Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD) takes place every year on the third Thursday of May. As the term clearly indicates, it is about making the web (and everything else) more accessible for all of us. People with different disabilities have the same right to access the web, digital media, social media, and the world we live in an easy and accessible way. What does this mean for content creators, digital media producers, and publishers?
As an individual living with disability, I am an author and scholar of literature and Disability Studies. I teach undergraduates and many of my students live with different disabilities. It is incredibly important and essential to their well-being to be able to access the material they read. Some of the largest publishers still don’t include audiobooks (especially for academic textbooks) and this is utterly baffling. Readers come in all shapes and forms.
Hardback copies are not the crème de la crème of books that they are made out to be. Yes, I know, it feels “so good.” It “smells so good” and “it’s a real book.”
Pause. Let’s try a quick exercise:
Head over to your favourite hardback copy (it can even be Head Above Water, if you pre-ordered a copy). Now clench your fists. Real hard, until you can feel heat in your hands. Do not unclench your hands. Now pick up the beautiful book. Flip through its heaviness, page by page.
Now try again. Close your eyes. Pick up the book and flip through the pages. They feel light and airy, don’t they? Now quote your favourite passage. Couldn’t catch anything?
Now let’s try the last exercise. Open the book to your favourite passage and step away from the book. Walk backwards until you are at least 1 meter away from the book. Can you still read without squinting?
Large fonts, braille, e-books, and audiobooks are a few of my favourite things in the world of books. Accessibility ought to be a global initiative, every day, something that comes naturally to policy-makers, web designers, publishers, teachers, and everyone else. We don’t think about what it means to have books and social media posts that are accessible. It’s not the default setting – unless you live with disability or are a good ally. Abled-bodied allies pay attention to access.
My book, Head Above Water, is out soon and we made sure the book is out in most forms and the audiobook is one initiative that Neem Tree Press believes in. We embarked on journey of accessible books together and it is my hope that other publishers and authors will make accessibility part of how they measure success. Readers read if you make sure they can. Reading shouldn’t be a privilege.
So happy Global Accessibility Day and here’s to better allyship!
Head Above Water will be published by Neem Tree Press on 30th May 2022 (World MS Day)!
About the Author
Shahd Alshammari is an author and academic, and lives with Multiple Sclerosis. She holds a PhD from the University of Kent, Canterbury and spent her graduate years in the United Kingdom. She returned to Kuwait to teach literature and pioneer disability narratives and voices. Her works center on disability, women’s studies, and Arab women’s narratives.