Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD) marks both our progress and the journey ahead in digital accessibility. There have been huge efforts in enhancing physical accessibility – think wheelchair ramps, designated parking, and crosswalk auditory signals for the visually impaired. 

Despite the progress in many areas of life, there is still more work to do across digital spaces. GAAD serves as a powerful reminder of this ongoing mission towards accessibility, highlighting the need to continue moving forward for a more accessible online world for people with disabilities.

As we navigate through the accessibility of apps, web pages and documents, GAAD encourages us to ask questions such as: How can I make digital experiences accessible to everyone? Can people with disabilities interact with our digital content effortlessly? How inclusive are our design practices in addressing a spectrum of physical and cognitive needs? 

Let’s begin with exploring the meaning behind this important day. We’ll answer some key questions and take a look at GAAD’s history to understand the purpose driving the day. Ready to get started?

Understanding Global Accessibility Awareness Day

GAAD is an annual event aimed at fostering understanding and driving conversation about digital accessibility and inclusion for people with disabilities. 

Originating in 2012, GAAD occurs on the third Thursday of May each year. Its primary goal is to encourage developers, designers, and other digital creators to consider and implement accessibility features in websites, software, and mobile applications. 

By raising awareness and highlighting the need for inclusive digital experiences, GAAD plays a huge role in promoting the accessibility of the online environments so everyone can access digital services, regardless of their disabilities.

Why is digital accessibility important?

Digital accessibility ensures that digital assets are usable by all individuals, irrespective of their limitations. It involves designing websites, apps and other digital assets in a way that doesn’t cause barriers to users with visual, auditory, motor, or cognitive challenges. Considering that approximately 1.3 billion people experience a significant disability, it’s vital to create accessible content. Failing to do so could marginalize this population, creating obstacles in routine activities like online banking or shopping.

The significance of digital accessibility is also a strategic asset for businesses. Gartner’s 2020 report highlights that companies prioritizing digital accessibility gain a competitive advantage. 

GAAD brings this issue to the forefront, encouraging organizations to embrace inclusive digital practices. By making websites and online tools accessible to everyone, businesses not only broaden their customer base but also boost their brand image and improve the user experience. 

This commitment reflects an ethos of inclusivity and empathy, key values in the modern marketplace. Furthermore, accessibility-oriented design principles often result in more user-friendly and innovative products, benefiting all consumers. 

What is the history of GAAD?

GAAD was initiated in 2012 by Joe Devon, a web developer, and Jennison Asuncion, an accessibility professional. 

The idea originated from a blog post written by Devon, where he expressed the need for increased awareness about digital accessibility and inclusion. Asuncion, who read the post, reached out to Devon, and together they established the first Global Accessibility Awareness Day. 

Their goal was to dedicate a day to encourage developers, designers, and other stakeholders in the digital world to focus on the importance of making websites and mobile applications accessible to individuals with disabilities. Since then, GAAD has been observed annually on the third Thursday of May, gaining momentum and support worldwide.

What is the GAAD foundation?

In 2021, on the 10th anniversary of GAAD, the GAAD Foundation was born. The GAAD Foundation began a mission to shake up the tech world, encouraging businesses to make accessibility a central part of the creation of digital products and services. This initiative is a pledge to rethink and remodel how we design digital spaces, making sure they’re accessible to people with disabilities.  

Insight: A study conducted on the top one million websites revealed a startling number of over 51 million distinct accessibility errors across their home pages. This averages out to about 51.4 errors per home page, highlighting significant accessibility challenges in the digital landscape (WebAIM, 2021).

How does GAAD connect with WCAG guidelines?

GAAD serves as a valuable link in the chain of digital inclusion, closely intertwined with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).

While GAAD is an annual event focused on encouraging awareness and understanding of accessibility in digital technology, WCAG provides a set of recommendations for making web content more accessible.

The day acts as a catalyst, prompting discussions and learning around the practical implementation of WCAG standards in everyday digital environments. It encourages creators to consider aspects such as alternative text for images, keyboard navigability, and sufficient color contrast — all fundamental elements of WCAG.

By highlighting real-world applications and success stories, GAAD helps translate the technical language of WCAG into actionable steps that can be undertaken by individuals and organizations globally.

Insight: As we look ahead to next year, set your calendars for Thursday, May 16, 2024, which will mark the 13th GAAD.

7 ways to support GAAD

In the spirit of GAAD, let’s explore seven impactful ways to celebrate and support this important initiative. From simple awareness-raising activities to more hands-on approaches, each of these methods contributes to a more inclusive digital world. Read on to discover how you can make a difference on this significant day:

1. Participate in educational workshops and webinars

Get involved in workshops and webinars discussing digital accessibility. These can cover topics like accessible website design, assistive technologies, and inclusive digital practices.

2. Conduct accessibility audits

Conduct or participate in accessibility audits of digital products, such as websites and apps, to identify and improve areas that are not fully accessible. These audits should make sure your digital assets are in compliance with accessibility laws and standards.

Create social media campaigns

Leverage social media for GAAD by using #GAAD to share inspiring stories and resources on digital accessibility. Create informative content, engage with interactive posts, collaborate with influencers, and promote GAAD events. Aim to educate, inspire, and drive action towards making digital platforms accessible to everyone, fostering a long-term commitment to inclusivity in the digital world.

4. Collaborate with disability advocates

Engaging with disability advocates and organizations is a key step in understanding and effectively addressing the challenges faced by individuals with disabilities. Another vital approach to support GAAD is to actively listen to the feedback of individuals with disabilities, embodying the principle of ‘Nothing about us without us’ in all aspects of accessibility and inclusion efforts.

5. Check out inclusive tech demos

Check out accessibility tech demos to gain a better understanding of how advanced technologies are supporting individuals with disabilities in accessing digital content. Why not reach out to UserWay for a demo of their Accessibility Widget, which assists in making websites more navigable and user-friendly for people with a range of disabilities?

6. Get involved in community events

Engage in community events or panel discussions for GAAD, uniting diverse voices to illustrate the importance of digital accessibility. These get-togethers can foster understanding, encourage inclusive practices, and promote a collaborative effort towards creating a digitally accessible world for all, enhancing awareness and driving change at a grassroots level.

7. Create accessible content

Creating accessible document content, especially in widely used formats like PDFs, is important because many online documents fall short in this area. To enhance accessibility, PDFs must have clear, structured layouts, use alternative text for images, and are navigable with screen readers, making them usable for everyone, including those with visual impairments.

By engaging in these activities, individuals and organizations can contribute to a more accessible digital world, showing a commitment to the spirit and purpose of GAAD.

How can I create accessible digital content?

Creating accessible digital content is a vast yet often overlooked aspect of our increasingly digital world. While the importance of digital accessibility is gaining recognition, there is still a considerable gap in awareness and implementation. To bridge this gap, let’s break down the concept into more manageable parts, exploring practical ways to make digital content accessible to everyone, including those with disabilities. By focusing on key areas, we can collectively work towards a more inclusive digital environment.Here are six ways to make digital content accessible:

1. Image Alt Text: Include detailed descriptions as alt text for images. This practice enables screen readers to accurately describe the content and purpose of images to users with visual impairments.

2. Captioning and Transcripts: Include captions for videos and transcripts for audio content, assisting individuals with hearing impairments in accessing the information.

3. Keyboard Navigation: Make sure your website or digital platform is navigable using a keyboard alone, which is crucial for users who cannot use a mouse due to motor skill disabilities.

4. Contrast and Color: Use high contrast between text and background colors and do not rely solely on color to convey information, aiding those with color blindness or visual impairments.

5. Readable and Understandable Text: Use clear, simple language and a readable font size and style. Provide definitions for abbreviations and complex terms to aid those with cognitive disabilities.

6. Responsive Design: Ensure your content is accessible and usable on various devices and screen sizes, accommodating users with different methods of accessing digital content.

Want to know more about GAAD?

For more insights into GAAD and digital accessibility, visit their official websites. These resources offer extensive information on various events and activities, as well as guidance on how you can contribute to promoting digital accessibility and inclusion. Look into these platforms to deepen your understanding and involvement in this important initiative.

UserWay: Promoting digital accessibility

UserWay continually promotes GAAD by developing and promoting solutions to improve accessibility and make websites more compliant with accessibility guidelines, including the WCAG. UserWay helps businesses make sure that every website, app and digital document is accessible, down to every line of code and every design element. Partnering with UserWay gives access to digital environments where a commitment to accessibility can be propelled into action, bringing us all closer to a world where digital access is exactly what it should be – a fundamental human right. Get started with a demo today.

Common FAQs

What is the theme for GAAD this year?

Each year, GAAD may focus on a specific aspect of digital accessibility, but the overarching theme consistently emphasizes the importance of making digital content accessible and inclusive for all users.

Why was GAAD established?

GAAD was established to raise awareness among professionals in the digital space – like developers and designers – about the need for accessible and inclusive digital content and tools for individuals with disabilities.

How can businesses and organizations support GAAD? 

Businesses and organizations can support GAAD by auditing their digital products for accessibility, providing training for their staff on accessibility best practices, and promoting awareness of the importance of digital inclusion both within and outside their organization.