Global Accessibility Awareness Day: Shining a light on accessibility in the digital age

Global Accessibility Awareness Day 2021


There are estimated to be over 1 billion people in the world living with some form of disability, corresponding to about 15% of the world’s population [1]. In the UK alone, according to a recent survey, one in five people have a disability [2].
As well as facing considerable challenges in their daily lives, people with disabilities encounter barriers when interacting with web-based content, online services and other digital products. To raise awareness of the needs that people with disabilities have in the digital world, the Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD) was launched in 2011. The initiative takes place annually on the third Thursday in May, with its purpose being to “get everyone talking, thinking and learning about digital access and inclusion”. [3]

What is digital accessibility?

“The power of the Web is in its universality.
Access by everyone regardless of disability is an essential aspect.”
Tim Berners-Lee, director of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C®) and inventor of the World Wide Web [4]

Digital accessibility is the process of ensuring that all users of digital products can access the same information and participate equally. This involves being able to understand, navigate and interact with digital materials and contribute where applicable, no matter what impairments users may have. The W3C, the organisation that manages web standards (including accessibility), states that the “Web must be accessible to provide equal access and equal opportunity to people with diverse abilities.” [4] This statement is further underpinned by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which recognises access to technologies such as the internet as a basic human right [5].

Digital accessibility involves considering a wide range of disabilities that may affect a user’s ability to access digital materials, including [6]:

  • Visual disabilities, such as blindness, reduced vision or colour blindness
  • Auditory disabilities, such as deafness or being hard of hearing
  • Motor disabilities, such as inability to use a mouse, slow response times or physical disabilities
  • Cognitive disabilities, such as learning disabilities

Examples of digital accessibility
Alternative text for images
Images can be a very useful way of conveying information or meaning, but, without alternative text, they are inaccessible to users who are blind or have reduced vision. Alternative text is a short written description of an image that provides an equivalent experience or understanding compared to viewing the image. This is usually required for people who use a screen reader, a form of assistive technology that reads all the text on screen to convey what sighted users would see on a display. In this context, alternative text allows people who cannot see an image to understand what the image is showing. However, it also benefits users with poor internet connections who cannot load images and users with learning disabilities. [7]

Captions and transcripts for audiovisual content
Audiovisual content is a popular form of digital content, but it is not accessible to people with hearing impairments. Providing closed captions and transcripts for audiovisual content is an important part of digital accessibility that provides an equivalent experience for people who are deaf or hard of hearing. Captions and transcripts may also be used by people who cannot use audio, such as those with poor internet connections, or those engaging with content in a loud or crowded environment. [7]

Headings in text
When structuring content, whether it be as part of a web page, Microsoft Word document or PDF, using appropriate headings is a key example of digital accessibility. From a visual perspective, headings are often larger and more distinct than other text, and this can be especially useful for users with cognitive disabilities as it allows them to navigate easily and understand the structure of the content. If headings have been formatted correctly (for example using ‘Styles’ in Microsoft Word), people who use a screen reader may also benefit. Correctly formatted headings provide a structure for screen reader users to navigate through, allowing them to skip directly to a specific section or providing a means for them to scan through large documents or web pages without reading all the text. [7]

Meaningful link text
When using links within digital content, it is useful for screen reader users and people with cognitive disabilities if the link text is descriptive of the link target. This ensures it is easy to determine where the link will take the user. It is good practice to avoid using text such as ‘Click here’ or ‘Read more’ as this may be too ambiguous. Additionally, using the web address may provide screen reader users with a poor experience, especially if it is particularly long and does not give a clear idea of the link target. [7]

Making digital content accessible
In an accessibility audit conducted in February 2020 of the home pages of the top 1 million websites, 98.1% did not meet at least one of the recommendations from the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines [8, 9]. This demonstrates that there is still considerable progress to be made before the web can be considered accessible to everyone, regardless of disability.
More information on the guidelines and standards set by the W3C can be found in the most recent Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.1).
The W3C Web Accessibility Initiative has a useful list of tips for getting started with accessibility, while the GOV.UK Service Manual has a comprehensive introduction to making your service accessible.

At Porterhouse, we always try to be mindful of accessibility, particularly when producing materials that will be accessed by patients and the general public. As more interactions have been moved online because of the COVID-19 pandemic, digital accessibility has become a more pressing consideration and we are keen to see the needs of people with disabilities taken into consideration for all of the materials we produce.

1. World Health Organization. Disability and health. Available at: Accessed May 2022.
2. GOV.UK. Family Resources Survey: Financial year 2019 to 2020. Available at: Accessed May 2022.
3. Global Accessibility Awareness Day. Global Accessibility Awareness Day. Available at: Accessed May 2022.
4. W3C®. Accessibility. Available at: Accessed May 2022.
5. United Nations: Department of Economic and Social Affairs – Disability. Article 9 – accessibility. Available at: Accessed May 2022.
6. WebAIM. Introduction to web accessibility. Available at: Accessed May 2022.
7. W3C® Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI). Writing for web accessibility. Available at: Accessed May 2022.
8. WebAIM. The WebAIM Million. Available at: Accessed May 2022.
9. W3C Recommendation. Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1. Available at: Accessed May 2022.

Jack Bollins_Porterhouse MedicalAuthor: Jack Bollins, Medical Writer, Porterhouse Medical