Towards a More Accessible Digital World: Reflections from an Online Therapist on the 12th Global Accessibility Awareness Day

A blind person accesses a Braille display on a computer keyboard

Introduction: The Power of Adaptive Technology

If you could witness me typing at lightning speed, reading through stacks of articles, or diligently attending to my clients in my online therapy practice, you might not guess that I’ve grappled with low vision my entire life. So what are the tools that make this possible? An array of adaptive technology that I’ve come to rely on for nearly every task.

These adaptive technologies have been my lifeline, from screen reading software that turns text into speech to the simple yet profound function of enlarging on-screen text. They have made tasks achievable and created education, professional practice, and personal experiences (reading, blogging, etc.) that are equitable to me and a world that is more accessible.

The impact of adaptive technology reaches far beyond individual use. The World Health Organization states that over 2.2 billion people experience vision impairment or blindness. Nearly a third of the world’s population could benefit from this kind of technology. Yet, many still need help accessing or effectively using it.

Today, I want to delve deeper into this conversation and bring attention to an important day on the calendar. We’re marking the twelfth annual Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD), dedicated to digital access and inclusion. It’s a time to talk, think, and learn more about how to make our digital world more inclusive.

In the following sections, we’ll examine how adaptive technology shapes various areas of life, from home and work to education and online therapy practices like mine. But first, let’s explore what GAAD is and why it matters.

Global Accessibility Awareness Day: A Commitment to Inclusion

You might wonder, why have a specific day dedicated to accessibility awareness? The answer is straightforward. Despite rapid technological advancements, digital access and inclusion remain significant challenges for millions of individuals worldwide, particularly those with disabilities.

Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD) was born out of this reality. Joe Devon, a web developer, and Jennison Asuncion, an accessibility professional 2011, conceived the GAAD observation. They envisioned a day to get people talking, thinking, and learning about digital accessibility and inclusion. The first GAAD took place on May 17, 2012, and has been celebrated on the third Thursday of May every year since.

Today, on its twelfth anniversary, GAAD strives for a more accessible and inclusive digital world. In celebration of this important day, I encourage you to take action. Download, read, and share the free Guides to Assistive Technology available. These guides contain invaluable information about adaptive technologies that can make our digital spaces more accessible.

Embracing Adaptive Technology in Everyday Life

Now, let’s explore how adaptive technology is reshaping experiences in different spheres of life.

Adaptive Technology in the Home

At home, adaptive technology can simplify daily tasks, making the living environment safer and more comfortable. For instance, voice-command devices allow you to control lighting, temperature, and even kitchen appliances. Screen readers can help individuals with low vision read eBooks, emails, and web pages.

Adaptive Technology at Work

In the workplace, adaptive technology fosters inclusivity and productivity. Software that enlarges on-screen text or converts text to speech can make it easier for individuals with visual impairments to perform their tasks. Similarly, assistive listening devices can aid those with hearing impairments during meetings or presentations.

Adaptive Technology in Education

Adaptive technology is revolutionizing education by creating equal opportunities for students with disabilities. Digital textbooks with adjustable font sizes, color contrast, or text-to-speech features ensure that learning materials are accessible to everyone. Similarly, note-taking apps can assist students who struggle with traditional note-taking.

Adaptive Technology in Online Therapy

My own practice as an online therapist has been made possible because of adaptive technology. Video conferencing software with real-time captioning makes sessions accessible to those with hearing impairments. For clients with low vision, like myself, email or chat therapy can be facilitated using screen reading software.

By integrating adaptive technology in these areas, we can create an inclusive society where everyone has equal access to information, opportunities, and services. As we commemorate GAAD, let’s take a moment to appreciate how far we’ve come and acknowledge the journey that still lies ahead.

The GAAD Foundation: Pioneering Inclusion

As we continue to recognize the importance of accessibility, it’s crucial to highlight the organizations that drive these initiatives. One such organization is the Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD) Foundation.

Launched in 2021 to mark GAAD’s 10th anniversary, the Foundation carries a critical mission: to disrupt the culture of technology and digital product development to include accessibility as a core requirement. Rather than considering accessibility as an afterthought, the Foundation advocates for its integration from the inception of any digital project.

The GAAD Foundation champions research, education, and development in digital accessibility. By creating resources, conducting training, and collaborating with industry leaders, the Foundation drives progress toward a more accessible digital world.

Digital Accessibility: A Right, Not a Privilege

If we dig deeper into the core values of GAAD and the GAAD Foundation, we find ourselves in the concept of digital accessibility. But what does it mean exactly?

Digital accessibility refers to making digital content accessible and inclusive to all users, regardless of their abilities or disabilities. It ensures that everyone, including people with visual, hearing, motor, or cognitive disabilities, can effectively use and interact with digital technologies.

This includes websites, mobile apps, electronic documents, software, and all forms of digital communication. Crucial elements of digital accessibility include user-friendly design, ease of navigation, alternative text for images, captions for videos, and more.

The role of GAAD in promoting digital accessibility cannot be understated. By sparking global conversations about accessibility and driving action toward inclusivity, GAAD shines a light on the necessity of digital accessibility. It reminds us that access to digital information is not a privilege but a right that belongs to everyone, regardless of their abilities.

In the next section, we’ll delve into the state of digital accessibility today, backed by a comprehensive study by WebAIM. This will help us understand the current challenges and map the future path for creating a digitally inclusive society.

The Current Landscape: State of Accessibility

As we advocate for digital accessibility, it’s important to understand the current state of the digital world. The 2020 WebAIM analysis provides a comprehensive look into the accessibility of digital platforms today.

The study analyzed one million home pages for accessibility issues and found some startling facts:

  • 98.1% of home pages had at least one WCAG 2.0 failure.
  • On average, there were 60.9 errors per home page.

These figures reflect the unfortunate reality that inaccessibility remains rampant in our digital spaces. But what does this mean in practice? Let’s take a look at the most common accessibility failures:

  • Low-contrast text was found in 86.3% of home pages.
  • Missing image alt text occurred in 66% of the instances.
  • Empty links were found in 59.9% of home pages.
  • Missing form input labels were identified in 53.8% of home pages.
  • Empty buttons were seen in 28.7% of home pages.
  • Missing document language was identified in 28% of home pages.

These failures don’t merely represent oversights in design. They’re barriers that prevent billions of people from fully accessing and participating in the digital world.

Who is Affected By Inaccessibility?

Given these challenges, it’s essential to recognize who is affected by digital inaccessibility. From civil rights and business perspectives, people with disabilities are greatly underserved by today’s digital products. There are 1 billion people worldwide living with some form of disability. Let’s break down the needs of these individuals in the digital sphere: In the next section, we’ll explore the state of digital accessibility today, backed by a comprehensive study by WebAIM. This will help us understand the current challenges and map the future path for creating a digitally inclusive society.

Visual Impairments

People who are blind or have low vision need alternative text descriptions for meaningful images. They typically interact with interactive elements using a keyboard rather than a mouse.

Hearing Impairments

For individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing, captioning is essential for video presentations. They also benefit from visual indicators in place of audio cues.

Motor Impairments

People with motor impairments often require alternative keyboards, eye control, or other adaptive hardware to type and navigate on their devices.

Cognitive Impairments

For people with cognitive disabilities, an uncluttered screen, consistent navigation, and the use of plain language are essential for a user-friendly digital experience.

While it’s clear we have a long way to go in achieving widespread digital accessibility, every step we take towards this goal unlocks immense potential. In the next section, we’ll explore how inclusive design can transform lives.

Accessibility: A Catalyst for Transformation

When we work towards digital accessibility, we’re not just removing barriers but unlocking potential. We enable everyone to fully participate in our digital society, regardless of their abilities or disabilities.

Inclusive design and development create a ripple effect of positive change. For example, when a website becomes more navigable for someone with a motor impairment, it’s not just that individual who benefits. Older adults with declining motor skills, a parent with a child in their arms, or someone with a temporary injury also reap the benefits of that accessible design.

Consider the impact of accessible educational materials. When textbooks are made available in formats compatible with screen readers, it’s not just students with visual impairments who benefit. Those with dyslexia or other reading difficulties can access these resources more efficiently, leading to better learning outcomes.

In the realm of online therapy, accessibility can make all the difference. By ensuring that communication tools are accessible, therapists can provide essential support to clients with a range of abilities, ensuring mental health care is inclusive and equitable.

Each of these examples underscores the transformative power of accessibility. It’s not just about meeting minimum standards but enabling equal access and participation for all.

In Conclusion: Our Shared Responsibility

Reflecting on this twelfth Global Accessibility Awareness Day, I’m reminded of how profoundly adaptive technology has shaped my life. Without it, I might not have been able to pursue my education or establish my online therapy practice. This technology has not just made things possible for me. It’s made them equitable.

As we move forward, we must take these lessons to heart. We must remember that behind every statistic about inaccessibility are real people with real needs. Accessibility isn’t a nicety — it’s a necessity.

Today, I invite you to join me in acknowledging this. Then, take a moment to explore how you can promote accessibility in your spheres. Whether reading up on best practices for accessible web design, donating to organizations like the GAAD Foundation, or simply starting a conversation about the importance of accessibility, every action counts.

Together, we can create a digital world that’s truly inclusive, where every person can participate fully and equally. So, on this Global Accessibility Awareness Day, let’s commit to making this vision a reality.

Disclaimer: This blog shares general information only, not professional advice or recommendations. Consult healthcare providers for personal guidance. Decisions based on content are the reader's responsibility. Thank you.

Clayre runs a group practice of three queer and trans therapists, including youth therapist Audrey Wolfe, RCC, LGBT therapist Camber Giberson, RCC, CCC, and gender-affirming therapist Clayre Sessoms, RP, RCT, RCC, CCC, ATR-P. Work with us: book a session.