By Tristan Parker
This year, 9 May recently marked the second Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD), an event that aims to encourage web developers and related communities to think about accessibility for disabled computer users when designing and building web pages.
GAAD was inspired by a blog post in which US-based developer Joe Devon called for widespread accessible web design. The post was noticed by accessibility professional Jennison Asuncion, and the two began working to raise the profile of digital accessibility.
Individuals and organisations from across the globe create and take part in awareness-raising activities during GAAD, from holding talks to tweeting accessibility messages to using only part of a computer to simulate the barriers faced by someone with an impairment or disability.
Here, Devon and Asuncion speak to E-Access Bulletin about the aims of GAAD and the 2013 event.
EAB: Please tell us about the background to Global Accessibility Awareness Day.
Joe: I had seen this video by Victor Tsaran, a blind accessibility programmer working for Yahoo! He was demonstrating what it was like to surf the internet using a screen reader .
He was surfing the Yahoo! site with links all over the place. I was fascinated by how quickly the screen-reader navigated through the content. And it got me thinking about how important it was that markup [a type of computer language] be done semantically.
Fast forward five years, I was watching my father struggle with a banking website. He was 86 at the time, with severe hearing impairment and reduced visual acuity. It was terrible the struggle he faced when calling the bank and trying to navigate their voicemail system.
You would think that moving banking activity online would help things out. But it didn’t. Responding to an email from the bank once resulted in him getting phished. So you can’t trust that. It’s great that the bank has direct messages. He wrote a message with an issue once, and then he got an email telling him there was a response on the website. But he didn’t know if that was true.
I watched him go to the website and realised that although there was an alert that he had a message, it was so subtle there was no way he would notice it. Had the bank done user-testing with the elderly, they would have known this. The situation got me mad. And inspired me to write a blog post suggesting a Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD) for web development professionals.
I thought it would be ignored, like all my other blog posts. However, Jennison Asuncion, a digital accessibility professional in Toronto (I was living in Los Angeles), stumbled upon it on Twitter and told me we had to make it happen. And so GAAD was born.
EAB: Who are the main team behind GAAD and how did those people become involved?
Joe: Well, I suppose Jennison and I are volunteers for life. But so many people have been pitching in that it would be hard to even tell you who is “the team”. Informally there seems to be a tight-knit community and they are all in with us.
Jennison: It was really amazing to see folks step up. Whether it was volunteering to translate text into different languages, people tweeting, writing and blogging to promote the day, others organising events at their companies/organisations, many have much to be proud of.
EAB: Do you think GAAD 2013 was the biggest yet?
Joe: GAAD 2013 was only our second year. GAAD 2012 blew us away. We never expected such a response. We thought it would take a much bigger effort to take off, but I guess we touched a nerve. Now GAAD 2013 was so beyond expectation, that yes, it was the biggest so far.
EAB: What preparation took place for this year’s event?
Joe: My father got cancer in November 2012 and passed away mid-February. So I was pretty out of it for this year’s preparations. But basically Jennison worked social media and his personal network, and people contacted us. Jennison directed changes to the website and Facebook almost daily. Web developer Mindy Morgan (with Diamond Web Services) was extremely helpful throughout this procedure and she made the changes. Not to mention designed a killer logo and redid my awful website layout from the year before. Finally, L.A.-based accessibility specialist Joseph O’Connor made sure our event’s site was accessible.
EAB: Although it’s very much a widespread event with people undertaking their own projects, from a personal perspective, how was GAAD 2013?
Joe: I just couldn’t believe my eyes. I did a representative count of tweets on the GAAD hashtag and it was about a tweet a minute. I’m far from having seen all the tweets. I did notice that the FCC [Federal Communications Commission] tweeted accessibility all day to celebrate the event. We had many corporations do internal events. From Facebook to Intuit [a United States-based financial software company] to PayPal to coverage on .Net’s online magazine, with Mindy’s logo on the cover, it was overwhelming. I still can’t believe what grew out of a simple blog post.
Jennison: Echoing Joe, I was taken aback at how much interest GAAD had. In addition to the number of events held for the public and at schools/companies/organisations around the world, for me, it was hearing from the folks from the National Association of the Physical Disabled – Nepal who held an awareness session with the local IT community and the Independent Living Resource Centre in St. John’s, Canada, that were particularly thrilling. I encourage readers to go to www.globalaccessibilityawarenessday.org to see what went on, it was truly amazing.
EAB: Have there been any projects or results that have already arisen as a result of GAAD 2013?
Joe: Jennison and I are working on starting a foundation and a book to further the goals of Global Accessibility Awareness Day. Specifically, to make web development professionals and others in the high-tech industry aware of digital accessibility. You would be amazed how few even know what a screen-reader is and what other assistive technology is out there!
Jennison: One of the areas we’ll also be working on is continuing to translate and provide info on GAAD in other languages to make this a truly global effort in 2014. Stay tuned to our website, our Twitter feed @gbla11yday and our Facebook page: