Our worldwide tour of Simply Accessible’s international team takes us to the Pacific Coast and beyond as we celebrate Global Accessibility Awareness Day 2016.

Here’s what our folks on the west coast are up to to celebrate Global Accessibility Awareness Day 2016. We’re also getting some end-of-day reports in from our pals in Greenwich Mean Time. It’s been a full day of rich conversations, accessibility adventures, and hometown awareness-building for GAAD 2016!

Kara Van Roekel – Keaau, HI

A photo of Hilo, Hawaii at dawn, courtesy Keoni Dibelka.

Given that Hawaii is well known for surfing, diving, sea-kayaking, and all kinds of water sports, I wanted to look into accessibility-friendly tourism and tourist activities.

During the course of my investigations, I was pleased to find that Hawaii, particularly Honolulu on Oahu, is fairly disability friendly. Almost all hotels are fully accessible. Most museums, attractions, and historical monuments offer special tours and access to people with disabilities.  Even many beaches and parks are accessible.

An organization on Oahu that really excited me was AccesSurf, whose goal is to help people with physical or cognitive disabilities to surf, paddle, and otherwise enjoy the water. Their monthly “Day at the Beach” activity is open to everyone, locals and tourists alike, with AccesSurf providing specialized equipment and trained volunteers to make sure that everyone can get in the water. Because of their proximity to the Pearl Harbor Naval base, they also have a monthly “Wounded Warrior” event that focuses specifically on injured or disabled military personnel. They’re even hosting an adaptive surf competition this summer.

I’m talking with AccesSurf, as well as with the local developer meetup group, about how their work intersects with web accessibility: what steps do they take to make sure the people who are trying to find them or learn more online can do so without barriers? I’d like to get people talking about what they know about designing for accessibility, what they don’t know but wish that they knew, and the importance of including accessibility in website design.

Joanna Briggs – Vancouver, BC

Beautiful Vancouver, BC from the water.

I’m really excited by the Tetra Society here in Vancouver and one of their new initiatives. The organization was started in Vancouver to recruit volunteers who design and build custom devices for people with disabilities. All kinds of folks volunteer for them (engineers, woodworkers, etc) and the devices they design and create are for everything—they have a huge database of assistive devices they’ve built for household, mobility, communication, and way more. Basically, when they see a need, someone builds a gadget for it.  After one of Tetra’s own employees was hit by a car crossing the street in his electric wheelchair, they looked for ways to increase the visibility of people who use wheelchairs and scooters at night. Vancouver can be a dark and rainy place! There’s now a Kickstarter campaign, so they will be able to manufacture safety lights for anyone who needs to be more visible at night. To me, this is the best of inclusive design in action and it’s an example of some of the exciting work making Vancouver even more accessible. I first found out about the project at the Vancouver Accessibility and Inclusive Design Meet-up, a local group that meets roughly monthly. For anyone interested in getting involved, it’s a welcoming community and a great place to start.

Devon Persing – Seattle, WA

A photo of Seattle WA's skyline.

I’m involved with Ada Developers Academy, a software development training program for women based in Seattle, WA. Their goal is making tech more inclusive while teaching best practices for full-stack web development—and I’ll be working with the students to think about accessibility in front-end web development. In the past, ADA students have been excited and eager to talk about and integrate accessibility into their front-end projects, which goes in hand with the students’ community-minded focus. Women I’ve met who are just entering technology are excited about doing work that has a positive impact. Accessibility is a huge part of making software that impacts people’s lives for the better.

Stuart Langridge – Birmingham, UK

A photo of Birmingham UK's scenic canal.

I canvassed developers and designers here in Birmingham, and asked them this question: “What do you do, when building, designing, or working on software, to cater to assistive technology users?” I stressed that I was looking for honesty, and that they wouldn’t be quoted directly or identified, so they could be candid.

Everybody I spoke with said they used semantic markup and structured documents logically, which is an encouraging start. Beyond that, though, the prevailing view was that if you do the semantic thing, something else takes care of the rest of accessibility for you. Magic, possibly? Or browser engines?

Everyone admitted that they ought to do more on the accessibility front than they do. One developer relied heavily on Google’s accessibility tools to identify issues. Others assumed that users have extensions to provide page zoom or text dictation if they need it. One respondent (a game developer) specifically called out colour blindness as something they pay attention to.

So, steps have been made: People routinely build semantic websites now. They’re aware that this helps with accessibility concerns, and that there are tools to help assess how well they’re doing. But the real value, today on Global Accessibility Awareness Day, comes from one particular comment which echoed the thoughts of most people I spoke with: “Thanks for making me (and everyone else you sent this to) think about this!”