Global Accessibility Awareness Day: Championing Digital Accessibility for People of All Abilities

May 16 2024 VITAC
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Held annually on the third Thursday in May, Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD) is designed to get everyone talking, thinking, and learning about digital access and inclusion.

Though the day’s target audience is the design, development, and usability communities who build, shape, fund, and influence technology and its use, Global Accessibility Awareness Day centers on promoting awareness in making technology accessible and usable by people with disabilities across the board and providing real direction to those who seek it.

The day features, among other things, global discussions, meet-ups, and hands-on demos that encourage everyone to consider digital (web, software, mobile, etc.) access and inclusion for people of all abilities.

Global Accessibility Awareness Day logo (GAAD)

Why Digital Accessibility Matters

Individuals with disabilities often face barriers when trying to access websites, apps, and other digital content. This lack of digital accessibility can limit people with disabilities in the workplace, the classroom, and the community, and can create challenges when it comes to participating in everyday activities that others take for granted, such as ordering food online or sharing updates on social media.

Designing technology products and services with greater access in mind creates an inclusive digital environment that benefits everyone. Going beyond assisting those in the disability community, access-first designs can help mobile device users better view and access information from cell phones, smart watches, tablets, and other devices with smaller screens and support older adults whose abilities, eyesight, and dexterity change over time due to aging, enabling them to engage with digital content in their later years. It also helps individuals with limited internet bandwidth or financial constraints, ensuring smooth and inclusive online experiences regardless of connection speeds or economic status.

In addition to the ethical and moral reasons for making digital content accessible, there are also legal requirements. In the United States, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires that businesses and organizations make their websites and digital content accessible to people with disabilities.

Just last month, the US Department of Justice (DOJ) announced a final rule that outlined specific requirements for making state and local government websites and mobile apps accessible to people with disabilities.

The rule, designed to ensure all digital services are compliant with the ADA, clarifies the obligations of governments to make their websites and mobile apps accessible to individuals with disabilities via the use of accessible text, images, sounds, videos, controls, animations, and electronic documents. It closes gaps in the ADA, which set standards for physical sites but contained little direction for the accessibility of digital content, and notes specific requirements, including the adoption of technical standards as outlined in the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1 AA, for making services, programs, and activities accessible through the web and mobile apps.

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Pillars of Web Content Accessibility

WCAG, an internationally recognized accessibility standard for web access, defines digital accessibility success around four principles that state online content must be perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust (POUR).

Perceivable – Information and interface components must be presentable in ways that users can perceive, regardless of which senses they do or do not have. Tips on making a website more perceivable include providing alt text for images, larger fonts, properly formatted hyperlinks, and simpler layouts to make it easier for users to see and hear content. This also includes adding captions, transcripts, and audio description to videos and audio files for users who are deaf or hard-of-hearing or blind or with low vision.

Operable – A website’s interface and navigation must be able to be used by everyone. This includes making all site functionality (navigation menus, open and close windows, tabbed content) available from a keyboard, making it easier and more intuitive for users to navigate the site.

Understandable – An understandable website is one in which the content and website functions are clear to all users. This means people should not only be able to understand the information on web pages, but also how to navigate the site to find the information they want.

Robust – A robust website is one that is compatible with different technologies, including assistive technologies like screen readers and text-to-speech software. This means that as technology evolves, the content must remain accessible.

Though all websites and web designers strive to hit these marks, recent reports show that there still is ground to cover.

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The State of Digital Accessibility

In its most recent report on web site accessibility, WebAIM (Web Accessibility in Mind) found that 95.9% of the home pages it tested had at least one WCAG 2.0 failure.

WebAIM’s 2024 report evaluated the home pages of the top 1,000,000 web sites, looking for end-user accessibility barriers and WCAG conformance failures. Across the one million home pages, 56,791,260 distinct accessibility barriers were detected – an average of 56.8 barriers per page. The number of detected errors increased notably (13.6%) since the 2023 analysis which found 50 errors/page.

Some of the most common accessibility failures found in the report include low contrast text (found on 81% on home pages), missing image alt text (54.5%), missing form input labels (48.6%), empty links (44.6%), empty buttons (28.2%), and missing document language (17.1%).

VITAC’s mission

As the largest captioning company in North America, VITAC, a Verbit company, has provided more than 35 years of accessibility services and solutions in a variety of industries for clients of all sizes. We have worked closely with advocacy groups and organizations as we strive to make accessible content standard.

Our team is always working to improve our captioning and media accessibility solutions, developing, and using new technologies to create the best service for all our clients and viewers.

We work closely with and encourage all our clients to expand their accessibility practices, and our wide variety of solutions – captioning, subtitling, transcription, audio description, and localization services – make it easy for everyone to reach their accessibility and inclusion goals.

We also have been an active member of the Federal Communications Commission’s Disability Advisory Committee – we’ve been a member or participant in four of the past five committees – advising and making recommendations to the FCC on a variety of disability issues.

At VITAC, we are committed to increased accessibility for all, and are pleased to support the efforts of the accessibility community to create global awareness. Though we believe digital accessibility is a year-round practice, Global Accessibility Awareness Day presents an opportunity for organizations to approach accessibility with renewed curiosity and enthusiasm.