Oh My GAAD: Digital Access for All

If you’re the owner of a printing company, you’ve got a lot on your plate. Your days are likely spent focused on the necessary details to ensure jobs get out the back door on time and are up to quality standards. Your days are also probably spent on the big picture, strategic next steps to stay ahead of your competition. You tackle the ‘must do’s’ and you don’t always have time to worry about the ‘nice to do’s’ (you barely get a lunch break, after all!). So why on earth should you care about accessibility? More specifically, why should you care about digital accessibility (websites, software, apps, and portals, for example)? Who has time to worry about colour contrast or screen reader compatibility, when there’s more pressing matters at hand?

Accessibility: More Than a Buzzword

There are a number of good business reasons to ensure your digital content is accessible. First and foremost, It’s the right thing to do. Ensuring that as many people as possible, with varying levels of ability, have access to both bricks-and-mortar and digital spaces is a fundamental right.

Secondly, a 2017 Statistics Canada ‘Canadian Survey on Disability’ revealed that one in seven Canadians aged 15 and over reported having a disability. (This equates to nearly 4 million people!) Furthermore, the aging population in Canada, North America, and globally, means that disabilities related to pain, flexibility, mobility, as well as vision and hearing loss will continue to rise. If you want your products and services to have as far a reach as possible, making your content accessible is a smart strategic decision.

Finally, accessibility is the law. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) are both ground-breaking acts of legislation that remove barriers by making businesses comply with a variety of requirements that promote inclusion. Furthermore, according to siteimprove, a software company specializing in web accessibility, 23% of web accessibility-related litigation since the year 2000 has taken place in the last three years. Legislation will likely become more stringent over time, not less stringent, so why not ready your business now?

Oh my GAAD!

On May 16, 2019 you can wish your co-workers ‘Happy Global Accessibility Awareness Day’! This annual day of awareness happens on the third Thursday in May and it’s in its eighth year. But what exactly is it?

GAAD is an opportunity to think about, learn, and experience digital access and inclusion for individuals of all abilities. Whether on a computer, tablet, or smartphone; whether on the web or in software; and whether you’re a developer, user, funder, or influencer, there are important realities to be aware of when it comes to inclusive technologies. GAAD is an opportunity to assess these realities and shed light on how we can make the digital world more accessible to more of the population. GAAD is marked by organized public events all over the world, as well as individual activities to bring awareness to this ever-important issue.

Experience Digital Accessibility

The GAAD organization does a great job suggesting ways in which you can experience digital accessibility for yourself. Why not set aside some time on May 16th to let your team participate in experiential learning to increase awareness of potential challenges faced by co-workers and customers? Here are some activities to try:

  1. Go Mouseless for an Hour: The GAAD team suggests that you unplug your mouse or disable your trackpad and try to navigate your company’s website using only keys on your keyboard (namely tab, shift, arrows, enter, and space bar). See if you’re able to navigate through your website and if you’re able to interact with every element on the page, just like you’d be able to with a mouse. It’s even more powerful if you’re a developer and you’re able to experience your own creations first-hand using only a keyboard.
  2. Enlarge Your Fonts: Experience your company’s website from the perspective of someone with a visual impairment by resizing text in your web browser to 200% of its original size. Take notice of whether anything has shifted dramatically or if any content is missing after you make the change.
  3. Check for Colour Contrast: Sufficient colour contrast is an important part of both printed and digital inclusive design. The greatest colour contrast is black text on a white background, however if your company website isn’t this stark, the GAAD team suggests using a colour contrast analyzer tool (such as one from The Paciello Group) to determine whether there is sufficient colour contrast between different elements on your website.
  4. Take the Screen Reader Challenge: Screen reader technology is used by those with visual impairments to navigate visual interfaces. The screen reader will read aloud and describe various elements on screen. For Windows users, there are a number of free screen reader options available for download, including the popular NonVisual Desktop Access (NVDA). For Mac users, there is a tool called VoiceOver built right into the OS. With your screen reader enabled, check out your company’s website and other organization’s sites (both big and small, inside and outside of your industry). You may be surprised to learn that even the big players (I’m looking at you, Amazon) don’t always get it right. For example, when navigating Amazon’s home page with a screen reader, several of the recommended products were not tagged correctly, meaning that instead of describing the product, the screen reader read aloud the name of the image (“img_64877.jpg”). This is a lost sales opportunity. Take this challenge one step further by disabling your mouse and trackpad, using only your keyboard to navigate. Take it even further by either turning off your monitor or closing your eyes to navigate using only the screen reader’s voice prompts. Finally, take the whole challenge one step further by increasing the speed of the screen reader. Having had the opportunity to witness a blind individual use his computer solely through the assistance of a screen reader, I can tell you that the assistive voice was speaking so quickly I had no idea what she was saying. It was truly impressive to see someone navigate a technology designed to be so visual through voice prompted technology.
  5. Explore Accessibility Features on Your Smartphone: Whether you use an iPhone, Android, or Blackberry, all three have built-in accessibility features that make using them easier for individuals with disabilities. For example, on an iPhone, you can turn on screen reader technology (similar to the way you can experience it on a Mac), or you can turn on ‘zoom’ functionality to navigate different parts of your screen with a digital magnifying glass. The more you know about the available features on these devices, the more aware you become of the different ways your digital presence is experienced.
  6. Make Something More Accessible: Take the opportunity to not only experience accessible digital media, but also to make something more accessible. Ideas include captioning a video or providing a transcript of a video, or using free tools such as the Web Accessibility Evaluation Tool (WAVE) to test the accessibility of your website.
  7. Shout it From the Rooftops: Why not use GAAD as an opportunity to communicate to your business’ commitment to digital accessibility through creating a video, blog post, email blast, or event? You’ll be increasing awareness of this important day and aligning your business with this important movement.


Accessibility is quickly becoming the law, it makes good business sense for your content to have as far a reach as possible, and it’s simply the right thing to do. There are a number of ways your company can experience digital accessibility successes and failures, but why go to all the trouble? Allow me to leave you with two reasons.

First, encouraging your employees to experience accessibility tools first hand will allow for greater empathy and understanding when working with a diverse range of clients. (If the world could use more of anything, I would argue that greater empathy and understanding would be near the top of the list.) Secondly, by making accessibility a priority, your business has a better chance of attracting greater diversity in your workforce, leading to a wider variety of perspectives and ideas to help you stay ahead of your competition. Therefore a seemingly simple, non-essential back-burner to-do list item such as accessibility may actually be a launching point into the next realm of business success.



Diana Varma is an Instructor at the School of Graphic Communications Management at Ryerson University and the Owner of ON-SITE First Aid & CPR Training Group, a health & safety company that provides training to the Graphic Arts Industry.