Global Accessibility Awareness Day is May 19. Is Your Business Website Accessible?
Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD) in many ways highlights what being Jewish is about: Making the world a better, more inclusive place.
“I cannot think of a better way to practice my yiddishkeit than doing good work in accessibility,” GAAD co-founder Joe Devon told the Journal.
GAAD, which is celebrated on the third Thursday of May, is a day of awareness about the need to make digital products accessible to people with disabilities.
A serial entrepreneur, Devon is also co-founder and CEO of the Los Angeles-based Diamond digital agency, as well as chair of the GAAD Foundation. Devon solves technology challenges for major organizations, and frequently takes the stage to influence developers and corporations to build their digital products with inclusive designs. He also participates in Jewish events with the American Jewish Congress and looks at GAAD as his form of tikkun olam.
Devon grew up in an Orthodox home in Montreal and “was lucky enough to have been brought up by wonderful, loving parents who taught me well,” he said.
“My dad was a genius,” he continued. “My dad could quote the meforshim by heart, but then would also pull out one of his many seforim and make us see it for ourselves to be sure there was no misquote.”
The inspiration for GAAD came from Devon’s father. This was more than a decade ago; Devon was a backend developer for AmericanIdol.com, and doing work that was seen by millions of people. Meanwhile, his father, who sardonically called himself a survivor of the “Universities of Auschwitz and Dachau,” struggled with banking.
Devon’s father’s eyesight and hearing started to suffer as he reached his 80s, and, according to Devon, using access paratransit to go to the bank physically took all day, and might entail waiting hours in the sun with no bathroom.The web should have been the solution, but the bank’s website was inaccessible.
“I believed that developers and designers were making their websites and apps inaccessible out of ignorance, not malice.” – Joe Devon
Devon was so upset he wrote a blog post proposing a Global Accessibility Awareness Day. “I believed that developers and designers were making their websites and apps inaccessible out of ignorance, not malice,” he said. “And I posited that growing awareness would improve the situation.”
GAAD took off that first year with 16 cities running events. By year two, there was a tweet a minute on the #GAAD hashtag, and by year three, the bank whose inaccessible website inspired the day wrote to GAAD. They knew their accessibility was bad and they were running an internal event to improve things.
“I never announced their name publicly and to this day they have no idea they were the inspiration,” Devon said.
Other notable GAAD celebrations included a Stevie Wonder concert on the Apple Campus, Microsoft releasing the Xbox adaptive controller for People with Disabilities and the big tech companies started changing their homepages in honor of the day.
GAAD is a community-driven event, so anyone can participate. Public events are listed online at accessibility.day. Devon said they’ve recently listed about 200 public events around the world and they estimate that there are at least 200 events in private companies that don’t get publicized. Plus, Apple typically runs accessibility sessions in every one of their over 500 stores globally for the whole week.
For individuals who want to acknowledge GAAD on May 19, they can try surfing their employer’s website with the mouse disabled, write a blog post or tweet to influencers to talk about the day. For businesses, celebrating GAAD depends on where they are in their accessibility journey.
“If [a business is] further along, they may want to make a public event to share what they are doing and talk about how becoming more accessible is good for business,” Devon said. “For others earlier in their journey, an internal event is more appropriate to get the product people, the designers and developers more engaged on the importance of designing products accessibly.”
This year, GAAD is running an event with Jenny Lay-Flurrie, the chief accessibility officer of Microsoft, and former Congressman Tony Coelho (D—Los Banos), the architect of the Americans with Disabilities Act, for an update on Digital Accessibility and the Law.
“What GAAD has taught me is that one person can make a difference,” Devon said. “I’d even say there’s a formula for it. Have a vision, build a community around it, share it with the world and add a bit of luck. I only wish my dad could have seen more of what GAAD turned into.”