Happy Global Accessibility Awareness Day! Resources for Getting Started with Digital Accessibility

Each year, on the third Thursday of May, millions across the globe come together to acknowledge and celebrate Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD), an initiative started by Joe Devon and Jennison Asuncion. Devon and Asuncion created the day with the intention for people to gather and “learn about and experience digital accessibility.”

Back in November of 2011, Joe wrote a blog post about closing the knowledge gap surrounding digital accessibility. To this day, a central point holds true: “relatively, there isn’t a lot of great information about accessibility out there. You really have to seek it out.”

We couldn’t agree more with Joe’s assertion. As we continue seeking opportunities to fully integrate digital accessibility into all aspects of our work, we are constantly on the look-out for resources and best practices. In recent years, we’ve had the privilege of working closely with the ARIA and Assistive Technologies Community Group to help test interoperability of WAI-ARIA across different browsers and assistive technologies, such as screen readers. (You can read more about the ARIA-AT project here: https://aria-at.w3.org/.) This community group and the broader ARIA Working Group are composed of individuals with lived and professional experience in digital accessibility, and we wondered what they had to say about closing the knowledge gap.

Specifically, we reached out to a handful of members of the ARIA Working Group to get their input on a critical question: Where should someone who wants to learn more about digital accessibility get started? Here’s what the respondents shared.

Find a mentor and/or a community

Peter Bossley (Deputy ADA Coordinator at the Digital Accessibility Center of The Ohio State University) found great value in establishing relationships with mentors, attesting to the fact that:

Professionals in this industry are generally welcoming and inclusive and we all know the skills gap we are currently facing. Many professionals in the field would welcome the chance to help someone who is motivated find their way to success.

Bryan Jonker (Senior Web Developer at The College of Education at Illinois) offered:

Look around for a community. At the University of Illinois, I’m lucky that there is a strong tradition of accessibility specialists that I can network with, but there’s probably a group of people that you can find. Often, this group intersects with people who actively use assistive devices, so you can ask for help when evaluating websites.

Alyssa Gourley (Senior Accessibility Analyst at Siteimprove) had another suggestion for finding peers:

There are plenty of groups on platforms like Facebook or LinkedIn that would welcome someone who wants to learn more about accessibility. You could also check out any local focus groups.

In the same spirit of community, Joe Humbert (Accessibility Engineering Lead at CVS Health) argued that it’s most important to put the people before the technology. Joe suggested people:

Start by not learning about accessibility, but instead meeting and interacting with people with different abilities.

Joe added that working with people with a range of lived experiences gave him insight into making content more usable.

Seek online courses and resources

A couple community group members agreed that taking an online training course or identifying resources is a good starting point for digital accessibility. In addition to seeking out mentors, Peter Bossley also suggested the following resources:

Alyssa Gourley added that Siteimprove Academy has a free course called Accessibility Fundamentals for the Web.

Terrill Thompson (Technology Accessibility Specialist and Manager of the IT Accessibility Team at the University of Washington) suggested resources provided by academic institutions.

At the University of Washington (UW)….We’ve created our own website which is our hub for educating the wide variety of stakeholders in the UW audience: https://www.washington.edu/accessibility. If someone’s just getting started, we refer them to our Getting Started page.

Practice real life application

Another common suggestion: Try things out using existing tools and practices.

In addition to his suggestion about reaching out to communities, Bryan Jonker offered up some really useful accessibility tools and advised that although some of the extensions you may tinker with may not be “totally immersive,” this practice using the accessibility tools below “builds empathy and lets you know what to look for.”

Jes Daigle (Engineering Manager at Bocoup and Community Group member) seconded the practical approach:

What I found most helpful in learning about digital accessibility is learning how to use screen readers. As a sighted person I didn’t understand how screen reader users experience the web and having that exposure helps me to be more thoughtful about what I build and how.

Jon Gunderson (Coordinator of the Accessible IT Group at the University of Illinois) suggested getting acquainted with digital accessibility by using ONLY your keyboard for one hour.

Put your mouse or trackpad out of sight and try using your computer for an hour with just the keyboard. This will help you understand the experience of people who can only use the keyboard to interact with the computing devices. Being able to use the keyboard to accomplish any computer task efficiently is the bedrock of accessibility standards. Especially pay attention to how easy it is to identify what control has keyboard focus and what interactive controls cannot be used with the keyboard. For people wanting a deeper experience, go to operating system accessibility settings and turn on sticky keys and try typing with only one finger.

If you’re a developer or designer, Sina Bahram (President and Founder at Prime Access Consulting) has more practical advice:

Do not waste time learning how to make something accessible. Learn how to make fully inclusive things in the first place.

To do this, Sina suggests:

Spend time understanding the design intent behind modern interfaces and the way this design intent is surfaced. So often accessibility is mistakenly treated as a post-facto modification, even when it is considered early in the development lifecycle. Instead, understand the nuances of how design intent is surfaced, be it through HTML/CSS/JavaScript, native code, or otherwise, and then identify where your gaps in knowledge are so that you may fill them in through education, experience, mentorship, and real world experimentation.

Digging in

Bocoup is honored to operate in a space where we can advocate for accessibility and inclusion to the web. We are even more honored to work with so many talented individuals whose commitment to digital accessibility is at the forefront of their work.

While all of this can seem intimidating, we welcome you to join us in digging in and learning more about digital inclusion in technology. Happy Global Accessibility Awareness Day!

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