IAP 2019-E7: Joe Devon, founder of Global Accessibility Awareness Day

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In this episode:

Joe Devon, co-founder of GAAD, joins Mark for his second appearance on the Interactive Accessibility podcast to discuss the history of Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD) and how the landscape of accessibility has changed since GAAD’s inception, over eight years ago. They talk about how getting to the end user and having the end user demand accessibility will be the real the catalyst for significant change in the industry. Joe explains how he’s using his GAAD pledge to rally the developer community around accessibility.

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Announcer: Welcome to the IAP, the Interactive Accessibility Podcast, bringing you the people, technology, and ideas helping to make your world accessible to everyone

Mark Miller: Hey, welcome to the IAP, the Interactive Accessibility Podcast, brought to you by The Paciello Group and its affiliate, Interactive Accessibility. I'm your host, Mark Miller. Thank you for helping us keep it accessible. Do us a favor. If you're enjoying the IAP, share it, tell someone about it. Hey, even link to it from your accessible website

Mark Miller: Welcome everybody. I'm real happy to have a guest on today that we've had before. He's a very important person in the world of accessibility and his name is Joe Devon. Joe is probably most well known for starting the Global Accessibility Awareness Day, which we just had. It was a few weeks back and The Paciello Group, Interactive Accessibility, we participated in it. There was a big event in New York

Mark Miller: We actually released our ARC Toolkit to the public for free, so you guys can go out there and get that ARC Toolkit. It's a very powerful single page set of tools that you can use to help work on and look at the accessibility of your site

Mark Miller: We have Joe to thank for bringing this great day to us but I don't want to focus on that, Joe, too much today. I really want to talk to you about the world of accessibility and where you think it has gotten to at this point. Where do you think it's headed? And anything else that we come up with. So, welcome to the podcast

Joe Devon: Thank you very much. Great to be back

Mark Miller: Great. How many years has it been since you and Jennison started GAAD Day

Joe Devon: This was the eighth one, last May 16th

Mark Miller: Wow. That's a lot, right

Joe Devon: Yeah, time flies. It's crazy

Mark Miller: So, talk to me about how do you feel that day has changed accessibility over those eight years? What influence has it had on the world and the way that we look at accessibility, people's awareness, all those things

Joe Devon: It's a great question. I'm not even 100% sure. I feel like more people are aware of it, more people have heard of it. I'm noticing in the conferences that I look at that, there's at least one accessibility talk most of the time, which I think is is really key. It's not good enough. The WebAIM report came out, and it was a little bit disheartening

Joe Devon: We ourselves came out with a State of Accessibility Report, which we're calling SOAR, where we partnered with WebAIM as well. Yeah, it's not as good as it should be but I feel like it started a conversation with a lot of people that didn't have it before. It's gotten a lot of press but I feel like we can do a lot more

Mark Miller: I've heard that kind of answer from people before in relation to a lot of things around accessibility. I mean, outside of accessibility, too. Anytime you have an effort like this, you see improvements and you see where it's not improving and you always want it to be better, otherwise it wouldn't be a thing. We wouldn't be in it, we wouldn't be trying to do it

Mark Miller: So, I completely understand that and share that perspective. I feel like there's a lot more work to do. But I also feel like we wouldn't be where we are today if it wasn't for what you've done, because there is a day. I mean, there was a whole event in Times Square that we were a part of

Joe Devon: Oh, really

Mark Miller: When we released that tool ... I mean, just from our perspective, when we released the ARC Toolkit, the downloads were insane. People went nuts for it and people knew about it because of the exposure it had through GAAD day. So, it is having an effect. I don't know how you would judge what that effect is but you know that part of what's pushing things along as far as they've gotten has got to be Global Accessibility Awareness Day

Mark Miller: What do you see? We've laid out this picture, where improvements have been made. They can always be better, things can always happen faster. Where do you see the future? What do you see as GAAD's role in the future and what else might be needed to get things to where you would like to see them

Joe Devon: Great question. I've started kind of doing this presentation where, because I see a lot of people depressed about the statistics, I just really thought about it the way I would think about any product. What I've really realized is that, the problem is big. We have a big thing to overcome, which is, you need to do ..

Joe Devon: First, you need to start with the legal. You need to have the legal foundation, which I think we kind of have. It could be a little bit better but we kind of have it. Once you have the legal, you have to market it in a way to the businesses, small businesses, large businesses, so that they know it's the law. And then you need to market it to people that are learning how to code and people that already know how to code so that they understand that they need to do this to comply

Joe Devon: Then you need to get to the hearts and minds. You need to get the end user aware. There's so many steps and each of these was really hard without a massive budget behind it. That's the reason I think it's taken so much

Joe Devon: So, I think we've done some really good steps but more has to be done and some people I respect also pointed out that the different contingencies need to work together in order to realize the numbers. Because I don't even remember ..

Joe Devon: Yesterday, I was speaking to somebody and they felt like ... they were asking about GAAD and about accessibility and they're like, "The numbers aren't big enough." I'm like, "No, the numbers are big enough.

Joe Devon: Depending on which statistic you look at it's either one in four or one of five people have a disability of some kind. And then they all have family, parents, kids, siblings, and caregivers. Those people increase that number in terms of who cares about accessibility to a really huge percentage of the population

Joe Devon: But because it's different kinds of disabilities, that means that we're not ... let's say the audience isn't looking at it as one big number. They're just looking at, "Okay, you have X number of people who are blind, X number of people who are deaf, X number of people who have mobility impairments," and they're not uniting it as, "Hey, we need to provide usability for everybody.

Joe Devon: Does that answer your question

Mark Miller: Yeah, it does, and I think that that's a really good point. I agree with you that the numbers are there if you're considering the numbers

Mark Miller: And I think the other, the other number, the other thing that people don't think about when it comes to disabilities is the fact that the baby boomers, my parents, probably your parents, are aging and as you age you essentially, right? It's something you collect that you don't want to collect, but you start to collect disabilities, right? My mom is starting to become very arthritic. My dad already has lost hearing in one ear. I'm throwing on and off readers myself, so who knows where that's leading, right? It's just a fact of aging

Mark Miller: And the really important thing about this generation that's aging now is that they're using technology. So, when they get to the point where the technology doesn't allow them to use it, there's going to be some pretty significant problems

Mark Miller: My parents literally owned a mom-and-pop hardware store, so of course they used technology. They were emailing their ... The hardware store had a website. It was an HWI affiliate. They were doing things from a technological standpoint all the time. So, even though they're in their eighties, they're all over Amazon

Mark Miller: My mom will tell you that she can't do anything from a technological standpoint but she doesn't realize how good she actually is. And when she can't use a mouse or when her vision starts to go or whatever, which will happen, right? It's inevitable. They're going to lose. People are going to start losing a customer, a consumer

Mark Miller: And I think that that's one of the big areas. That's one of the big areas from a real ROI standpoint, where it's going to affect people. That would be helpful to step back and think about for a lot of groups. And that adds to that list you made, like how much, right

Joe Devon: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. And then kind of, I think this is, I don't know remember your full question, but I know that there was another angle I kind of wanted to talk about

Mark Miller: I don't remember it either, so we're good

Joe Devon: It's so funny because GAAD Day, like the whole month surrounding it and all the travel and all the interviews and whatnot and talks, I'm so embedded in it on a daily basis that my head is in it 100% 24-7 and then you kind of have to take a month off and then you kind of lose the momentum of what you were you were working on

Joe Devon: But now that we're doing this, I've been thinking about it a little bit again and there are a few things. I would love ... What I want to work on personally in terms of taking it to another level is making a movement where accessibility would become as ubiquitous in software development as the Agile methodology is

Joe Devon: And I'm not sure yet how to attack that but I think you have to start with what is your goal? You can't do anything until you know what your goal is. I think that's a good way to make people think about it because it really is, it's usability and it's just usability for more people and it's important

Mark Miller: That's cool

Joe Devon: And I also feel like ... Yeah, I saw that on Twitter. I don't remember

Mark Miller: You stole it but you didn't give me credit

Joe Devon: Yeah, I stole it from Twitter. No, no, not y'alls

Mark Miller: All right. It was good enough to steal, that's good

Joe Devon: Yeah, yeah. And so ... What was I saying? Also, the Me Too movement I think has changed things where people feel like they absolutely have to talk about diversity and inclusion. You can't talk about diversity inclusion if you're not including people with disabilities. So, the movement is there in many different ways

Joe Devon: I think we have to just tie it together with the bow and then really drive home to everybody involved in designing digital products that they've got to make it ubiquitous. I think we can get there but it's still going to require a little bit more thought, leadership, and unification of the community to work behind these efforts

Mark Miller: You bring up a good point and obviously in our business, we work a lot within the software development life cycle and we work a lot helping our customers integrate accessibility into the software development life cycle just like you're saying. And that doesn't mean that it's happening on a wide enough scale by any stretch

Mark Miller: But I'm wondering what do you feel the role of education is in that? Because one of the things that I look at is the fact that developers are coming out with all sorts of skillsets when they come out of school and accessibility is not on the top of that list, for sure. Do you see that as maybe one of the frontiers that needs to be tapped

Joe Devon: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. It's a big deal because people who ... Let's even just start with the coding, the boot camps. People are going into the boot camps and they're not even learning html, they're learning that what html is divs and spans and you just style the div in span and call it a day. They don't don't have the fundamentals and they're just being taught how to restyle everything. It's just wrong. And that's, I think, a really big one where we have to go after

Mark Miller: So, maybe even educating the educators so that there's more awareness around what a proper curriculum might look like for developers especially

Joe Devon: Absolutely

Mark Miller: And here's the thing that makes me afraid because my son is a developer, right? And he's, quite frankly, had the benefit of me being his father and him listening to me talk about accessibility for a long time

Mark Miller: And he understands, in fact, he's still in school but he's doing an internship right now. And one of the things he brought to this internship was, "Hey, if we're going to do all this stuff, we need to make sure it's accessible." And he's absolutely right. And the higher-ups are, are listening to them because of that

Mark Miller: But he knows it's an important skill set. So, what about his peers that are going to be introduced into a workplace that is starting to demand accessibility more and more? I mean, this is getting outside of the type of things that you're trying to move, but they're going to get there and they're going to be behind the curve because they're going to know everything but

Mark Miller: I think that that's another kind of important angle that the educators almost need to know that hey, these kids are coming out of school lacking a skill set that's going to help them in the workforce

Joe Devon: That's true, though I think when it comes to developers and designers, they really learn on the job, the real stuff, the basic fundamentals

Mark Miller: They learn, yeah. Yeah, I think you're right about that. Yeah, I think you're right about it. I mean, it would give them the aware. My son did, the developers, at least there would be a seed to where the developers are saying, "Hey, I know about this and why aren't we doing it?" And maybe somebody above them that's been around for a while going, "Huh? What? Oh, yeah. Maybe" But I agree with you

Joe Devon: It's the user. If the user asks for it, then

Mark Miller: Demand

Joe Devon: ... the customer basically demands it, then everybody will learn it. That's what we have to get to

Mark Miller: Yeah. So, do you have any plans? Do you have any thoughts around doing something other than or in addition to, I should say, GAAD to try and affect some of these things that you're thinking about

Joe Devon: Yeah, I had started. It's too bad I thought of this maybe a week or so before we finished the State of Accessibility Report. I was like just at the last minute, "Okay, GAAD Pledge." And the idea was to have people pledge that every week for like 52 weeks to do, I gave a list of things, you can see it at diamond.la/gaadpledge. I provided like a list of things that people can do in order to improve the situation in the developer community

Joe Devon: But it honestly was a bit of a last minute effort and then the post-GAAD exhaustion came out. So, I'm planning to revisit it and put it a little bit, be a little bit more ... how should I say? Plan it a little bit better and then come back strong because we've been collecting names

Mark Miller: That is cool

Joe Devon: We've been collecting names of people that have joined the pledge and once we're ready, then we'll send out emails

Joe Devon: But really the idea is to kind of build the community and maybe this is cheesy or whatever, but it just came to my head, like build a GAAD army. So, the idea that a whole bunch of people come together and let's say we pick 12 open-source projects a year and as a group, instead of here and there, as a group say, "Okay, now we're going to go for the React project. We're going to come in and we're going to take a look at what the issues are.

Joe Devon: Try and engage the maintainers, the core developers, and say, "Let's find somebody who will be the accessibility ambassador.

Mark Miller: Wow

Joe Devon: Let's create a document that says that we pledge that we are going to be accessible, have an accessibility statement because if they have a statement and we can standardize this and say, "Every open-source project that says that they plan to be accessible, there's no longer an excuse for a bug fix to be ignored because it's going to be part of their statement." We are an accessible, open-source, you know what I mean

Mark Miller: Wow, good plan. Yeah

Joe Devon: So, if we get that agreement first and then we, as a community, all focus on this one open-source project project at a time, by the time we leave it and go onto the next one, hopefully we've returned a much more accessible project

Joe Devon: And so if we're strategic about which ones we pick and we amass a big enough GAAD army, right, then I think we can make a pretty big difference because it's really the big frameworks that affect millions of users

Mark Miller: That's a really cool idea. That's a really cool idea. Have you guys thought about kind of a gamification of it? I could see sort of a gamification community support around a specific project where through social media you're talking about your progress, you're talking about your challenges. The community is sort of encouraging and all that

Mark Miller: You must be thinking about those level things. Is that kind of part of the plan

Joe Devon: Yeah, I'm trying to remember exactly, I came up with something similar. I just can't ... Oh, and yeah, I awards or something like that, most improved open-source project. I've written up a couple of ..

Mark Miller: Like Academy Awards for the GAAD army would be perfect

Joe Devon: Yeah, exactly. Yeah

Mark Miller: You'd have to get a suit, dress up. You have famous accessibility people come out, present the awards

Joe Devon: There you go, yeah

Mark Miller: Yeah, let's do it

Joe Devon: Yeah. But mostly it's about engaging the community, right

Mark Miller: Yeah

Joe Devon: That's what what I learned about GAAD, is unity makes the difference

Mark Miller: Well, and that's a good point. And that's why in my mind, I kind of view that as a community event. You've got a team working on whatever the project is that they're working on but you have visibility into it from the community so that they are, I mean, it would be for awareness, would be the underlying reason, right

Mark Miller: But also, it would just create a lot of energy around the project and a lot of support around a project and create more momentum than it would if it just ..

Mark Miller: Because we all do these things in our own little boxes and nobody else necessarily knows about them. But this is a perfect example to make that public

Joe Devon: I mean, yeah, the first thing I did for the GAAD Pledge is I went to the React open-source page and then looked at their QuickStart and then right in there there was html. I think it was they skipped the heading or something like that. But it was basically an inaccessible right from there, so I posted a note

Joe Devon: But it's all about hitting the right tone because we don't want to go into the community and dictate to them, we want to embrace them and inspire them to do a great job with accessibility rather than shame them because it just doesn't work well

Mark Miller: Yeah, it doesn't work well. It's not appropriate. And the bottom line is is that sometimes it's a big task. So, are you going to ask somebody to come in and turn a battleship, to use your army analogy, right away

Mark Miller: Or is it about ... I look at it in terms of exercise, whenever people have asked me for advice on exercises. Don't decide you're going to show up to the gym for an hour and a half a day. That's a big change to your day. Start doing something for a few minutes every day and once that becomes habit, add to it

Mark Miller: I agree with you. I think taking these little steps to make changes and as a community asking for it, respecting the fact that people are going to have to do that, is huge. Huge. Yeah, so I think you really have a great attitude about it, it sounds like it. It's no wonder you are where you are because you're, you're approaching it with so much respect and tact and you really want to make a change. So, kudos

Joe Devon: Yeah, I mean, it's all about listening and I'll just say this right out. I would not have approached it right had I not had Jennison as a mentor in the accessibility community. He is so smart and he's taught me so much

Mark Miller: Yeah, I've met Jennison on a couple of occasions but I haven't had a chance to really sit down and talk to him. But every time his name comes up, nothing but respect for him. I hear such positive. The people talk about him so positively and he really is a very positive force in accessibility

Joe Devon: Yeah, it sure changed my life

Mark Miller: And watching you partner with him ... What's that

Joe Devon: Yeah. No, it changed my life. And no question, that changed my life

Mark Miller: Listen, we've got to wrap up here, right? But let's wrap up with a quick version of the story of how you guys connected because I think it's such an endearing story and such a humble, serendipitous beginning to this whole thing that eight years later is a big Time Square GAAD thing going on and companies like us are giving away stuff. So, relay that story real quick and then we'll wrap it up

Joe Devon: Sure. My dad who now passed away, but he was struggling with a website. Maybe I should tell you the full thing here, if you ... You have a couple minutes

Mark Miller: Yeah, go for it

Joe Devon: Okay. All right. So, my dad was trying to access a banking website which shall remain nameless and it was inaccessible and I got really frustrated. He was a brilliant man. He spoke 10 languages, was a Holocaust survivor and it was painful to watch him get older and not be able to access a website

Joe Devon: And so I'm like, "All right, we've got to write this down." So, I wrote a blog post and like, "Let's create this global accessibility awareness day." It's almost exactly what happens was in that blog post. Let's create this day, we'll hit up the press. We'll do all these things where we're going to learn about accessibility

Joe Devon: Basically laid out the entire plan and as soon as I hit ... And I felt like, "Okay, if we work really, really, really hard, this can be something." And then I hit enter and then after I hit enter, I'm like, "Well, nothing's going to happen. There's no way this is going to turn into anything.

Joe Devon: But at the moment, I had that inspiration and then all of a sudden ... I wasn't even smart enough to tweet this out. WordPress had an automated tweet thing so it tweeted out my blog post. Jennison saw the tweet, goes to the website and he says, "This is a great idea. Let's make it happen.

Joe Devon: And then a lot of the names in accessibility followed along in that throughout. It's really crazy because I finally met Jared from WebAIM because we'd wanted to do something just like he did. And then he came out with it right before as we were still kind of planning it. And then I meet him and then we connected great

Joe Devon: And then I looked back on that thread and he's right there in that thread. So, it's not just Jennison. There are other names in there as well who later, you know we've connected with. Jennison reads it, "Let's make it happen." And we're like, "Okay.

Joe Devon: We know that he was in Toronto, I was in LA. We'll have one of event in LA, one in Toronto, and at least something will happen on that day. And then in the very first year there were already 16 cities doing it. India had a governmental event and it just blew up from the first year and then went crazy from there

Mark Miller: Wow. That's such a, that's ... And I can go back to that original tweet and stuff and it's like a historic artifact, you know what I mean? Especially considering its innocent beginnings and then the people and you know of note, right, that jump jumped in and became part of it. What a cool thing

Mark Miller: Well, listen, Joe, really, it's been great talking to you again. I'm sure we'll have you on again

Joe Devon: Likewise

Mark Miller: You've got such interesting stories and it's such an inspiring thing that you've done here, so I can't wait for the next update, right, to see what you're up. I want to hear

Mark Miller: We'll link to to the pledge that you ... So, make sure we have that. You can send that right to our producer, Marissa

Joe Devon: Sure thing

Mark Miller: And we'll put that on there so people can find it. I'd love to hear how that turns out. That's such a cool idea itself, too. So, great

Joe Devon: Yeah, stay tuned

Mark Miller: Thank you so much

Joe Devon: Yeah, thank you

Mark Miller: Yeah, you're welcome. This is Mark Miller thanking Joe Devon and reminding you to keep it accessible

Announcer: The IAP Interactive Accessibility Podcast is brought to you by Interactive Accessibility, the accessibility experts. You can find their access matters blog at interactiveaccessibility.com/blog.


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