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Global Accessibility Awareness Day 2020: What COVID-19 Has Taught us About the Importance of Inclusivity

By Tom Wlodkowski
Global Accessibility Awareness Day 2020: What COVID-19 Has Taught us About the Importance of Inclusivity

Key Takeaways

May 21st is Global Accessibility Awareness Day around the world, a moment to focus on digital inclusion for the more than one billion people with disabilities.
With schools and businesses closed and stay at home orders in effect, COVID-19 presents a unique opportunity to highlight the importance of inclusivity.
Watch a conversation with thought leaders in the world of inclusive design talk about how we can apply what we’ve experienced during COVID-19 to make a more inclusive post-Pandemic world.

The definition of “disability” has evolved meaningfully. Instead of an indication of a person’s limitations, the World Health Organization characterizes the term “disability” as the experience of a mismatch between a person and the environment in which they find themselves.

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, this definition is resonating with many of us in new ways. With schools and businesses closed and stay at home orders in effect, hundreds of millions of people around the world, of all levels of ability, are feeling displaced and disconnected from their normal work and school environments and familiar routines.

As we all work to navigate these new and uncertain times, this year’s Global Accessibility Awareness Day presents a unique opportunity to highlight the importance of inclusivity. Odds are, over the past few months we have all joined a video conference when we couldn’t see the faces of everyone participating. For someone who’s blind like me, that’s part of everyday interactions with colleagues. These days, we’re all dealing with difficulty accessing basic necessities like groceries. People with disabilities are not always able to perform those kinds of everyday tasks independently, and may rely on caregivers for support. And there’s no question that we’re all feeling increasingly reliant on technology to connect us with family, news and entertainment. For many in the disability community, though, access to the internet, inclusive products and technologies and accessibility features have long been critical to staying connected with the world around us.

We believe that when you make a product or experience more inclusive, you make a better product for everyone. This is our north star when we are thinking about accessibility and inclusive design, and it has been put to the test during COVID-19. We are reminded on this Global Accessibility Awareness Day of the important work that must be done to continue to innovate and collaborate to create a more accessible environment, and the benefit that designing and operating with an inclusive mindset brings to us all.

No one person or one organization can do this alone. It truly takes a village, which is why I invited a few thought leaders making waves in the world of accessibility and inclusive design to talk about what we’ve learned and experienced during COVID-19 and how we can apply these lessons in a post-pandemic world.

You can watch our conversation above, and read some of the most important takeaways from our incredible panelists below.


Jill Houghton

Jill Houghton
President & CEO, Disability:IN

Andrew Kirkpatrick

Andrew Kirkpatrick
Head of Accessibility, Adobe Systems

Catherine Nichols

Catherine Nichols
Senior Director of Accessibility Programs, Salesforce & Vice President, Abilityforce Equality Group

Hale Pulsifer

Hale Pulsifer
Vice President of the Office of Customer Accessibility,
Fidelity Investments

Jill Houghton – President & CEO, Disability:IN

“It’s so important that disability inclusion lives everywhere in the business, because when we're inclusive for people with disabilities we're inclusive for all people.

Andrew Kirkpatrick, Head of Accessibility, Adobe Systems

“We have learned a lot, both from the technology side and the behavioral side. The basic things we’ve done for years to make the workplace more inclusive have become so important for everyone in the time of COVID-19 when people are working remotely.”

Catherine Nichols – Senior Director of Accessibility Programs, Office of Accessibility, Salesforce & Vice President, Abilityforce Equality Group

“It’s really important to lead with empathy. We’ve always talked about accommodations at work for people with disabilities, but we’re all coming together right now needing accommodations. It’s important to recognize that we all work differently. We all need different things to be successful.”

Hale Pulsifer – Vice President of the Office of Customer Accessibility, Fidelity Investments

“This COVID environment is underscoring for people on a day to day basis how important accessibility is to get right ... it has brought to life for people who aren’t used to thinking about accessibility how important it really is to have everyone contributing equally.”


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