Global Accessibility Awareness Day

For most of us, it’s second nature to look up a website or use an app on our smartphone. We swipe, tap, and click without a second thought. But for some, this isn’t the case. Many people encounter barriers while using technology to perform basic tasks that many of us take for granted.

Today is Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD). GAAD started in 2011 when Joe Devon challenged his fellow web developers to start taking web site accessibility seriously. Now GAAD is an annual event that takes place on the third Thursday of May. It’s a day to celebrate current work in digital accessibility, as well as share ideas on how we can continue to make websites more inclusive And while we’ve come along way in creating technology that works for all people, regardless of any disabilities or limitations, we’ve got a long way to go.

Accessibility at Michigan Tech

Michigan Tech has committed to making our technology accessible to people with disabilities. This includes University systems, websites, electronic documents, and educational and training materials. If you aren’t aware of our campus-wide effort, please visit the Michigan Tech accessibility website to learn more. You’ll find the university policy and resources to help you make your documents and materials accessible.

If you would like to get involved, please join our Accessible Technology Working Group (ATWG)! We have members from all areas of campus. Our sub-groups collaborate on how we can address current accessibility challenges and promote an inclusive teaching and learning environment.

Assistive technology in our everyday lives

Most of us use assistive technology every day and don’t realize it. Do you wear eyeglasses or contacts? You’re using assistive technology.

You’ve probably used accessibility features, too. Take video captions, which were created for the deaf community. It turned out that people with partial or full hearing loss weren’t the only ones who benefited. Captions have helped people who are learning secondary languages. Ever turned on closed captioning while streaming a movie at home? Being able to read the dialogue on screen is useful if you can’t have the volume turned up. Maybe you’re on the treadmill at the gym, watching a screen on the wall and can’t hear the audio. Maybe you’re a non-traditional student, holding your sleeping infant while trying to do work in your online course.

Ways to get involved

While GAAD’s focus is on web accessibility, you can still get involved, even if you aren’t a web developer. Today is a great day to take time and try and put yourself in the place of someone using technology with a disability. Try one of these:

  • Pull up a web page and try to use it without a mouse. Discover first-hand the obstacles that many who have physical limitations go through when they are on the web.
  • Zoom in on your screen. Many need to enlarge the view to read the text. How does it change your experience?
  • Use a screen reader. What if you couldn’t see the screen at all? There are free screen readers you can try (NVDA, Voiceover for Mac). Mac OS and Windows have features built into their operating system. “Viewing” a web site changes when you need to rely on a piece of assistive technology to help you read it. Are you able to access all the content you could if you were seeing it?

GAAD has a list of other ways you can participate if you’d like to learn more. If you create content for the web, check out Michigan Tech’s accessibility resources. Please reach out to someone on the ATWG or our Accessibility Coordinator with any questions.

When we make the web and technology accessible, it benefits everyone. It’s one step forward to a more inclusive world. We all have an important role to play, and it can start with us here at Michigan Tech. Join us!

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