Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD) in many ways highlights what it is to be Jewish: to make the world a better and more inclusive place.
“I can’t think of a better way to practice my yiddishkeit than doing a good job on accessibility,” GAAD co-founder Joe Devon told the Journal.
GAAD, celebrated on the third Thursday in May, is a day to raise awareness of the need to make digital products accessible to people with disabilities.
A serial entrepreneur, Devon is also co-founder and CEO of Los Angeles-based digital agency Diamond, as well as chairman of the GAAD Foundation. Devon solves technology challenges for large organizations and frequently takes the stage to inspire developers and businesses to build their digital products with inclusive designs. He also participates in Jewish events with the American Jewish Congress and considers GAAD his form of tikkun olam.
Devon grew up in an Orthodox household in Montreal and “was fortunate to have been raised by wonderful, loving parents who taught me well,” he said.
“My dad was a genius,” he continued. “My father could quote the meforshim by heart, but then would also come out one of his many seforim and let us see it for ourselves to be sure there was no misquoting.
The inspiration for GAAD came from Devon’s father. That was over a decade ago; Devon was a back-end developer for AmericanIdol.com and did work that was seen by millions. Meanwhile, her father, who sardonically called himself a survivor of “Auschwitz and Dachau Universities,” was having trouble with the bank.
Devon’s father’s eyesight and hearing began to suffer when he reached his 80s and, according to Devon, using paratransit to physically get to the bank took all day and could involve hours of work. waiting in the sun without a bathroom. The web should have been the solution, but the bank’s website was inaccessible.
“I believed developers and designers made their websites and apps inaccessible out of ignorance, not malice.” –Joe Devon
Devon was so upset that he wrote a blog post proposing a global accessibility awareness day. “I believed that developers and designers made their websites and apps inaccessible out of ignorance, not out of malice,” he said. “And I postulated that increasing awareness would improve the situation.”
GAAD took off this first year with 16 cities hosting events. In year two, there was one tweet per minute on the hashtag #GAAD, and in year three, the bank whose inaccessible website inspired the day wrote to GAAD. They knew their accessibility was bad and they were organizing an internal event to improve things.
“I never announced their name publicly and to this day they have no idea they were the inspiration,” Devon said.
Other notable GAAD celebrations include a Stevie Wonder concert on the Apple campus, Microsoft launching the Xbox Adaptive Controller for people with disabilities, and major tech companies starting changing their homepages in honor of the day. .
GAAD is a community event, so anyone can participate. Public events are listed online at accessibilite.day. Devon said they recently listed about 200 public events around the world and they estimate there are at least 200 events at private companies that are not publicized. Additionally, Apple typically holds accessibility sessions in each of its more than 500 stores worldwide throughout the week.
For people who want to recognize GAAD on May 19, they can try surfing their employer’s website with the mouse disabled, writing a blog post, or tweeting to influencers about the day. For businesses, celebrating GAAD depends on where they are on their accessibility journey.
“Yes [a business is] later they might want to host a public event to share what they’re doing and talk about how becoming more accessible is good for business,” Devon said. “For others earlier in their journey, an internal event is more appropriate to further engage product managers, designers and developers on the importance of designing accessible products.”
This year, GAAD is hosting an event with Microsoft Accessibility Director Jenny Lay-Flurrie and former Congressman Tony Coelho (D—Los Banos), the architect of the Americans with Disabilities Act, for a update on digital accessibility and the law.
“What GAAD taught me is that one person can make a difference,” Devon said. “I would even say that there is a formula for it. Have a vision, build a community around it, share it with the world, and add some luck. I only wish my dad could see more of what GAAD has become.