GAAD 2014: People are Different and We All Use Technology. Why Isn’t More of it Accessible?

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This is a post about Global Accessibility Awareness Day.  The day is also called GAAD. GAAD is being celebrated with events around the globe.  All the events are about the many different ways people use technology.  We need websites and mobile applications to work for everyone.  Accessibility is about making sure that happens. You can read a list of GAAD events, which are both in person and online.


May 15 2014 is the third annual Global Accessibility Awareness Day, or GAAD. The day was conceived by Los Angeles web developer Joe Devon and accessibility virtuoso Jennison Asuncion. Virtual and live events are being held around the globe to bring attention to a simple idea:

People are different and we use digital devices and consume digital content in different ways.

All of us, with and without disabilities, use technology because we want to, need to, have a legal right to. In 2014 millions of us can’t work, learn, play, stay informed, read, build community or even stay healthy unless digital devices have been designed with all users in mind. We can’t graduate, do our jobs (or even apply for them), shop or vote, unless digital content has been developed for everyone. For all of us.

That is accessibility.

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My thoughts about Global Accessibility Awareness follow. If you’re reading this post, I encourage you to mark the day. If you can’t participate in an event (read about all GAAD events) spend 15 minutes becoming aware of accessibility in a way that is new to you.

However you mark GAAD 2014, congratulations. And thank you. You are now part of a growing international movement of people committed to making sure all of us are part of the digital age.

A for Accessibility: People are Different

Does anyone doubt that people are different? Some of us don’t wear glasses and can read tiny print. Others can’t see a screen at all and rely on spoken instructions to navigate and consume content. Most of us fall somewhere in between. We need varying sizes of text. We try (and often fail) to make out the words when color contrast is weak. We get headaches or worse when we can’t control aspects of our how text is displayed digitally.

Some of us hear every word of online video content at a low volume. Some of us can’t hear at all, and need online captioning. If online emergency information is spoken without captions, those of us who rely on captioned content miss out on critical safety information. Most of us fall somewhere in the middle; we need to adjust volume depending on context and environment.

A different group of us can hear video content just fine, but miss information conveyed only visually. For the students among us who can’t see visual video content, the absence of video description may spell the difference between a passing grade and being left behind.

Some of us like to read books on paper. Others prefer audio books, and lots of us don’t have a choice: if we can’t read a book audibly on an accessible device we can’t read it at all.

Some of us can’t use a keyboard and depend on speech recognition software. Some of us can’t use a mouse. We can only navigate a website if all content can be reached with a keyboard. (If you are a mouse user, spend GAAD without it – you’ll quickly experience the importance of accessibility.)

Keyboard only users are not necessarily who you think they are. Many young women and men who joined the military came back with a disability affecting motor skills. Some of these same wounded warriors came back with head injuries that affect their cognitive abilities. Like many more of us, they need content written in plain language, uncluttered layouts, design that is easily navigated.

People are different.

A for Awareness: Something’s Missing

Digital accessibility is making sure that all of us — all different people — can use digital content, services and tools. If it is so easy to understand that people are different, why is so much digital content designed for only some of us? Why are so many of us left out?

  • Why are so many websites still unusable by so many people?
  • Why do new mobile applications appear in the app store every day that blind people can’t use?
  • Why does anyone still use a visual CAPTCHA?
  • Why does Google still have an audio CAPTCHA that is often indecipherable?
  • Why doesn’t every single website have an accessibility information page? (Read about companies that have accessibility information pages.)

This is where Awareness (the second “A” in GAAD) comes in. There is a profound lack of awareness that people consume digital content in different ways. Everyone knows people are different, but somehow device manufacturers, engineers, web designers, site owners and mobile app developers forget that all those different people will be using their products, accessing their content.

  • There is a lack of awareness that accessibility affects all of us. That people with disabilities use computers and mobile devices. That people who can’t use a mouse or see a screen or hear a video are as active online as people who can.
  • There is a lack of awareness that accessibility is usability and usability is accessibility. Fortunately there is a growing movement to change this. Read more at A Web for Everyone.
  • There is a lack of awareness about how access (and its absence) affects people’s daily lives.
  • There is a lack of awareness about accessibility resources. The web accessibility initiative is a good place to start.
  • There is a lack of awareness that blind people use iPhones. (Sorry to get so specific, but this is high on the frustration list. If app developers knew that blind people used iPhones, wouldn’t there be more accessible applications?). Tommy Edison, the Blind Film Critic, can show you how built-in features of the iPhone make it available to all users.

G is for Global

The GAAD founders were wise to include the word Global when naming this day of accessibility awareness. Across the globe advocates struggle for access to digital content and devices. International treaties recognize the importance of digital access around the globe. Under pressure from advocates, nations are adopting accessibility requirements and policies. Let’s use GAAD to raise our awareness of those issues. Here are a few resources to get started:

GAAD has grown exponentially since the first Global Accessibility Awareness Day in 2012. Let’s keep spreading the word until developing accessible tools and content is not just a best practice, but the way things are done everywhere. As it says in the mission statement of the World Wide Web consortium

The social value of the Web is that it enables human communication, commerce, and opportunities to share knowledge. One of W3C’s primary goals is to make these benefits available to all people, whatever their hardware, software, network infrastructure, native language, culture, geographical location, or physical or mental ability.W3C mission statement

Happy GAAD.