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Digital Accessibility — You’ll be GAAD You Did!

A banner image for the GAAD webinar event hosted by the BC Digital Accessibility Community of Practice. May 19, 2022: 11 to 11:45 AM

Have you ever been searching for something online, only to find the website is completely unusable?

Maybe the text was hard to read, too jarring on the senses, not enough contrast, or, worse yet, there was no way to change the language to one you could comprehend. Maybe a dancing chicken tangoed its way across the screen and obscured access to the navigation bar.

Were you motivated to stay on that site and spend your time or money?

Most likely the answer is a whopping no. And why wouldn’t it be?

A website is never designed with the intent to make you exit the screen as fast as a ship with a Class 0.5 Hyperdrive — AKA: basically immediately. In the world of digital marketing, more time on a site translates to more clicks and ultimately more dollars, and as businesses scrambled to create e-commerce sites to replace in-person shopping during the pandemic, the plethora of ready-to-use website templates were there, they were easy, and they gave the ability to have your site up and running in no time.

That’s great, right? I mean, these were tried and true templates, and we all have the same abilities and requirements when using and shopping the web, right?

Not so much.

As a person who relies on accessible websites and apps, navigating these has been interesting, to say the least. The pandemic has resulted in the acceleration of one of the largest digital experiments of our lifetime, and the quick shift to digital service delivery models has exposed who we assume we’re creating for and who’s getting left behind. For every space we create online to replace a real-world interaction, there’s a mirrored set of requirements that were needed to address accessibility in those face-to-face scenarios. Too often, those fall to the wayside in a service’s digital translation.

A hand-drawn wireframe of what a website or app will look like once complete
Photo by Hal Gatewood on Unsplash

But this huge gap in digital accessibility didn’t just emerge in 2020.

In 2011, a frustrated software developer named Joe Devon posted the blog CHALLENGE: Accessibility know-how needs to go mainstream with developers. NOW. What happened next was fantastic: Jennison Asuncion, a digital accessibility specialist, responded to Joe’s blog post and the two of them founded the Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD) which is now in its 10th year and celebrated globally.

Joe was sick and tired of witnessing a lack of access to services, both in built environments and the digital realm, which prevented his family members from being able to live fully independently.

Why am I telling you this? Because this year, the Exchange Lab is partnering with the BC Government Accessibility Community of Practice for a fireside chat with none other than Jennison Asuncion and Joe Devon. On May 19th, 2022, which is the date of GAAD, we’ll discuss what we as developers and non-developers in public and private sectors can do in this digital world to provide access for as many people as possible.

Often when the topic of accessible programming is brought up, we as developers run for the hills. GAAD’s question is: What is driving this hesitancy, and how can it be changed?

The first part of the answer might be as simple as making people aware that digital accessibility is a huge and growing barrier for people fighting to maintain their own independence, and that accessibility screening apps on sites don’t make your website accessible.

I don’t mean to get up on a soapbox about digital accessibility, but the myths that persist are, very interestingly, seemingly recreations of the same narratives that have plagued accessibility advocates since well before the dawn of the internet.

Three I hear often are:

  1. Only a small number of users need an accessible website or app.
  2. Accessibility development costs too much, and that’s bad on my return of investment (ROI).
  3. Accessibility is time-consuming, and there aren’t a lot of supports to get me up to speed on the web. Besides, accessibility doesn’t affect the majority of society overall.
A laptop with adaptive supports/technology for reading and writing in Braille
Photo by Elizabeth Woolner on Unsplash

So friends, let me bust these three myths for you!

Myth buster number one:
Check out these stats that may change your mind about making your site accessible:
• According to WHO, 217 million people worldwide have moderate to severe vision impairment, which is expected to triple from 36 million to 115 million by 2050 (WHO)
• Across the top one million home pages, 50,829,406 distinct accessibility errors were detected — an average of 50.8 errors per page (WebAIM Million 2022)
• The total disposable income for U.S. adults with disabilities is about $490 billion, which is comparable to other significant market segments (2020 — Air.org).
• In Canada, persons with disabilities and their friends and families add up to twelve million people more than a third of our population- with total disposable income more than $311 billion. (Abilities Magazine)
• The online spending power of people with access needs in the UK is now £24.8 billion (Click Away Pound Survey)

Got your attention?

Myth buster number two:
It’s never been easier to find resources for implementing accessibility. There are free auditing sites to check accessibility and fix errors, coding libraries, and so much more. Check out these resources:

BC Government Accessibility & Inclusion Toolkit (BC Government)
GAAD Resources page
Accessibility Code Library (GitHub)
Libraries and Design Patterns (WebAxe)
Accessible UI Component Libraries Roundup (DigitalA11Y)
Free Online recordings of Axe-Con digital accessibility conference 2022

Myth buster number three:
So many modern-day conveniences society uses came from creating products for persons with disabilities that were then integrated into society at large.

Like what you ask? Items such as: texting, laptop computers, text-to-speech technology, automatic opening doors, curb cuts on sidewalks, closed captioning, and the electric toothbrush.

Heck, even the typewriter keyboard configuration was designed for persons with disabilities and is now mainstream for everyone to use in modern-day computing.

None of us will go through this world flawlessly, and we’ll all need accessibility supports at some point. Accessible programming and development push a website or app past its limited users and use cases to a more expansive audience than you ever thought possible.

There’s no excuse any more to not be part of the accessible movement, improve your users’ experience exponentially, and make accessibility a blessing, instead of a curse.

Register today to attend the BC GAAD Webinar Event!
Date: May 19, 2022
Time: 11–11:45 AM (PST)
Delivery Format: Online

Photo of author Melissa Wallace
As one of the core team members of the Accessibility Community of Practice, Melissa Wallace has worked for the BC Government for over 10 years in a variety of areas. Admittedly, she’s one argyle sweater away from being an official cat lady, loves human-centered design, accessibility, diversity and inclusion, systems thinking, agile, behavioural insights, engagement, and change initiatives.

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