CHALLENGE: Accessibility know-how needs to go mainstream with developers. NOW.

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Relatively, there isn’t a lot of great information about accessibility out there. You really have to seek it out. How many of you know what JAWS is? After popping up IE6/IE7/IE8 et. al. to ensure website compatibility, do you also check your content in a screen reader?

I would argue that it’s more important to make a site accessible than pretty for older browsers. For some people, an accessible Internet literally makes a world of difference. Although I’m a backend programmer, I’m still ashamed at how little I know. How about you?

Much effort is going into the semantics of HTML5 for the purpose of accessibility. I’ve been toying with this idea for a couple years, but now the time has come to ask for your help. Let’s work together and fix this oversight in our knowledge. As a community, we can work together to change the world.

First, let’s agree on a Global Accessibility Awareness Day. 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.

To plan for this day, meetup organizers, like myself, will be urged to plan an accessibility talk. If you can get someone who uses JAWS or a screen reader to attend and educate, this will be a nice bonus. Perhaps a hackathon is appropriate.

If you speak about web development, you are urged to prepare talks on this topic. You are among the most influential people in our industry.

If anyone reading this knows of organizations that would like to be involved in this effort, please help hook it together.

Let’s pick a day, tentatively, May 9th. Global Accessibility Awareness Day.

So what can you do today?

Spread the word. Provide suggestions; e.g. what would be a good hashtag for this effort? If you’re in the meetup scene, start planning. If you’re not in the meetup scene, then join.




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67 responses to “CHALLENGE: Accessibility know-how needs to go mainstream with developers. NOW.

  1. I’m excited by the idea of a Global Accessibility Awareness Day, and equally pleased that you, Joe, as a mainstream dev, think that this is something worth doing. So sign me up. Check out some of the work we in the accessibility community have been doing to engage the dev community at I definitely think there are synergies here.

  2. Excellent work Jennison. I have yet to participate in a code camp or hackathon because I usually don’t have that many hours in a row to devote to those things, but regardless, we should work together on this, and I’d be happy to bring an accessibility camp to Los Angeles.

  3. Joe, if you help host an accessibility camp L.A. (#a11yLA), I’ll attend. The unconference movement was made for such educational moments as these, and the crowds are growing. Here’s to making universal access mainstream. 🙂

  4. I woke up this morning to this idea from @audaciouslife and didn’t realize it was an actual proposal coming from this blog. I’ve only discovered this post now but spent a good portion of my day trying to get people to rally around dec 10th for a “global a11y day”. Jennison pointed me here, so thanks to him for helping me realize I was making a fool of myself (grin).

    So, seeing this, I’ve dropped all efforts on my end, so we all gather around your proposal here. No need to split our efforts.

    However, some of us got really excited over this and we’ve already bought a few domain names (globala11yday) / .ca, .com, .org.

    Your proposal is interesting, but I would push it even further (yeah, let’s be crazy). These testing can be interesting as an action to be driven by developers, but my proposal is for us (the a11y community) to come up with our equivalent of the “World Usability Day” happening every year on November 10th. If usability can have it’s international day, why can’t we?

    I’d picked December 10th because it’s the United Nations Human Rights day and I thought it fitted right in with the concepts of accessibility and inclusion.

    But whichever date we prefer, I really don’t mind. What I care about is for this beautiful idea to come to fruition so we can all celebrate starting next year.

  5. This is an excellent idea. I saw the May 9th suggestion and the Dec. 10th suggestion yesterday. Both are fine and doable. May 9th has no real event conflicts according to Wikipedia. #globa11yday is a bit long, but shall we use it for discussions on Twitter? There is more space for discussion here, if Joe doesn’t mind.

  6. @Elle, Excellent! Stay tuned.
    @dboudreau I’m not sure what you meant by pushing it further. But absolutely, let’s work together. December 10th is a good day, but it’s not enough time to plan much for this year.
    @Karen, sure let’s talk anywhere!

  7. I meant doing more than just a challenge (which is a great idea by the way): I meant a “real” world accessibility day, but we could call it “global a11y day” or “global accessibility day”, I don’t mind.

    I’m thinking something along the lines of the World Usability Day on noveber 10th each year, where usability professionals in different cities organize events to promote their field of expertise. Not necessarily an unconference and certainly not something to compete with existing a11yEvents we already have happening in different cities, but a concerted effort to make a big bang once a year for Web Accessibility with a global theme.

  8. Huge apologies for unwittingly creating a stir yesterday. @dboudreau did not hijack the Global Accessibility Day idea. I merely opened a browser tab from via a tweet from Tweetdeck, possibly Jennison’s, while also retweeting a tweet from @dboudreau and in my early morning discombobulation I confused the two, truly believing the post I was reading was from @dboudreau. All intentions were pure and I’m sorry for any embarrassment or hurt feelings. Bottom line, it’s a fantastic idea! And I have to credit Denis with the thought of overlapping the day with Human Rights Day (Dec 10th). The two do go hand in hand nicely and that day could further reinforce the true impact of global accessibility. Though, I would NOT want to detract from Human Rights Day in anyway so we may want to give that careful consideration. I do think we could learn a lot from the World Usability Day, they create unique events with activities that get people thinking about what they normally take for granted. Plus, the events are inclusive, lots of fun, and always quite memorable.

  9. As a developer with a physical disability, I have always been offended by the lack of attention accessibility gets in web development. I’m not so sure that an awareness day would be incredibly helpful, however, as there are still big roadblocks to making sites accessible.

    Right now, I don’t know of any easy way to test for accessibility. To see if a site is compatible with different browsers, there are a number of services I can use to compare my site with various test cases, and easily spot issues/differences. To test my site for accessibility, I would need to purchase JAWS (which according to research I have done is by far the most popular, especially among those who need would have the most difficulty reading a page), a $900 program. To put that price in perspective, that is double what I spent on my last computer and more than my server costs for 3 years. That is a huge cost to any small developer or startup business. Even then, I wouldn’t know if I was compatible with previous versions of jaws and other less popular screen readers.

    If we are going to do ask developers to check their sites, we need to have a clear and comprehensive method for doing so. So, what can we make that will help with that?

  10. You note two very real barriers: a lack of universal evaluation standards and expensive (versioned) software. The W3C Evaluation Task Force is working to help with the first issue (see the most recent draft here:, and I believe open source software like NVDA will help us bring down the cost of assistive technology in general.

    Someone very wise once told me, “Code to standards, then test with users.” I think mainstream developers could make huge gains if they just understood how to code to standards, and then they could actively work with us to incorporate more usability testing with disabled users.

  11. @Stephani – No worries, it happens! 🙂

    @MrGlass – An awarenesss day can’t hurt either, so why not make the best of it? The idea is not to say or think it’ll change the world, but imagine just how much attention it could draw eventually if hundreds of cities worldwide held an event on the same day, to promote inclusion and web accessibility?
    This is something I wish to see happen. Don’t you?

    @Elle – Absolutely what I meant to reply. JAWS is not really affordable for most people and certanly not to independent developers. But there are other very reliable tools out there and NVDA certainly instantly comes to mind. VoiceOver also does a very interesting job, so whether people are on Windows or Mac OS shouldn’t be an issue nowadays. And yes, there’s hope the work being done in the W3C EvalTF will eventually help the industry integrate a reliable, clear and comprehensive method to evaluate web accessibility for everyone who cares enough to do it.

  12. @Elle I haven’t heard of NVDA, I’ll have to check it out. I met with CAPTEC (the pentagons center for assistive technology) about a year ago, specifically to ask them about how to test my websites for accessibility. They said that there are a wide variety of options available, but most people who use a screen reader all the time end up needing to pay the $ for JAWS, so I should test using that.

    @dboudreau I think that an awareness day is a great idea, but we need a concrete action for people to take. IMHO, saying “Click here to check if your accessible” is a lot more effective than saying “You need to be accessible”.

    What I really think we need is a checker, like the markup validator w3c has now ( It wouldn’t be perfect, but I bet we could get it to highlight some of the more glaring errors someone might make. Something that just finds images without alt tags, tables without column headers, forms without labels. That would make a huge difference.

  13. @MrGlass For your convenience, NVDA can be downloaded at I hear some people swear by it and say it works beautifully.
    Also check out to see if it covers your checker idea. It is an extremely helpful tool.

    I think if Global Accessibility Awareness Day is modeled somewhat like UPA’s World Usability Day (WUD), we’ll do fine. It’s about making people aware of the tools that *are* available, of simple methods they can use immediately (like alt text and decent link text), and gradually build knowledge through support of things like InterACT.

    WUD has a theme each year. We can do that. Their themes are broad so people can do local events according to their needs or capabilities. Online, people could participate in an event such as “write to your favorite problem website” following that W3C template for contacting owners of inaccessible websites.

    There is even a need for awareness raising within the people who are already aware of accessibility issues. I’ve seen some sites for people with a specific disability that has no alt text. “Their” disability may not be vision-related so they forgot or don’t about the need for alt text or other vision considerations. Actually, on that note, Nic Steenhout just wrote a blog post/paper that covers this point precisely:

  14. Just want to mention that I’m neck deep in work at the moment, but when I come up for air, I’ll reply in more depth. Really happy to have all of you behind driving this thing. I’m confident that we can make major progress. If more developers/UX/UI people could simply watch how people with screen readers consume the content *they* create, they would improve it, blog about it, put pressure on the browser makers to change things.

    After all your feedback I have lots of ideas how to improve the situation. Again, thanks for your engagement!

  15. @Karen, actually my post is not about accessibility per se – it is more about how disability service organisations can use the web to deliver services. A LOT of non-profits don’t know what they can do on the web, much less how to implement it. Discussion of accessibility is always important, and I mention it on the post, but ultimately that paper is more about telling non-profits how they can use the web, more than a specific call to accessibility.

    FWIW, 9 May is an interesting date considering that 1 May is International Disablism Day 🙂

  16. @karen WAVE is a similar concept, but I’ve found it to be a bad tool. The way it presents the data isn’t great (I would much prefer it tells me what lines in my code have issues instead of trying to display the errors in the middle of my page). It also returns an error if there is any javascript element on a page. Even if all you do is include a JS file in your head, you get an error. When was the last time you made a apge with 0 JS elements?

    Maybe what we need is WAVE 2.0

  17. Mr. Glass-

    Thank you for your thoughts on WAVE. There are plenty of tools out there that will provide you with line code numbers for accessibility issues. We’ve found that line code numbers rarely align with the actual code line numbers that developers are using. WAVE’s is different, and we’ve found many people really like the visual approach. For the next version of WAVE, we are working on a view that will show you the errors inline with your code.

    Also, the JavaScript icons are not errors, but are alerts. Alerts do not indicate anything that is wrong. It is simply indicating that that JavaScript is in use and that you need to ensure that it is implemented in an accessible manner. This icon will be going away or will be made optional in the next version of WAVE.

    No tool can tell you if your site is accessible. Accessibility is about the human experience. Tools can provide a small insight into obvious issues that would affect accessibility. The key is education.

  18. IMHO accessibility and usability are part of a larger issue of “web sustainability”. Sustainable design is a given in industrial design and architecture, but doesn’t really exist for the “virtual world” of websites, online games, and virtual worlds. Accessibility fits neatly into larger goals of sustainability – it’s similar to the “social justice” segment of physical design. Check out my site at and feel to post how usability might work in a sustainable design framework.

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  20. Web accessibility is a great start. Is there a document currently out there that is basically an Accessibility Bill of Rights, abided by publishers to include Universal Design for Learning at the onset of development of instructional materials? The Unites States, for the most part, has adopted Common Core State Standards, and now publishers are creating curriculum mapped to these standards. This is a perfect time to request the publishers adhere to UDL as part of the package available to schools.

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  40. I just happened upon this post via a link which I received in an email message that was sent to my work address. First off, I’d like to wish everyone reading this a most happy Global Accessibility Awareness Day! I am a screen reader user, and I definitely think we’ve come a long way in the accessibility department. I am the Social Media Assistant for an Illinois-based nonprofit which is disability-related, and I just tweeted Joe’s excellent blog post. Our organization is called JJ’s List, and you can check us out at . I’d also like to say something regarding NVDA and VoiceOver. I’ve used NVDA a little bit and really like it. I think the developers of that screen reader have done great work, and from what I’ve read online they continue to do great work. I recently got my first Mac and am using VoiceOver. Hats off to Apple for doing the right thing by making this fantastic screen reader a core part of their operating system. I hope to eventually run Windows on here via Bootcamp or VmWare Fusion soon, but I’m really enjoying OS X and all the apps that came pre-installed on my Mac. I am also running Google Chrome with Chromevox and think Google is doing very good work.

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