Global Accessibility Awareness Day: Bridging the Digital Divide

May 07, 2024

Every year on the third Thursday of May, the world celebrates Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD). In 2024, GAAD falls on 16 May, which is when we will once again shine a light on the importance of making the digital world accessible to everyone, regardless of their abilities.

While this might seem like an obvious, even easy task to accomplish, the staggering reality is that the 1.3 billion people worldwide who live with a disability struggle to browse websites and mobile apps. This is not their fault: even with the best technology training and assistive devices on hand, they still face barriers in the form of inaccessible images and videos or poorly designed booking and e-commerce systems.

Why Digital Accessibility Matters

We all know the internet has changed the way we live our lives. In the past decade, and especially since the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have come to increasingly rely on online means of communication, education, entertainment, and services. However, the internet is not an accessible space for all. Studies have shown that 98% of the top 1 million websites lack basic accessibility features. This means 1.3 billion people struggle or are unable to access education and employment opportunities, connect with loved ones, book their own trips, or buy their own food and clothing.

GAAD reminds us that this doesn’t have to be the case. Digital accessibility empowers those with disabilities to live their lives fully and independently. No matter the size of your business or organisation, there are steps you can take to make your website more digitally inclusive. Here are some meaningful ways to contribute:

Educate yourself: There are many different types of disabilities and they impact people’s online experiences in different ways. Online resources and training courses centred around the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, the worldwide standard for digital accessibility, can bring you and your organisation up to speed on the most common technological barriers faced by those with disabilities and how to fix them.

Implement accessible design practices: If you’re involved in the upkeep of your business’ website or mobile app, start developing and designing with accessibility in mind. Integrating accessibility features like image alt text descriptions, closed captioning on videos, high contrast brand colours, and keyboard accessible user journeys right from the start of a project will put you a step above the rest in terms of digital accessibility.

Foster a culture of inclusion and diversity in your workplace. This starts by hiring those with disabilities! Ireland has one of the lowest employment rates for disabled people in the European Union. But like any new employee, those with disabilities are eager and willing to learn new skills if only they’re given a chance to do so. For your existing employees, provide educational resources about GAAD and digital accessibility, host workshops, and encourage everyone to share what they learn with their networks.

Advocate for change. Every change starts with yourself. If you encounter a part of your own website or mobile app that is not accessible, contact someone to let them know. Don’t wait until the next user with a disability comes along and submits a complaint to your website team.

Digital accessibility will play a huge part in the future of Irish businesses. More and more people are realising how big of a problem inaccessible websites and mobile apps are, and are working to raise even more awareness. By working together, we can all create a world that is fully inclusive and accessible to everyone. This GAAD, let’s pledge to do our part in bridging the digital divide.

Diana Penamora
Lead QA and Accessibility Tester, Vially