Imagine trying to bank. An activity at the heart of being independent. But wait. You’re losing your vision and your hearing. The bank sends you a message, but you can’t access it. You can’t call the bank either. The hearing thing.

And to go to the bank’s physical building will take all day to get there. That’s because you can’t drive and you must take public transportation.

Yet, all of these could be easily resolved if the bank’s website had been accessible. This is what happened to Joe Devon’s dad. Understandably, Joe grew very frustrated.

2011: The Start of Something Big

Now, Joe never named the bank in sharing this story that inspired the 2011 blog post proposing creating Global Accessibility Awareness Day. 

“First, let’s agree on a Global Accessibility Awareness Day,” Joe wrote in the famous blog post. “This will be a day of the year where web developers across the globe try to raise awareness and know-how on making sites accessible.

“On this day, every web developer will be urged to test at least one page on their site in an accessibility tool. After fixing up the page, they are urged to blog about what they changed and inspire others to follow suit.”

Shortly thereafter, Jennison Asuncion replied to Joe’s tweet about the blog post.

 

Sure enough, Jennison followed through. 

 

Then, he shared the Accessibility Camp resource showing the work people in accessibility had been doing to promote accessibility to devs. 

 

Dr. Makayla Miranda Lewis saw the tweets. “I dislike the fact it focuses only on web developers and doesn't UX people,” she wrote.

Jennison responded that he’s working to collaborate with the broad IT community including IT and others.

Then, there’s discussion of what date should be GAAD. Denis Boudreau proposed Dec. 3. Jennison didn’t want to take away from the UN Day of Persons with Disabilities.

Clearly, a lot of thought went into the development of GAAD in its early days.

Interesting aside. Three years after writing about the banking problem, Jennison and Joe got an email from the bank saying they are doing an internal event because they know they have a lot of work to do to make their website accessible. Remember, Joe never named the bank. Yes, the very same bank that made it impossible for Joe’s father to manage his account. 

2012: The First Observance of GAAD

The outpouring of interest in GAAD heartened all those who cared about accessibility. More than 16 in-person events took place all around the world including Australia, Canadam India, the UK, and the U.S.

You can still view the pages from these 2012 events:

The most impactful quote comes from Tim Wright who helped with the Boston event as Joe quoted in this Post GAAD recap.

“Going into last night, I knew a lot about accessibility because it’s been a focal point of my career for years,” Wright wrote. “But there is a huge difference between reading a blog post about Web accessibility and watching a visually impaired person go through 20 minutes of struggling to reach the main content of a Web site you would normally find in under a second if you could see.”

Of course, accessibility awareness should happen every day. But of course, having a daily event isn’t feasible nor is a monthly one. It takes a lot of time and energy to prepare for the annual event. 

Hear Joe and Jennison discuss the inaugural GAAD in this WebAxe podcast episode from 2012

2013: GAAD's New Official Logo

Mindy Morgan created the official GAAD logo, which appeared on the front page of .NET! This is the logo in use today with GAAD inside a circle and ends in a keypad. (Originally, it was a mouse, but changed to the more accessible keyboard.) And the “Global” part continues to expand its reach as events took place in two new countries: Qatar and Poland.

“Today, when enterprises are global and technology developed in one country is available internationally, accessibility has no choice but to be global,” wrote Disability Rights Lawyer Lainey Feingold in her 2013 post about GAAD. “The ‘Global’ part of Global Accessibility Awareness Day is key to ensuring full inclusion of people with disabilities to all aspects of technology everywhere that technology is found (and needed).”

It only took two years for #GAAD to trend on Twitter. By 2013, it had one tweet every minute!

2014: Growing Globally

Five more countries joined in on the global event. The new countries included Czech Republic, Belgium, Switzerland, France, and Japan. This was the year Inclusive Design 24 (#ID24) launched with a 24-hour online community event thanks to The Paciello Group.

It was also in 2014 when Easy Chirp announced providing accessible images for tweets. Easy Chirp is a web-accessible alternative to the Twitter.com website. It makes it possible for people who prefer keyboard-only navigation to do that. It supports older browsers, low band internet connections, and does it without Javascript. Last fall, it was announced that Easy Chirp is no longer maintained partially due to legacy backend architecture and continual Twitter API changes.

Disability Lifestyle Magazine celebrated GAAD in 2014 by launching its new website to be more accessible and apply best practices including color contrast, keyboard navigation, and form/link focus.

GAAD shows no signs of slowing down. Rather, it continues to resonate after 10 years. Jennison explains in his Q&A with Equal Entry:

“One way Joe and I measure the impact of GAAD is seeing a year-by-year increase in the number of events taking place (both public and internally at companies, schools and other organizations), as well as a steady increase in the number of these taking place in non-English speaking countries,” Jennison writes. “We also obtain Twitter metrics. The number of mentions/references keep increasing every year over Twitter, and more so now on Facebook and LinkedIn too.”

2015: Facebook Shares Accessibility Toolkit

One of the biggest challenges for companies wanting to incorporate accessibility is where to begin when its products haven’t been accessible to that point. Facebook faced that daunting task and shared their lessons through the creation of Accessibility Toolkit.

It took viewers behind the scenes at how Facebook thought about usability for people who are blind or have low vision as well as other abilities. The toolkit explores Facebook’s journey in handling accessibility in quality assurance, documentation, engineering, and more. While the toolkit isn’t available, you can look under the hood in this post on Facebook accessibility

UX Mastery created this excellent, easy-to-understand introduction to accessibility video.

2016: GAAD Reaches 25 million on Twitter!

In digging up history for this article, we searched old tweets about GAAD starting in 2011. By 2013, the number of tweets became overwhelming. No wonder considering its reach exceeded 25 million in only five years!

So, you won’t be surprised to learn that GAAD’s global reach now included Bangladesh, the Netherlands, Brazil, and Korea.

Jennison and Joe marked the fifth anniversary of GAAD in San Francisco. Others who came to celebrate include Disability Rights Lawyer Lainey Feingold, eBay's Luis Garcia, and Yahoo's Mike Shebanek. More than 40 events in 2016 had attendees thinking and learning about accessibility and inclusion.

2017: Isn't GAAD Lovely?

You know you’ve made it when Apple and Stevie Wonder celebrate GAAD! That’s exactly what happened in 2017 when Steve Wonder showed up on the Apple headquarters for a surprise concert to celebrate GAAD.

The company also highlighted accessibility features by launching a “Designed for” series of videos. Here are a couple examples.

W3C.org documented the 2017 GAAD event in Copenhagen, which featured Jennison Asuncion and the inventor of the World Wide Web himself, Sir Tim Berners-Lee. “The power of the Web is in its universality,” said Berners-Lee. “Access by everyone regardless of disability is an essential aspect.”

Work still needs to be done as a 2017 Equality and Human Rights Commission report shows disabled people are less likely to have jobs than non-disabled people. And for disabled people who are employed, their average wage is lower than their non-disabled counterparts.

2018: GAAD Tweets Reach 200 million

Microsoft created a Twitter thread to celebrate the advancements in accessibility technologies. The Twitter thread begins with a tweet from Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella:

“As we celebrate Global Accessibility Awareness Day, today we announced the Xbox Adaptive Controller, which will make gaming more accessible for millions of people around the world.” 

The company also announced the establishment of AI for Accessibility, a $25 million 5-year program to speed development of accessible solutions to benefit people with disabilities.

The California Legislature issued a resolution to call on state agencies and businesses to make all online information accessible to residents and recognize May 17, 2018 as Global Accessibility Awareness Day.

The U.S. General Services Administration published a post in the GSA blog about GAAD 2018 in which it discusses the agency’s mission to transform accessible IT in the Federal government.

In just two short years, GAAD’s Twitter reach soared from 25 million people in 2016 to 200 million in 2018.

2019: Diamond Launches SOAR

At AccessU, Joe Devon announced the first State of Accessibility Report, or SOAR provided a baseline for accessibility. Each year thereafter, it’s expected that accessibility will see improvements.

In this year, Adobe announced a live inclusive design training program that is required of all its designers. They also announced they would release the program to the public.

2020: GAAD Pledge Announced

Organizations and developers could show their commitment to make accessibility a core value of their projects by taking the newly launched GAAD Pledge. Facebook was the first company to take the GAAD pledge. This indicated their commitment to make accessibility a core part of the React Native framework. 

Facebook’s React Native team performed an accessibility gap analysis. It found 90 issues, which they turned into Github issues. Two years later, React Native continues to follow through.

Diamond held a webinar on the State of Accessibility Report findings to address the latest in accessibility issues. In 2020, 98.1 percent of the Top Million Websites are inaccessible with an average of 60.9 errors per page. Additionally, 39 percent of Alexa’s Top 100 sites are not accessible to screen readers.

Another highlight comes from the Twitter Accessibility team announcing updating the ALT text limit from 420 to 1000 characters. They also report a short auto ALT text for most GIFs.

GAAD even caught the attention of super heroes! Marvel’s Avengers tweeted about GAAD. Salesforce recognized GAAD in a blog post sharing the efforts they have to promote and support accessibility in its products. Apple’s App Store highlighted accessible apps in its Twitter thread. Twitch announced its efforts to make their platform more accessible and inclusive.

2021: The Future of GAAD

Already, more than 200 events inspired by GAAD have been announced.

Bay Area Accessibility and Inclusive Design Meetup has announced a massive GAAD A11y Meetup in the A11yBay community and partner Meetups. This online event takes place in Zoom and will include breakout rooms.

It’s our hope that each year, we’ll see fewer accessibility issues as SOAR will keep tabs on it. With the past ten years as a foundation, we are certain GAAD will continue making a difference in internet users across the world. 

Infographic: GAAD's 10th Anniversary

Timeline of GAAD milestones explained in text of blog post represented graphically

Infographic description

2011: Note with pencil icon "Frustrated with his dad's experiences, Joe Devon writes a blog post calling for Global Accessibility Awareness Day." 

2012: Calendar icon "May 20, 2012 marks the first observance of Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD)."

2013: Quote with hashtag icon "For the first time, GAAD trends on Twitter, hitting one tweet per minute."

2014: Handshake icon "The website that inspired GAAD commits to making its website accessible for all users."

2015: Toolbox icon "Facebook releases an accessibility toolkit, sharing findings across the world."

2016: Crowd icon "GAAD's "Twitter Reach" hits 25 million people, further proving its importance in the community."

2017: Piano icon "Apple throws a GAAD celebration featuring Stevie Wonder on campus."

2018: California icon: "The State of California officially declares May 17 as Global Accessibility Awareness Day. Microsoft Xbox Adaptive Controller launches on GAAD."

2019: Graph icon "Diamond launches the first annual State of Accessibility Report." 

2020: Hand over heart icon "United Kingdom's Government Digital Service runs a day of events to raise awareness for digital accessibility on GAAD."

2021: 10 years icon "10th Anniversary: Jennison Asuncion and Joe Devon launch the GAAD Foundation."