Our global team spent GAAD 2016 generating homegrown awareness in our various locales around the world. Our reports will continue to flow in over the next several weeks, but here’s how a few of Simply Accessible’s team members spent their Global Accessibility Awareness Day.

From Western Australia to Eastern Canada to Hawaii, here’s how four of us rang in GAAD 2016.

Julie Grundy – Perth, Western Australia, A11y Bytes

Julie presents on The Accessibility Ecosystem. Her headphones, attached to her phone, are draped around her neck as a mic for the live captioning.This year for GAAD, I hosted Perth’s inaugural A11y Bytes event, and I’m thrilled to report it was a success! We had over thirty people attend, and many told me how much they enjoyed the variety of speakers and the practical advice they received.

I saw lots of people introduce themselves to each other, making connections and sharing information, which is wonderful. Our venue, VisAbility, gave a box of chocolates to the team who could translate a Braille phrase the quickest. It was fun to see everyone putting their heads together.

I spoke about the Accessibility Ecosystem. The talk was inspired by a little thought bubble I had about how eco-activism’s “think global, act local” philosophy is a useful metric for accessibility, too—especially if you’re new to it and overwhelmed by all the things that need to be done. We did live captioning for all the speakers, which worked really well, although in future I want to use a bigger screen to display it in addition to using people’s own smartphones and tablets. I’ve heard from friends and colleagues that the A11y Bytes events in Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra were also well attended and great fun.

Gavin Ogston – Ottawa, ON, a11yYOW

I attended A11yYOW here in Ottawa and chatted with local devs about the challenges they’re facing right now. I was curious about the biggest hurdles they face with web accessibility, on any front: tech, knowledge, company buy-in, time, resources, etc. What I discovered in my conversations was that there’s often a knowledge gap between business leaders and IT, where the business folks don’t always fully understand the implications of creating an accessible site.

Often organizations have difficulty judging whether the services they adopt from providers are accessible—even when told they’re accessible—and, more to the point, whether they’re even usable. Then, teams find themselves locked into systems they can’t customize or adapt to make them, or their products, accessible in the way they want. I also heard a lot from developers that they often feel overwhelmed just trying to stay up-to-date with web technologies, let alone accessibility.

We all agreed that events like Accessibility Camp Ottawa are very important as they provide a space in the community where people can find out more about accessibility best practices and, maybe even more importantly, connect with others who can help them find the resources and solutions they need.

Nicolas Steenhout – Montreal, QC, Apple Store

Nic presents in French to Apple store customers and staffOn May 19th, I spoke to staff and customers of the Apple Store in Laval, introducing several concepts about accessibility and assistive technology.

We spoke about how technology can make a huge difference in people’s lives, and how many tools that were initially designed to help people with disabilities have found their way into everyday products (like text-to-speech). We also discussed how technology doesn’t have to be specifically adapted to people with disabilities to be helpful—like using a tablet for communication instead of an expensive dedicated communication board.

Participants had great questions after my presentation. For instance: “How do site owners know that their site presents barriers? How would they go about solving these issues?” I spoke about the fact that some people with disabilities, but not all, will contact a site to let them know they’re encountering barriers. Often a visitor with a disability will move on to another site or service provider. I emphasized that it’s up to the owner to be proactive and assess their own site. Starting an accessibility practice—or connecting with companies who specialize in accessibility—will help ensure that sites are usable by all who visit them.

It was so satisfying to be a part of this event and generate some awareness in a retail space, which was very new for me. We’re looking at doing it again next year!

Kara VanRoekel – Keaau, HI

I had some good discussions with members of the local developer groups on various online channels throughout the course of the day. I asked them what they did to support accessibility on the sites and products that they work on, as well as what they find most challenging about designing and building with accessibility in mind.

Most of the people I talked with said they did their best to use what they call “good code”: semantic markup, appropriate page titles, correct use of headers, and no deprecated tags. While a few people thought that “good code” should be enough to render any site or app accessible, most admitted that they knew they could be doing a lot more to support accessibility, but weren’t sure what they should be doing. These devs were afraid to make mistakes and accidentally make things worse.

A lack of knowledge about accessibility was what almost everyone that I talked to found most challenging. A number of people had heard about ARIA, but weren’t sure where or how to implement it. Many people knew that images should have alt attributes, but weren’t sure why (other than “It’s just what you do”). I ended up fielding a lot of questions about screen readers, colour contrast, keyboard use, and app accessibility, among others. Everyone wanted to learn more—they were genuinely curious about what they could do with their projects to make them more accessible.

Before GAAD, I had already been asked to do a screen reader demonstration at an upcoming meeting. After GAAD, I was contacted by several members of the meetup group to say that they were looking forward to my presentation, and would have some additional accessibility questions for me! I’m thrilled that my fellow devs are interested in learning more about online accessibility.

Stay tuned as we bring you more follow-up reports from our various GAAD adventures: from visiting a printing press for the blind to presenting to a class of student developers!