By Tom Babinszki, VP of Accessibility

Each May, on the third Thursday of the month, we celebrate Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD). It’s encouraging to see that what started as a Twitter conversation between two like-minded digital accessibility advocates has now, 11 years later, blossomed into a day of awareness that companies like BlackBoard and eBay are embracing. But despite the high-profile support, many people still don’t know about GAAD and its purpose of educating the world about digital access and inclusion. As a person who is blind since birth, I understand only too well the frustrations of being cut off from experiences online because of bad coding or missing information. I use a screen reader, a type of assistive technology, to navigate online and on my phone, so even one missing button label could mean I can’t do what I need to on a site or an app.This is the type of experience many users, with many different types of disabilities, encounter when organizations don’t commit to making their digital experiences accessible. And that’s why I’m issuing this call to action, encouraging everyone to use GAAD as their springboard to join the movement for an accessible web. Here are three key reminders I want to share today.

1. We’ve come a long way.

I’m an optimist. I think it’s important, on a day like GAAD, to celebrate the progress that’s been made regarding web accessibility. It helps remind me of why I do what I do as an accessibility advocate.Over the years, I’ve witnessed companies starting to think less reactively and more proactively about accessibility. I remember back to when I started using Windows computers. In those years, when a new version of Windows came out, we had to wait months until we got a screen reader that would work with it. Today, when it comes out, the screen reader is already optimized to work with it.We’ve also started thinking proactively when building new technologies. Today when you buy a smartphone, you have accessibility functionality built right into the operating system for people with all kinds of disabilities. That’s huge. I wouldn’t have hoped for that 15-20 years ago. Most importantly, we’re becoming more inclusive. People are starting to bring accessibility into important conversations about diversity, equity, and inclusion, which have become more mainstream in recent years. It’s taken a generation, but word is finally spreading that the benefits of web accessibility go beyond complying with a legal obligation or avoiding a discrimination lawsuit, helping companies connect with a larger audience, and recruit a more diverse workforce. These are all positive signs. But we need to push this recognition even further. We still have a long way to go.

2. We can do better.

Unfortunately, there are still many that think of digital accessibility as a “nice-to-have.” Globally, we’re creating new websites every minute of every day, and the vast majority of them contain accessibility barriers. And this isn’t just a problem for people with visual impairments, or people with disabilities. An inaccessible web impacts all of us. Most of us will age into some form of disability, and simply put, well-designed, accessible user experiences are more user-friendly for everyone. We also need to spread the message that the bare minimum is not enough. Digital accessibility is not about checking a box once your experience is live. We should be thinking about accessibility even before we design a digital experience. And the best way to get started is by putting ourselves in the place of the end users. If you have a hand in creating digital content, whether through authoring, design or development, start by putting yourself into the shoes of people with different types of disabilities, in different situations, and who learn differently. And then think about what you’re creating. Would it make sense for somebody who can’t see it? Or somebody who can’t hear it? Or somebody who may have a more difficult time understanding it? Or somebody who can’t touch it, or use a mouse to get through it? If the answer is no to any of those, think about what else you can do so that it makes sense to, and is enjoyable for, everyone.To me, an awareness day like GAAD is a reminder to consider the needs of others, and work to embed accessible thinking throughout our organizational culture.

3. Everyone has a role to play.

You don’t have to be the CEO to make your organization more accessible. Everyone can be an advocate for accessibility, regardless of your role or type of organization. Because accessibility isn’t just about content, it’s about culture. Here are some ways you can forward accessibility in your organization:

  • Spend some time exploring what web accessibility means to different people. Our mini-documentary, or the W3C’s perspectives videos are great places to start.
    • If you’re a person with a disability and / or have particular web accessibility needs, use GAAD as your platform! You could post on social media, organize a Meetup, or simply talk to community members or local businesses about the accessibility issues you encounter. Sharing your experience, to the extent you feel comfortable, helps inform others about what would help.
  • When hosting an internal meeting, ask people in advance for their accommodation requests. When your organization hosts an online meeting or event like a webinar, it’s a best practice to provide live captioning and a transcript or captioned recording afterwards.
  • Use a free accessibility tool to evaluate your organization’s website. Then, share and discuss the results with your internal teams. If you need help scanning or synthesizing, feel free to reach out to our team.
  • Be mindful of your language during virtual meetings. Try “Is my sound coming through?” instead of “Can everyone hear me?” Or “Is my screen sharing?” instead of “Can everybody see my screen?” Someone on your team may have a visual or hearing impairment even if they haven’t disclosed it to you.
  • When you send out that funny picture or GIF to your colleagues, explain it with a caption to ensure everyone is able to perceive and understand it.
  • Engage in the accessibility conversation on social media by searching with the hashtag #a11y to learn from new perspectives.

There will no doubt be plenty more ideas like these shared around this year on GAAD. If you’re new to digital accessibility, it may feel like a lot to remember, but really, it all comes down to one key principle: be sensitive to the needs of those who otherwise may not be included. If that’s how you approach the world around you, you’ll have done a lot for accessibility. Imagine if everybody did the same.