What is Global Accessibility Awareness Day?

Published October 29, 2021

Every May, on the third Thursday of the month, the team over at the GAAD Foundation celebrates accessibility across the globe. As we close out National Disability Employment Awareness Month this weekend, we decided to look to upcoming events in 2022 and ask − what is Global Accessibility Awareness Day? 

Global Accessibility Awareness Day, also known as GAAD, works to promote digital accessibility, access, and inclusion worldwide. GAAD defines digital accessibility as the need for top-quality digital experiences for all internet users, regardless of an individual’s disabilities. GAAD on digital accessibility: 

Someone with a disability must be able to experience web-based services, content, and other digital products with the same successful outcome as those without disabilities.  

Approximately one billion people worldwide have disabilities, yet almost 100 percent of the one million home pages tested under Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) had at least one WCAG failure. Since GAAD’s inception, so much progress has been made, but it’s clear the tech ecosystem still has a ways to go to meet the needs of a large and underserved group of internet users.

History of GAAD

Joe Devon, an entrepreneur and founder of the inclusive digital agency Diamond, and Jennison Asuncion, a digital accessibility professional, co-founded GAAD in 2011 to inspire discussions, learning, and further innovation for a more accessible internet.

The story of GAAD originates from a single blog post in 2011 penned by co-founder Joe Devon.

In the post, the GAAD co-founder discussed many ways the tech industry and web development are underdeveloped when it comes to accessible design. He was inspired to write the article titled CHALLENGE: Accessibility know-how needs to go mainstream with developers. NOW, after witnessing his father struggle with complicated banking sites due to impaired vision and hearing.

Devon challenged everyone, including himself, to think deeper and more deliberately about how a more accessible internet can look. The post proclaimed the third Thursday of May as the official Global Accessibility Awareness Day, and so it all began. Ten years later, GAAD continues to lead tech down a more accessible pathway for internet users, as well as educate tech leaders and teachers on how to encourage more accessible workspaces and classrooms.

GAAD leads accessible tech progress

Since the launch of GAAD ten years ago, notable shifts and improvements have occurred within the tech ecosystem. Global Accessibility Awareness Day has gone from a more modest celebration, with 16 in-person events worldwide in 2012, to more than 200 annual events each year featuring such notable supporters as Stevie Wonder and Apple CEO Tim Cook.

But the most significant change appears in how some of the world’s top tech companies now approach digital accessibility. In just one year, between 2019 and 2020, Diamond reported a 3% decrease of inaccessible sites among Alexa’s top 100. These sites include the world’s most-used websites like Google, Amazon, and YouTube.

In our series Accessibility Matters, Joe Devon explains the significant impact top tech companies have had over the past few years since GAAD began;

In terms of who is getting better, I would say that the top tech companies...are improving considerably. And those are improving at about 8 percent a year, from what we've seen so far. So, 8 percent in 10 years is significant.

Devon highlights major tech companies, like Amazon making strides like extending GAAD into a one-month internal program. Additionally, Xbox’s release of its adaptive controller on Global Accessibility Awareness Day was intended to emphasize the importance of its’ new, accessible design. The GAAD co-founder says top tech companies’ bold steps into accessible sites, designs, and products promote a trend encouraging crucial improvements with the rest of the internet.

The journey ahead

While Global Accessibility Awareness Day has greatly advanced discussions, awareness, and education surrounding digital accessibility, there is still much progress that needs to be made.

Diamond, which specializes in accessible web design, inspires a clear goal for GAAD supporters — to build everything accessible by default. Unfortunately, research shows most websites are not fully accessible just yet. Devon explains a reason for this may be the lack of education on accessible design;

So, there are definitely agencies out there...that don't even know what [accessible design] means...Then you have a few agencies that have an accessibility department. They will be able to do accessible design well. But really, we need [all] digital agencies to have built-in accessibility by default.

Education seems to be the main issue blocking significant improvements in accessibility in tech. Devon urges for a transformation in how tech professionals are educated. More specifically, reworking coding boot camps and universities to weave accessibility into the fabric of lesson plans and programming can accomplish a great deal.

GAAD advocates for organizations like the nonprofit, Teach Access, which works to make the case for accessible tech. Teaching built-in accessibility within designs and web development leads us all one step closer to a truly accessible internet. Global Accessibility Awareness Day continues to inspire digital accessibility so that one day, all internet users can have top-tier web experience regardless of how users access the web.

So what will your organization be doing on May 19, 2022 to celebrate global accessibility awareness? 

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