GAAD 2013 wants accessibility on web devs' minds

Accessibility experts think web pros need to do more to cater for all

Today is Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD) 2013, a community effort intended to get people discussing, thinking and learning about digital accessibility.

Co-founder Jennison Mark Asuncion told .net the target audience of GAAD is “the design, development, usability and related communities who build, shape, fund and influence technology and its use,” and said people within creative fields need to do more regarding accessibility. For example, people should eradicate misconceptions such as accessibility being “just for blind people” and fully integrate it into project development.

“When scoping out projects and talking to clients, don’t wait for your client to raise accessibility as a discussion point, because they likely won’t,” recommended Asuncion, “Look at integrating accessibility as part of good design practice, period. This way, whether the client requests accessibility or not, it will automatically be part of what you deliver. Also, include users with disabilities in your user testing, get informed and ask questions — the #a11y Twitter hashtag is a constant source of information.”

The web at its best

Accessibility advocates welcomed GAAD 2013 and also mirrored Asuncion’s comments about the general state of accessibility in web design. “GAAD is the web at its best — people from all over the world sharing ideas, experiences and solutions, with the goal of making the web better for everyone,” enthused Paciello Group’s Lonie Watson.

“More designers and developers need to think about accessibility because we give a damn about the things we create — it’s that simple. We don't get up in the morning and think ‘Today I'm going to build something slightly rubbish’! We want to create things that are inspiring, brilliant and hugely popular. If you give a damn about quality, you give a damn about accessibility," said Watson.

Nomensa director Alastair Campbell agreed that GAAD was a good idea, and thought too many designers and developers consider accessibility ‘done’ when writing to standards: “But that’s only half the battle, and sites we’ve recently tested have skipped the basics — like a decent heading structure — or embraced new JavaScript/CSS techniques without considering accessibility, like using pop-overs without adjusting where the keyboard focus is.”

Understanding technologies

Campbell, who recently ran a 'design for accessibility' workshop, said new techniques bring new accessibility considerations and it’s crucial for designers to understand how different technologies deal with them: “One of the suggestions from GAAD is to try putting your mouse/trackpad to one side for an hour to get a better understanding of the experience. That's something everyone should try.”

'Inclusive technologist' Sandi Wassmer also believed it was vital to raise awareness about the access needs of disabled people, and thought GAAD was "sure to send ripples around the world".

She added: "Web designers and developers have a fantastic opportunity to be part of creating an inclusive digital world, and the skills they need to do so must form part of the core. With technology changing by the nanosecond, having accessibility in their arsenal will indeed include the access needs of many disabled people, but this is only part of the picture; it provides the basis for great UX and designing with purpose for folk in different locations and using different devices."

David Rupert, founder of The Accessibility Project, said the web's inclusiveness was in its very foundation: "Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the internet, once said 'The power of the web is in its universality. Access by everyone regardless of disability is an essential aspect.' Universal access is, to me, the most beautiful part of the web that we spend time crafting each day."

He added that all web designers and front-end developers should have a grasp of accessibility basics. For anyone shying away from or struggling with the core concepts, Rupert suggested participating in a GAAD challenge and checking out the A11YProject.