Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD) and reflections on CSUN 2018

Today, May 17th, marks the seventh anniversary of Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD). Held annually on the third Thursday of May, GAAD is meant to promote dialogue, discussion, and awareness of digital inclusion for people with disabilities. Originally begun as a day for developers to share accessibility knowledge with one another, it has transformed in to a day where we all can reflect on the accessibility challenges we still experience, and as a global community, begin to change the world.

Throughout the day, Assistive Technology (AT) vendors, end users, governments, and companies throughout the world will be hosting events to showcase what accessibility means and how inclusion for all is transforming the lives of people with disabilities globally. In the spirit of today, reflect on how you participate in the accessibility community and what you can do to spread awareness and accessibility know-how.

To learn more about GAAD and for a list of today’s events, visit

Use #gaad to join the discussion across the globe.

Before GAAD, if you wanted information on accessibility, you’d have to delve into what the internet could offer or attend one of the handful of annual Accessibility Conferences. One of the biggest accessibility conferences takes place in California. Each year, California State University Northridge hosts the Assistive Technology Conference, commonly known as CSUN, which brings together consumers and creators alike from around the world. This conference has always offered the ability for people with disabilities, vendors, researchers, educators, professionals, and policy makers to engage one another in helping promote and achieve inclusiveness. As the East Coast was facing its fourth Nor’easter, I headed off to San Diego to see what the 33rd annual CSUN 2018 conference had to offer. I have attended CSUN every other year for the past six years and it is amazing how much has changed and yet remains so familiar.

The biggest shift has been the evolution of AT. As the world moves towards a technology-laden environment, so too does AT. The options for wearable technology have skyrocketed—now you can live in a smart home where you never have to physically touch the light switch to turn on a lamp, and it’s possible to do just about everything from a watch on your wrist. I could not count the number of augmented reality/smart glasses that were on display in the exhibit hall, or how many times free, built-in AT was mentioned as operating system options start to rival traditional industry leaders. (We were assured many times that Microsoft’s Narrator was not trying to run JAWS out of business). The ability to use Bluetooth and smartphones for just about everything led to a session on how to use that Instant Pot you received for Christmas with an iPhone app for accessible cooking. The world of evolving technology has seeped into every part of our lives and continues to open up the world to people with disabilities. The landscape truly seemed endless while wandering around CSUN.

As innovation was taking hold in the exhibit hall, there was a familiar feel for presentation topics and the sessions in which most attendees rushed to secure a seat. The more heavily attended sessions focused on getting down to the brass tacks of accessibility: how accessibility should be implemented, what it even means to have an accessible product, and how to understand and implement accessibility criteria. Many sessions turned in to consumers and peers dialoguing on best practices, common struggles, and what we’d all like to see more of from industry leaders. The consensus was this: we have come a long way and we are heading in the right direction, but there is still work to be done. Industry and governments alike are still sorting out what accessibility means and how to achieve equal access for all. The hurdle each year at CSUN and my challenge to you is this: how can we keep driving innovation such that equality and inclusiveness are no longer principles we must strive for, but principles that are absolute?

For more information on the CSUN conference, visit

Kristen Smith is a Senior Accessibility Specialist who coordinates the employee accommodation process at a large federal agency and provides digital accessibility expertise for web, software, mobile, and documents. She has expertise in assistive technology and Section 501, 504, and 508 policy.