Accessibility During Crisis: The True Meaning of GAAD
Every year when we get together for GAAD (Global Accessibility Awareness Day), we talk to people around the world about the one thing that unites us: our passion for an inclusive world.
In 2020, during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, we still hosted our annual GAAD event as “inclusion” and “accessibility” took on a much more literal meaning. A week later, as I thought of all the GAADs we had been through and the milestones that were covered, I couldn’t help but go back to the roots of where my accessibility thoughts were born.
I was first inspired by an aunt who was also inspired – by a personal loss. She spent a large part of her life helping people with disabilities live with dignity. I meet many people like this who are either inspired by profound personal incidents or their own desire to learn what accessibility is and how to work toward inclusivity.
With the COVID-19 pandemic, we all faced accessibility issues to an extent. We tried to live under limited infrastructure, making the most of things with simplified and minimized technical support. To be able to make lives easier through simple, yet much-needed changes is accessibility at its core. Just like today, how every IT product and service will consider a COVID-like situation as a contingency to work through, why shouldn’t we consider accessibility as a parameter that all of our IT should work seamlessly with?
Coming out of the pandemic, innovators are beginning to think more deeply about the psychological aspects of working under limitations while relying on assistive technologies that can help mitigate these situations. This is essentially what we have been advocating through GAAD every year: technology must be made to work under limitations and cater to humans across all spectrums.
GAAD 2020 brought in so many thinking points to ponder in so many areas: the psychological aspects of working under different circumstances, technology empowerment at a cognitive level, the importance of technology in helping create environments of positive mental simulations, and building interfaces that are easy to use and connect to.
It was during those discussions that we came to believe that designers and developers should always have empathy and not assume that everyone is starting from the same place. We talked about products and services that are currently available in the market that have helped people through tough times like COVID-19 and how these features are also accessibility features. This reiterates the basic message we have conveyed at all GAAD events: make services and products accessible, not necessarily to cater to a particular crowd, but to improve their overall efficiency and acceptance. We also discussed how students are coping and learning through pandemic times, and how this area poses a growing interest area for ideators and entrepreneurs who can identify and build solutions to cover gaps. Additionally, we talked about challenges, learnings, policies, initiatives, and a true way forward.
Even at the time, I could see the silver lining of the “COVID” era because accessibility and inclusion would become major needs for virtually everyone. I can’t wait for future GAAD events where I know we will see new milestones that we have collectively achieved towards these important issues.