Accessibility Awareness Day was launched to help highlight the need for increased digital accessibility.
In recent years we’ve seen some amazing action taken — from the creation of virtual marches, which give those with physical disabilities a place to protest online, to more advanced social media tools, like Facebook’s face recognition and automatic alt-text tools, which help blind users and people with low vision better identify posts and people in photographs. But there’s still a lot of room for improvement when it comes to disability inclusion.
Approximately 15 percent of the world’s population have a disability, according to the World Health Organization, which means that more than one billion people could face daily challenges when using digital devices. Here’s everything you need to know about the yearly GAAD celebration.
What is Global Accessibility Awareness Day?
The Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD) is a day dedicated to celebrating existing digital accessibility efforts, and also fostering conversations on the importance of inclusion to inspire further action amongst designers, developers, and tech leaders.
GAAD, celebrated on May 16 this year, is held annually on the third Thursday of May. 2019 will mark the eighth year it’s being observed worldwide.
What inspired this globally recognized day?
This may come as a surprise, but Global Accessibility Awareness Day was inspired by a single blog post written by Los Angeles-based web developer , back in 2011.
The post, titled “CHALLENGE: Accessibility know-how needs to go mainstream with developers. NOW,” was a bold call to action in which Devon brought attention to the lack of readily available information about online accessibility.
“Let’s work together and fix this oversight in our knowledge. As a community, we can work together to change the world.”
“Let’s work together and fix this oversight in our knowledge. As a community, we can work together to change the world,” Devon wrote before suggesting a yearly Global Accessibility Awareness Day. He hoped web developers could set aside this one day to work towards bridging the existing gaps in accessible technology and digital design.
After digital accessibility professional and GAAD co-founder Jennison Asuncion stumbled upon the blog post on Twitter, he reportedly reached out to Devon and the two worked together to bring the day to life. In a 2014 video, Asuncion described the GAAD as “that single day to think about, to learn about, and to experience digital accessibility.”
What can I do to get involved?
If you’re looking to educate yourself and help raise awareness on digital accessibility there are a bunch of different ways to take part in the global conversation.
Host or attend a GAAD event
To start, consider holding or attending a GAAD event, either in-person or online on May 16. The Global Accessibility Awareness Day website lists dozens of events located all over the world in countries like the United States, India, Germany, Italy, Spain, Canada, South Africa, and more. You can also browse event pages from past years for ideas.
For people unable to attend in-person events due to physical disabilities, or those who are simply interested in learning about digital accessibility awareness digitally, you have a lot of options as well.
Here are a few ways to participate online:
Informative webinars — From Blackboard’s “Follow-the-Sun” webinar series — which will focus on accessibility in education — to Finalsite’s webinar on “How To Promote Accessibility At Your Organization,” there’s a diverse selection of webinars ready to enroll in on the GAAD site.
Attend a virtual coffee meeting — The Canadian Association of Professional Academic Librarians (CAPAL) is hosting a virtual coffee meeting on May 16 with guest speaker Lisa Liskovoi, an inclusive designer and digital accessibility specialist at the Inclusive Design Research Institute, the Ontario College of Art and Design (OCAD).
Tune in to BBC Access All Areas — In support of GAAD the British Broadcasting Company’s Digital Accessibility teams are hosting a live stream on May 16 to talk innovations in assistive technology and more. Tune in here.
The #A11YJAM game jam — The accessibility game jam aims to break down barriers in gaming by asking “developers to adapt a game they made for a previous game jam with changes to make it more accessible.” You can learn more and take part in the #A11YJAM game jam until May 15.
Download a GAAD Logo — The GAAD Logo is available for download in case you want to display it on your website or social media accounts to raise awareness.
Be sure to check out GAAD’s full list of virtual events.
Attend an Apple Accessibility Workshop
In 2017, Apple — a dedicated supporter of GAAD over the years — released a series of powerful short films in honor of Global Accessibility Awareness Day which showed some ways people with disabilities customize their devices.
This year, Apple stores will host accessibility workshops globally to inform people on the importance of assistive technologies and teach them how to use those already present in Mac computers, iPads, iPhones, and Apple Watches. The company will discuss topics such as “Accessibility Features for Vision Loss and Hard of Hearing,” “Using VoiceOver on iPhone and iPad and for Mac,” and “Learning and Literacy Features.”
For more information about GAAD events or to book a seat in one, check your . You can also visit the GAAD website to learn about other companies and organizations hosting internal events.
Help raise awareness by experiencing accessibility first-hand
If you’re unable to attend any GAAD events, have no fear, you can still take action in your own time. The GAAD co-founders suggest everyone set aside an hour of the day to experience digital accessibility first-hand.
Through guidelines on the GAAD website, the co-founders offer simple ways to modify devices such as going without a mouse, using your keyboard to navigate, and using a screen reader such as or VoiceOver to engage with websites.
And if you’re a website owner GAAD also offers the perfect opportunity to make some more inclusive changes to your site. Here are some steps to take:
Enlarge font sizes to assist blind or low-vision users.
Ensure your webpage has proper color contrast.
Create a video and caption it.
Write a blog post to raise digital accessibility awareness.
Have your website professionally assessed by a digital accessibility expert.
A future focused on accessibility
While individuals, designers, programmers, and website owners around the world strive to create a more accessible digital world, major tech companies also plan on putting in the work.
In hopes of making tech and digital design more accessible, companies like Facebook, Google, Microsoft, and more are working together as members of the Teach Access initiative — an organization dedicated educating, promoting leadership, building and sharing tools, and creating additional innovations related to accessibility.
So whether you’re attending an event or encouraging others to gain a better understanding of digital accessibility by experiencing it first-hand, there’s a number of ways you can promote inclusion on Global Accessibility Awareness Day and beyond.
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