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Global Accessibility Awareness Day 2018 – a snapshot of an evolving phenomenon

By Mel Poluck.

Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD) has grown rapidly in its short lifetime.

Beginning with a blog post in 2011 entitled ‘Challenge: Accessibility know-how needs to go mainstream with developers. NOW’ that triggered the annual event, GAAD now counts the world’s technology giants among its participants.

“It’s surreal that as a result of one blog post, tech companies with a market cap of almost two trillion dollars combined have changed their homepage to commemorate GAAD,” US-based developer Joe Devon, author of the post and GAAD co-founder, told e-Access Bulletin.

Devon connected with accessibility expert Jennison Asuncion by chance on Twitter and together they founded the annual one-day celebration, which invites individuals and organisations to get people talking about digital inclusion, marking the day with events and discussion.

This year marked the seventh GAAD, held on May 17, and as ever, the event provided lots of simple ways for people to experience everyday accessibility challenges. The GAAD website suggested the following: set aside an hour to go mouseless, use your keyboard or a screen-reader to navigate, or create/share a video online demonstrating how you use assistive technology.

Apple used the event to announce that its Everyone Can Code program, which teaches students to code and build apps, was expanding to US schools for blind and deaf communities. The course uses Apple’s programming language Swift and was developed with engineers, teachers and programmers specialising in accessibility.

Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Adobe and Oath announced their forthcoming week-long accessibility course, Teach Access Study Away: Silicon Valley. Aimed at students, universities and industry partners, the course is funded by the Silicon Valley Community Foundation and includes a module on accessibility careers.

Microsoft chose GAAD to announce the launch of its Xbox Adaptive Controller. Scheduled for release later this year, the controller is aimed at gamers with impairments and features ports that players can connect switches, buttons, pressure-sensitive tubes and other assistive devices into, so that no gamers are excluded.

In the UK, the BBC held a day-long livestream of events called Access All Areas, discussing innovations in assistive technology, with sessions on digital inclusion, accessible gaming and inclusive workplace design.

For other organisations, webinars were a simple, popular tool used to spread the accessibility message. Some of the many topics covered included an introduction to screen-readers, e-reader accessibility, and accessibility for local government.

Some of the day’s activity simply highlighted the everyday challenges that people with a disability face. For example, technology access charity AbilityNet shared a video on Facebook showing the experience of keyboard-only user Alex Barker, unsuccessfully trying to book flights online for his wedding using travel website Skyscanner (the company subsequently responded, offering to fix the problem).

Argentina-based accessibility organisation Fundación Comparlante announced the launch of IncluYes, an online platform that makes it easier for people in South America and the United States to buy products and services adapted for people with a disability.

The Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) called on Twitter to make its image accessibility features simpler to use. “It’s great that Twitter has image descriptions, but why aren’t these settings automatically switched on?,” RNIB tweeted.

Individuals also used the day to pool their expertise for the benefit of others. One group of accessible gaming professionals offered a Q&A on Reddit. “As part of industry-wide pushes happening all over the world,” reads the introduction, “a bunch of us have come together for all your questions. Whether you’re someone with a disability, a gamer, a developer, none of the above, all of the above, hit us up … All of us are working towards raising the bar for inclusion of people with disabilities in gaming.”

Throughout the day, Twitter buzzed with comments, links and videos using the hashtags #GAAD, #GAAD2018 and #GAADTweetChat.

One of Joe Devon’s personal highlights of the day was new Californian legislature that recognises Global Accessibility Awareness Day and calls on public bodies and businesses in California to make their websites accessible for people with disabilities. “We have no idea how it came about. That was pretty cool,” Devon says.

So, how does he explain such incredible and rapid growth of the event? “In the start-up world there is a concept of ‘product/market fit’ that venture capitalists love to talk about. This year’s epiphany is that GAAD has hit product/market fit.”

The call to those beyond the accessibility community will also remain important in achieving the goals of GAAD.

“The accessibility community is in a lot of pain because digital products are so close to changing people’s lives drastically, but when they fail because of an accessibility oversight, it’s beyond frustrating,” says Devon. “I was personally failing people that depend on technology to improve their lives. Our whole industry was.

“I get the sense that the community felt that developers just don’t care. It meant something to that group that a developer outside that community realised we were failing and wanted to change things. It was an outsider preaching to other outsiders to come in and join the community.

“I also think that diversity has become an important topic in our culture,” Devon continues. “Millennials are demanding corporate responsibility, so GAAD is in-line with that desire.”

In future, Devon would like to see local media ask their readers to celebrate the day and ensure their websites and products are accessible. “Developers will feel the need to be up on accessibility even more if customers demand it.”

Find out more about GAAD at the Global Accessibility Awareness Day website.

Comment on the ‘Screen-reader navigation’ story at e-Access Bulletin Live.


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