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Bowdoin’s Global Accessibility Awareness Week emphasizes equity in the digital world

October 20, 2023

Cora Dow
ACCESSIBILI-PLEASE: Students celebrate Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD) in Ladd House. Events relating to GAAD happened throughout the week, including making images and documents more accessible.

This week, Bowdoin celebrated Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD) with a full slate of workshops, events and discussions. The events of GAAD week spanned from self-paced online modules to community discussions led by members of Bowdoin’s Accessibility Task Force—a coalition of faculty, staff and students working for accessibility all across campus.

GAAD aims to push students to make small, yet influential changes in their day-to-day lives for the purpose of increased accessibility. Although GAAD is officially held in mid-May, Bowdoin, like many colleges, commemorates the day at a time of year when it can be better featured on campus. The events catered to student and faculty audiences, encouraging them to make any content they produce online more accessible. Meanwhile, faculty can learn how to make their lessons more accessible for every student.

“I think for a lot of students, as well as faculty, we don’t even know what’s available to us. We have so many resources that can help to make things more accessible. With our technology, I think more and more things can be accessible, we often don’t even know how to use it,” Director of the Baldwin Center for Learning and Teaching Kathryn Byrnes said.

Education is becoming increasingly integrated with technology, and Bowdoin is no exception. The College announced the Digital Excellence Commitment (DExC) in February 2022 and has been expanding it since. Due to this prevalence of technology in education at Bowdoin, GAAD week’s events were focused on providing easy tools for improving digital accessibility awareness.

“One of the things with digital accessibility is color contrast, so making sure that the words and the background behind them have the correct color contrast. I think that will both benefit those people who are colorblind and also people who may have been using screens in direct sunlight,” co-leader of the Disabled Students Association and student representative on the Bowdoin Accessibility Task Force Libby Riggs ’26 said.

Fellow Accessibility Task Force student representative Regine Pierre-Louis ’25 emphasized the importance of GAAD programming for general education on making learning accessible.

“They’re giving us tools to make things more accessible. But on the other hand, it’s teaching us why there’s a need for that in the first place and why that’s something that should be prioritized,” Pierre-Louis said.

The plans for the week’s events began over the summer and involved the extensive efforts of numerous faculty and staff members.

“We have a lot of people representing different departments across campus. All of these individuals helped make this whole week of events happen…. They’re part of the team, but I think it makes it that much richer,” Digital Content and Accessibility Consultant Juli Haugen said. “There’s certainly lots of people doing work around disability and accessibility.”

Working towards accessibility is a constantly evolving process, and organizers acknowledged that Bowdoin will not become perfectly accessible after one week. The goal of GAAD week is to encourage individuals to make sustained and meaningful small changes in their everyday lives to increase accessibility.

“We’re looking for a small incremental change by people. So, the whole goal of Global Accessibility Awareness Day as an organization is that people make one little step towards making a digital environment more accessible for people with disabilities,” Byrnes said.

Students walked away with a literacy of the digital world and new perspectives surrounding accessibility.

“For me, the importance of digital accessibility never really came to the forefront of my mind until now,” attendee EJ Pascua ’27 said. “It creates a space for people to think about how they haven’t been thinking about this important issue.”



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