Today marks the 10th annual observation of Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD), a day which aims to highlight the importance of digital inclusion and accessibility. 

GAAD takes place on the 3rd Thursday in May each year and was originally inspired by a blog post from Joe Devon which challenged developers to make websites accessible. Now, GAAD is commemorated around the world, which includes the North East’s Better ConNEcted campaign.

Digital was fundamental to our lives before March 2020, but now it is even more so. With many activities shifting online during the past 14 months, it has become increasingly paramount that everyone is included when it comes to accessing digital regardless of vision, hearing, cognitive or mobility disabilities, age or access means. Even for those not working in digital, the digital universe is deeply intertwined with everything they do – whether that’s reading the news, ordering a grocery shop, or opening this blog post. For those of us who do work within the digital sphere, it is deeply ingrained into our patterns of life to an even greater extent.

The number of households with internet access continues to rise, yet we take for granted digital access. Regardless of increased ‘internet access’ people are left behind in the digital divide: even if you have an internet connection, it doesn’t mean the internet is accessible to you. For example, 73% of disabled users experience barriers on more than a quarter of websites they visit.

There are 14.1 million disabled people in the UK, including 19% of working age adults, and the spending power of disabled people and their families is worth £274 billion. It would be an injustice for there to still be barriers to disabled people using digital – and yet, in a WebAIM survey, 60% of respondents who use a screen reader felt the accessibility of web content had either not changed or had gotten worse over the past year. The knock-on effect of digital exclusion for disabled people can range from anything from inconvenience, to being unable to access basic services. According to Forbes, 71% of people with disabilities will leave a website which is difficult to use. Furthermore, from a business perspective, there is a clear case for making your website or app accessible, which can increase the number of people able to access your products or services.

What can you and your organisation do? 

At a practical level, what might be making your digital product or your website inaccessible?

Firstly, your website may be unnavigable using keyboard commands. For the two million people in the UK living with sight loss, indistinguishable colour contrasts might make certain buttons less visible, and a lack of alt-text on images could exclude users from accessing memes, gifs and infographics. Closed captioning can help your content become more accessible to people with full or partial deafness – an accessibility measure recently introduced by TikTok.

So, what can you do to observe Global Accessibility Awareness Day? We’ve rounded up a few ideas to get you started:

  1. Get involved in Difference North East’s Take One Challenge, by taking one action to improve accessibility

  2. Familiarise yourself with some key accessibility terminology, starting with terms such as “audio description” and “alt text”

  3. Check in with your colleagues to see if there are any accessibility barriers which they face that you could help remove

  4. Evaluate the accessibility of your own website using web assessment tools

  5. Ask yourself or talk to your devs about accessibility – for example, what accessibility standards guide your development process?

  6. Get involved in local Digital Inclusion campaign, Better ConNEcted

  7.  Weigh in on the importance of digital accessibility using the hashtag #GAAD

Joe Devon’s blog post in 2011 pointed out the importance of accessibility in web development, yet ten years on disabled internet users continue to face barriers. There is still work to be done to make our websites and platforms digitally inclusive and ultimately, we should all have digital inclusion at the forefront of our design choices – not as an afterthought.

Read more about Global Accessibility Awareness Day.