May 9, 2012 is the first of what will hopefully be many Global Accessibility Awareness Days. The concept is simple, I hope: raising awareness of accessibility issues around the globe, so I’m going to neglect to spend a great deal of time explaining what it is.

The day was inspired by Joe Devon and has tirelessly been promoted by Joe and Jennison Asuncion — and all thanks to them for their work!

Why Global Accessibility Awareness

The biggest problem facing accessibility practitioners continues to be awareness. When the people responsible for creating content don’t fully (or even partially) comprehend the consequences of their actions, it is almost certain that what they produce will exhibit fundamental accessibility problems. It’s rarely malicious — there are certainly people out there who expressly decide that they are putting other priorities first, but I don’t believe it’s actually out of malice. It’s usually a lack of understanding.

The hope for an event like Global Accessibility Awareness Day is that the impact will be broad enough that it can successfully reach people who don’t already understand the issues — conferences rarely accomplish this, although they help, because those who attend are already involved, in some way, in accessibility issues.

A small change can make a large difference. Something as simple as providing keyboard focus can transform an online purchase from a frustrating and dissatisfying experience to an easy, pleasurable task. (At least, if you like shopping.)

But not everybody knows that.

What can you do to help?

First, talk about the issues. Tweet about them; post about them on Facebook; write a blog post. Get the word out. The more accessibility is talked about the more people will know about it. If you reach just one person who becomes curious and reads a little bit more than you have been successful. Awareness has increased. Cheerio.

Evangelize to your colleagues, if they haven’t bought in. Learn the most common business case arguments, and be ready to defend them. It’s a chronic problem that getting “the right look” commonly outweighs the importance of accessibility on many projects.

If you’re in a position to take part in a Global Accessibility Awareness Day event, please do — I’m not within a thousand miles of one, so I certainly won’t be there, but I’d love to hear about them from somebody who attends!

It’s not just a day

Promoting accessibility awareness needs to be a lifestyle, not just a day. One day of heavy promotion is a great thing — the sheer volume of information greatly increases the likelihood that those who need the information will receive it. But don’t let it go there!

Pulling the world forward to be truly welcoming on all accessibility fronts may be eternal and Herculean, but it isn’t Sisyphean. This is a task we can succeed at, if we keep moving.