GAAD 2022 puts the focus on digital access and inclusion

19 May 2022

Today is Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD) - a day where we both celebrate how far we have come, and continue to focus on how far we have to go when it comes to improving digital accessibility and inclusion.

Increasingly, our everyday tasks and connections to others; banking, shopping, communicating with friends and loved ones and working, rely on digital platforms.

It’s estimated that one in five Australians live with a disability of some kind, it’s important we all continue to take steps to advocate the need for accessibility. 

Where improvements must be made

A recent survey by Vision Australia conducted on those who are blind or have low vision found that 59% of respondents said websites and digital applications are somewhat difficult, or extremely difficult to navigate and use - a disappointing statistic to unearth in 2022.

Similarly, in 2020, a survey conducted by Vision Australia and Curtain University found that smartphones and the apps designed for use of them also presented accessibility issues. For example, 38% of respondents found that ‘accessibility apps’ were actually difficult and hard to understand - a sign “solutions” are not always in touch with what people with disability actually need.

Accessibility issues are not just experienced by those with limited resources. For example, the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine eligibility checker was reviewed by Vision Australia and it was found that it did not meet Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1 Level AA requirements - a standard that represents the national and international benchmark for web accessibility.

While GAAD is in its 11th year, people with a disability have been fighting for inclusion for centuries. The reality is that it’s not good enough for anyone to design a digital tool or platform without accessibility in mind from the outset. We’re well past the point where accessibility can be an ‘afterthought’ or something to ‘consider down the track’.

A computer screen shows the Google homepage being used with a screen magnifier
Caption: The websites and other platforms we have come to rely on everyday must be designed to meet the needs of everyone. 

Some positive signs

While there’s no doubt that more can be done to improve accessibility, we can see that the tides are turning. Our most recent research has shown that there is an increasing number of organisations and businesses in Australia that are involving people with a disability in the design and development of their websites and apps.

Often in the past, accessibility has been viewed in a binary fashion - something is accessible or not accessible. Instead, websites and applications need to be designed with accessibility in mind, but they also need to actually be usable.

Just being WCAG compliant isn’t good enough, websites and similar need to provide good user experiences so people can do what they need to do. This is where the input from people with disabilities is so vital - an accessibility checklist won’t let you know whether or not what you’ve built is something that people want to use. Respecting these voices from the outset will mean your end product is something that people can use and also want to use.

At Vision Australia we’re seeing increasing popularity our training programs offered by our Digital Access Team. As more people continue to take this course up, we’re becoming increasingly confident that the message of accessibility is getting to new audiences and will lend to a better digital experience for all.