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 10 percent of the world’s population have a disability, according to the United Nations, which means around 650 million people are faced with daily challenges when using digital devices. Here’s everything you need to know about the yearly GAAD celebration.
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 17 this year, is held annually on the third Thursday of May. 2018 will mark the seventh year it’s being observed worldwide.
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.”
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.
To start, consider holding or attending a GAAD event, either in-person or online on May 17. 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, and more.
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’ve got a lot of options as well.
Here are a few ways to participate online:
Informative Webinars — From Steve Sawczyn’s virtual introduction to screen readers and a 90-minute course on accessibility in e-readers, to a free GAAD webinar by The American Foundation for the Blind and one to help local governments looking to make progress in areas pertaining to accessibility, knowledge is available right at your fingertips.
Watch Microsoft’s Short Film — On May 17 as Microsoft will imagine a world with increased accessibility and share steps we can take to achieve that goal. In a free short film, the tech company will discuss the importance of inclusion and accessible technologies like those in its very own Microsoft 365. You can register to watch here.
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 17 to talk innovations in assistive technology and more. Tune in here.
Download a GAAD Website Banner — For those of you with your own websites, Nick Freear created a downloadable banner so you can display a GAAD reminder message for all your site visitors to see.
Be sure to check out GAAD’s full list of virtual events.
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, the company will be hosting accessibility workshops such as, “Literacy Tools on iPad and iPhone,” “Using iPad and iPhone with Hearing/Vision Loss,” and “VoiceOver for iPad and iPhone,” at its stores worldwide 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.
For more information about GAAD events check your local store page. Apple stores will be hosting other accessibility-related events throughout the month of May. You can also visit the GAAD website to learn about other companies and organizations hosting internal events.
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.
Have your website professionally assessed by a digital accessibility expert. (GAAD notes on its website that Accessible360 is offering free virtual assessments for non-profit organizations on May 17.)
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.
A Facebook spokesperson told Mashable that a recent survey of people in 50 countries found more than 30 percent of Facebook users experienced difficulty “seeing, hearing, speaking, organizing thoughts, walking, or grasping with their hands.”
In hopes of making tech and digital design more accessible, Facebook and other companies like Yahoo, Google, Microsoft, Twitter, 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.
In addition to committing to further accessibility work on their own devices, several companies involved are also launching an accessibility program in California from May 28 to June 1 to give 30 students the knowledge and resources needed to work towards improving digital accessibility in the future.
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.