Contributed by Alex Masse, Special Projects Worker
GAAD, or Global Accessibility Awareness Day, is a day for acknowledgement and improvement of accessibility on the World Wide Web. Falling on the third Thursday of every May, GAAD represents a movement advocating for disabled individuals online, a group whose needs are sorely underrepresented. Last year, WebAIM discovered that out of one million online homepages, 98.1% had at least one failure on the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, or WCAG. The WCAG can be viewed in full here, and covers what makes content “accessible to a wider range of people with disabilities, including blindness and low vision, deafness and hearing loss, learning disabilities, cognitive limitations, limited movement, speech disabilities, photosensitivity and combinations of these.”
GAAD, like many social movements, started small. In fact, it all began with a single blog post by a web developer by the name of Joe Devon, in 2011. In this post, Devon called out how making web content accessible was a low priority in the industry, and how that had to change. He urged others to “spread the word” and bring awareness to the issue.
By pure happenstance, this post was found by Jennison Asuncion, an accessibility professional. The two teamed up, and have been dedicated to the cause ever since, with GAAD now entering its tenth year!
Web accessibility is something that benefits everyone, disabled or otherwise. One example highlighted in a 2020 Forbes article is trying to use your smartphone on a sunny day.
“Mobile website and app developers were compelled to start thinking about high contrast fonts and size adjustments,” wrote author Gus Alexiou, “not as something limited to the requirements of those with low vision, but as a core aspect of usability and universal design.”
Alexiou names a number of accessibility features that help everyone. Captions, for example? Great for the hearing impaired, but also great for watching something in a noisy environment. Text-to-speech features are useful for those who struggle to see words on their screens and for those who want to absorb information while their eyes are elsewhere.
Accessibility features can also help certain groups in particular, besides the disabled. Another feature of captions is that they may be useful for, say, those learning English as a second language, who are better at reading than hearing it. He also proposes that accessibility could help close the “gray digital divide” affecting older populations. Even though many of them don’t self-identify as disabled, elderly groups would likely benefit from straightforward, easy to view interfaces, what with how eyesight goes with age. Overall, accessibility helps everyone, whether that means a convenient way to multitask, or giving the elderly a digital world they can navigate.
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to move the world online, GAAD’s work only becomes more relevant. The web has become integral to most aspects of peoples’ work, education, and connection with the greater world, which means web accessibility is more important than ever. According to GAAD’s homepage, a billion people worldwide have disabilities.
Here are some things you can do or attend this GAAD to further the movement and help bring disabled folks their well-earned seat at the table. Everything linked below is free!
- Here’s a guide by Essential Accessibility for making your video calls more easily accessible to everyone.
- Deque University has a whole range of resources, including workshops, bootcamps, and even free scholarships for disabled individuals.
- The GAAD website has a page dedicated to events happening on the day itself! Some notable ones have been highlighted below.
- Designing Accessible Research is a webinar about making sure research design is inclusive to disabled individuals, put on by the Canadian Research Insights Council. Register here!
- Texthelp is putting on a Festival of Accessibility, celebrating 10 years of GAAD to celebrate how far the movement has come. Register here!
- WeCo is putting on a panel about the intersections of disability and race, to discuss the stigmas and struggles of being a racialized disabled individual. Register here!
Overall, the efforts of Joe Devon, Jennison Asuncion, and everyone who’s advocated for accessibility on the web is to thank for this day, and hopefully it will continue to make strides towards equality!
If our readers would like to learn more about accessibility features on posAbilities.ca, they can visit this page: https://posabilities.ca/website-accessibility-features/