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GAAD: Making Accessibility “Accessible”

May 11, 2018

Learn about accessibility and those who are pushing to make assistive technology available to all.

By: Rebecca Haber

Millions of Americans use smartphones and tablets every day, but most people don’t stop to think that roughly 15 percent of the world’s population have legal disabilities. How does a blind person use a laptop, or someone with a hearing impairment use a cell phone? How can we adapt every day technology to suit everyone’s needs? These are the questions web developer Joe Devon found himself asking in 2011, when he decided to found Global Accessibility Awareness Day.

What is it GAAD?

Global Accessibility Awareness Day, or GAAD, happens annually on the third Thursday of May, which is May 17 this year. The goal is to spread awareness about accessibility and encourage developers to design assistive technology and create products that are accessible to the masses.

These days, more and more tech companies are working to ensure their products and services are accessible to all. Airbnb recently added accessibility filters so that guests with disabilities will have an easier time finding appropriate accommodations. Cox has developed several programs as well, such as telephone relay service and easy-to-use voice command options on its Contour Voice Remote.

But while several companies are making strides in assistive technology, accessibility remains a relatively new topic in technology development. When personal computers first came out, disabled users had to go to specialized companies that sold bespoke software in order to adapt their machines accordingly. Not only was this expensive, but it implied that accessibility was more of an afterthought to the development process.

What are the Benefits?

Assistive technology not only gives disabled users the opportunity to succeed, it also has the potential to make life easier for groups like the elderly. For example, senior citizens who want to stay in their own homes can now live safely with the help of advanced smart home technology.

But the benefits don’t stop there; many argue that accessibility improves usability for all users. According to PEAT, “accessibility can lead to increased potential market share, customer satisfaction and repeat business.” Even aside from the obvious advantages, creating user-friendly assistive technology may ultimately lead to more success for everyone involved.

Who’s Behind It?

In 2011, Joe Devon wrote a blog post calling his peers to action. He asked that web developers set at least one day aside every year to focus efforts on accessibility and spreading awareness about assistive technology.

Jennison Asuncion, an accessibility professional from Toronto, discovered the post via Twitter and immediately reached out to Devon. Together, the pair have hosted numerous events and helped to make accessibility “accessible” to the mainstream designer/developer.

Want to get involved? Check out the local IT Meetups in your area. Or if you want to hear from Devon directly, check out this podcast.

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