What is GAAD, and why does it matter to people with visual impairments?
Thursday, May 18, is GAAD, short for Global Accessibility Awareness Day. In this blog, we explore what GAAD is and why in its 12th year, it’s more relevant than ever. We also discuss assistive technology and where to find more information if you need support.
What is Global Accessibility Awareness Day or GAAD?
GADD began with a single blog post penned by a Los Angeles-based web developer, Joe Devon suggesting the idea. Accessibility professional Jennison Ascuncion (now head of accessibility evangelism for LinkedIn) tweeted him to say he was “all over the idea”.
The two joined forces, and the rest is – well, you know.
So, what is GADD?
Its core aim is simple – to get everyone “talking, thinking and learning more about digital access and inclusion, and the more than one billion people with disabilities and impairments.”
We explain why it matters and answer some FAQs on digital accessibility.
Why is digital accessibility important?
Digital accessibility (often abbreviated to a11y) matters because it ensures everyone, including disabled people, can access and use digital content.
As the GAAD website says, “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.”
The Equality Act 2010 requires organisations to make their websites accessible to disabled people.
Yet, in 2022 only 3% of the internet is accessible - so GAAD is as relevant as ever.
Website accessibility standards
Accessible websites comply with standards set out by the Worldwide Web Consortium (W3C) - an international organisation founded and led by the web’s inventor Tim Berners-Lee.
These so-called Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). Launched in May 1999, the WCAG guidelines help digital developers and designers know how to ensure that their products are accessible – or, as it says in version 1 of the guidelines:
“These guidelines explain how to make web content accessible to people with disabilities. The guidelines are intended for all web content developers… The primary goal of these guidelines is to promote accessibility. However, following them will also make Web content more available to all users.”
One of the first guidelines set out related to making non-text-based items accessible for people who are blind or visually impaired – essentially, introducing Alt Text.
That means a screen reader can read the description for someone on a website aloud. The screen reader is an example of assistive technology, the second ingredient in making sites and technology accessible.
Assistive technology embedded into everyday devices
Assistive technology has progressed beyond recognition since the introduction of WCAG. In the 20-plus years that have followed, assistive technology has been embedded into the devices we use daily across desktop and mobile operating systems and smart home devices.
Apple’s iOS, for example, includes VoiceOver, a gesture-based screen reader that offers live audible descriptions of what’s on screen. You can adjust the speaking rate and pitch to suit your needs.
You can also Ask Siri to perform tasks. Likewise, Microsoft has made huge strides across its portfolio to put a greater emphasis on accessibility. For example, an accessibility checker sits within the Ribbon of Microsoft Word alongside the spelling checker. Smart speakers from Google and Amazon have also been a game-changer for many with their simple voice-activated interface.
Reasonable Adjustments in the workplace
Where someone meets the definition of a disabled person under the Equality Act 2010, employers are legally required to make reasonable adjustments to any elements of the job which place a disabled person at a substantial disadvantage compared to non-disabled people.
Many of these adjustments are free or low-cost. For example, someone who is blind or visually impaired may find it difficult to travel during rush hour, so you could offer a staggered start and finish time or the ability to work flexibly from home.
For more information, Vision Foundation's website offers a factsheet on workplace accessibility.
Individuals can also apply for support under the Access to Work Scheme.
Resources for Global Accessibility Awareness Day and beyond
Much of sight loss is acquired or gradual, for example, Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD), so people may not have always used assistive technology or know how to access it. Fortunately, many charities and organisations offer help, support and advice if you’re new to assistive technology.
Support with assistive technology
Many organisations offer support for accessing and learning to use technology, including assistive technology. We’ve listed some of these below:
AbilityNet is a pan-disability charity that believes in a digital world accessible to all. It has a network of over 300+ volunteers and can come to your home or offer telephone support. Their experts are skilled in delivering adaptations for assistive technology.
- Find out more about AbilityNet’s FREE Services.
- Call the helpline on 0800 048 7642.
A social enterprise that offers access to digital champions in the community that can support you with technology. It includes access to over 400 free guides.
Good Things Foundation www.goodthingsfoundation.org/
A social change charity, helping people to improve their lives through digital. It works with partners in thousands of communities across the UK. LearnMyWay offers free courses.
Also, from AbilityNet, MyComputerMyWay is an online database that supports you in switching on or accessing accessibility features within your devices. You can search by category, adjustment, condition, symptom and operating system.
However, assistive technology is only effective if companies embrace guidelines and ensure that their websites and apps meet accessibility standards.
So, we are pleased to see GAAD continuing to raise vital awareness.
Do you use assistive technology? We’d love to hear more about how it supports you if you are visually impaired or blind. Please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.