What is Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD)?

By Lim Lee Lee

Before this day came about, web developers were already creating accessibility products for people to take advantage of. I remembered when I started my tertiary education, I had to learn Word Perfect (now obsolete) where I needed S$6,000+ just to purchase a desktop PC, an external speaker and a third-party software to work effectively. Job Access With Speech (JAWS) by Freedom Scientific was also just invented, but it did not have the capacity for surfing online which I needed to download materials from the Web. I then had to download another programme called Webspeak (which has evolved) for this purpose. The use of multiple software at the same time to do my work caused a lot of confusion. On many occasions, I would forget to switch programmes resulting in a lot of panic attacks in the initial stages. As time passed, Freedom Scientific enhanced its web capability which made surfing the World Wide Web more at ease. The company also invented many products and software to cater to persons with total sight loss or low vision and it is the “go to” company for the visually impaired community worldwide. Webspeak has evolved and is no longer serving the visually impaired community. Window Eyes – another screen reader – was absorbed by Microsoft and became defunct eventually when Microsoft enhanced its “Narrator” capability. Nonvisual Destop Access (NVDA) is another screen reader which relies on donation from users to improve its product capability. Nowadays, developers have a solution to enable People with Disabilities, which is software that can be installed in laptops so we don’t need to lug several equipment to attend meetings or classes, and so on.

In the mobile device space, the first mobile phone with voiceover capability was the Nokia 6600 which was released in June 2003. Nokia worked with Talks, a German company to install voiceover in the devices, so that blind people could send and receive short messages. One downside was that the licence had to be upgraded yearly and it was very costly. Apple soon discovered that the huge population within the disability sector had not been tapped and began to develop accessibility features. From iPhone 4 onwards, voiceover and other accessibility features to cater to the physical, mental and sensory needs have progressively been embedded into all Apple products. 

So, when was Global Accessibility Awareness Day started? 

The Global Accessibility Awareness Day was inspired by a blogpost on 27 November 2011 by Joe Devon who is a web developer based in Los Angeles. It was picked up by Jennison Asuncion, who was an accessibility professional from Toronto. He then contacted Joe  Devon. Leveraging on their respective extensive network, the Global Accessibility Awareness Day was founded in 2012 and is commemorated on the 3rd Thursday in the month of May. This day focuses on digital access and inclusion for over one billion people living with disabilities or impairments. Today, it has evolved to encompass all kinds of accessibility awareness, including those with physical, cognitive, or sensory disabilities. (www.youtube.com/watch?v=_rDaw5_PzBU)

This year, its focus is: “Every user deserves a first-rate digital experience on the web. Someone with a disability must be able to experience web-based services, content and other digital products with the same successful outcome as those without disabilities. This awareness and commitment to inclusion is the goal of Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD), a global event that shines a light on digital access and inclusion for people with disabilities”. (Source: https://accessibility.day)

Events are being organised worldwide to commemorate this day. Apple has been doing so in Singapore for a few years and I was fortunate to be invited twice to commemorate with the team from Apple Singapore. 

This year, Apple celebrates this day by holding a month-long accessibility event to cater to different disability groups. Participants were taken on a tour of the Apple flagship store in Orchard Road. The tech team also guided participants to use a few apps which can enhance daily living. For example, during my visit, we were taught the usefulness of the “spoken content” – an App found in both the iPad and the iPhone. This App will read what is onscreen in the original language displayed by the content. What fascinated me was the magnifier function which could detect images and its proximity to a person via its rear camera and then inform the blind user what it is and its proximity too. Have fun with your Apple product and I challenge you to shut your eyes and use the voiceover to complete your task. Besides the voiceover, play around with your Apple product and you will be surprised!

Online spaces have become more accessible, for instance Zoom, Google Meet and Microsoft Teams have live captions embedded so that people with hearing loss can attend virtual meetings without barriers.

In Singapore, accessibility features are progressively being rolled out like ATMs with braille and voiceover features, allowing the visually impaired to handle their banking needs independently; as well as mobile apps to top up EZ link cards for people with limited mobility to complete the transactions by themselves, and so on.

To conclude, all of us have the right to find the appropriate accessibility solution to enrich our lifestyle; to make doing everyday task as efficient as possible and to enjoy activities like everyone else. I have only covered a few things in this article. Go explore and look around. You will find many accessibility solutions that you can utilize to enhance your life. To embrace inclusion, every day can be accessibility awareness day and we don’t need to wait for this day to feel included.


About Lim Lee Lee:

Lim Lee Lee has been working in the accessibility space for nearly three decades as a consultant and a trainer. She trains people with sight loss to embrace accessible Apps so they can realise their full potential and fulfil their aspirations. She also helps people who lost their sight midway through life by teaching them how to use NVDA to build confidence through listening and use keystroke commands instead of using the mouse. Lee Lee is constantly learning as technology in this space develops and evolves.

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