accessiBe CEO, Shir Ekerling, responds to NBC's article

Shir EkerlingCEO at accessiBe
May 1, 2021

Recently, one of NBC’s tech reporters published an article claiming that blind people and accessibility advocates criticize our product and marketing. In this post, I’d like to share my response to it.

Since we were interviewed and asked to comment as part of the process, and because we highly appreciate the network and its known credibility, we assumed the tech investigation would be thorough and present facts. But most importantly, we had faith that the network wouldn't ignore so many personal experiences, first-hand users, accessibility advocates, and experienced web accessibility lawyers who approached the reporter with positive perspectives regarding accessiBe prior to the release of the article to present the truth.

Here’s a quick summary (full list below) of what the reporter chose to ignore:

  • Multiple blind, low vision and motor-impaired users shared their positive experiences with accessiBe.
  • A leading blind civil rights attorney and 508 compliance officer focusing on issues surrounding the ADA, disability rights, and web accessibility had reached out to the reporter explaining why the legal representation in the article is false and misleading.
  • An offer to connect her with all companies who she claimed have been sued because of accessiBe, so they can personally verify to her that they joined accessiBe to solve the legal issue and that accessiBe is their solution, not their problem.
  • Lists of dozens of leading disability-focused organizations who fully support, trust and cooperate with accessiBe.
  • Dozens of testimonies of users with disabilities, lawyers, partners, and customers who fully support accessiBe’s products and services.
  • Who the detractors of accessiBe really are and what their agenda is (explained more in-depth below).

We are not naive. We know that journalism has its engine and that controversy is much more interesting than facts. At the very least, the facts should have been presented alongside the controversial headlines.

The article did get one thing right. The pandemic left more than 25% of the population with very limited access to the internet, people who were not able to perform everyday tasks. This is exactly what accessiBe is here to change. At accessiBe, we are so grateful to come to work focused on a mission to make the Internet more accessible on a larger scale. We are reminded every day that we cannot do this alone and that it takes an army of believers and doers to bridge the ever-expanding web accessibility gap.

Every minute, more websites are born than made accessible. This has led to over 350 million websites in the US alone, of which less than 2% are accessible. The main reason for this is the outcome of years of neglect, a complete lack of awareness, accessibility “purists” that aren’t open to technological advancements with interest to keep the status quo, a failing manual approach (with too many companies benefiting from it), costly and complicated processes that businesses can't afford or go through, especially smaller ones.

Yet, despite all these important issues, the reporter chose to leverage the influential NBC platform, that could have been used to raise awareness and help teach people the importance of web accessibility, to bash a company that:

  • Found a viable way to scale web accessibility and make it achievable for the masses.
  • Constantly builds products, solutions, and services (some even involve the traditional approach) to make the internet accessible. See our public roadmap.
  • Invests millions of dollars and significant resources to raise awareness, educate and lead initiatives that all benefit disability communities.

Sheldon Lewis, a blind user, and a true accessibility advocate says:“The only way to chip away at the accessibility gap is to leverage scalable solutions that can manage and update millions of websites simultaneously. accessiBe has the capabilities to do justice and to also provide AI solutions that create customized usable profiles and options for a unique user’s differing abilities. This cannot be done with manually coding.”

On behalf of the different disability communities, I regret that this influential platform wasn’t utilized wisely, that facts have been ignored and that voices from the heart of the community were left out.

It’s my responsibility to share the facts and accuracies that were left out of the article or were completely ignored:

  1. Disregarding David Shaffer, an ADA expert attorney and a blind user: David is also a leading disability rights advocate, a former 508 compliance officer, and is the founder of a law firm of lawyers with disabilities. David approached the reporter and shared his positive experience with accessiBe. He has also openly said how much better accessiBe is than the manual approach.
  2. Ignoring Josh Basile, a C4-5 quadriplegic: Josh reached out to the reporter with a long and informative email sharing his experience, story, and how he successfully uses assistive technology with accessiBe.
  3. Ignoring additional blind users: The reporter was sent contact information for Dr. Hoby Wedler, who is not only a blind user but also an accessibility advocate who has expressed how he successfully uses accessiBe.
  4. Misleading product claims: The article claims blind people have issues using the product, although the reporter was approached by different blind and low vision people who shared firsthand that accessiBe works amazingly. Additionally, we’ve already addressed all the product claims in the article with thorough explanations in our article How accessiBe works from A-Z. The reporter chose to ignore it completely.
  5. Misrepresenting legal facts: accessiBe was not named in a lawsuit. It was mentioned as part of the solution and not the cause of the lawsuit. The two websites the reporter mentioned both joined accessiBe to defend themselves from a lawsuit and make their websites accessible and weren’t accessiBe customers who were sued, as the reporter incorrectly mentioned. The opposite is correct. I offered to connect the reporter with them and with their lawyers so the reporter can verify this, though she did not do this and chose to present misleading information.
  6. Ignoring successful legal outcomes: The reporter was presented with a testimonial from Yan Margolin, one of many lawyers who successfully used accessiBe to prove accessibility and compliance in a lawsuit for his client’s website.
  7. Ignoring flawed alternatives and thorough research: The reporter was presented with thorough research about the insufficient capabilities of manual remediation that showed that manual accessibility, over time, achieves only about a 20% success rate.
  8. Ignoring all positive opinions from organizations: The reporter was sent a long list of dozens of leading disability-focused organizations who trust accessiBe (many even use it on their sites) and whose main goal is to ensure their communities have a voice and services to rely on. Their perspective could have added value to the reporter’s research on the topic.
  9. Ignoring all positive opinions from users: The reporter was sent a list of testimonials from users with disabilities who express their gratitude for accessiBe and how the solution has helped them access websites. It could have been beneficial for NBC’s readers to hear their voices as well.
  10. Representing only one voice: It’s unfortunate that significant communities were left out of the article, such as people with ADHD, epilepsy, cognitive disorders, motor impairments, and more. They too need access, and they too use accessiBe to navigate websites.
  11. Failing to show hidden agendas: The article mentioned 400 advocates who signed a petition against the AI approach to web accessibility. 400 is the number of people they could stretch with a full-on campaign, which is a drop in the bucket compared to the hundreds of thousands of users with disabilities who utilize accessiBe every single month. Most of those who are signed on the petition are direct or indirect competitors of accessiBe, who are concerned that a machine may replace their work.
  12. Failing to show hidden agendas (2): The article did not mention that Karl Groves is the initiator behind the petition against overlays. But is he really a fighter of justice? Groves is a direct competitor of accessiBe, making millions of dollars a year with his company Tenon. Karl takes part in suing small businesses and mom-and-pop shops for his own interest. These businesses don't have other options, and I don’t believe they should get attacked for taking an active approach to achieving web accessibility.
  13. Misrepresenting legal facts: Karl Groves’ testimony against accessiBe is not admissible because his exhibits were not under oath. In these cases, the lawyer used materials written by Groves to scare an accessible business into paying them falsely.
  14. Misrepresenting our marketing: The article mentioned that accessiBe heavily invests in marketing and has a wide reach. I believe that it’s our responsibility to raise awareness for web accessibility and for the need to address the widening web accessibility gap. There isn’t a single company in the accessibility industry that has invested millions of dollars to educate businesses that web accessibility exists and its importance. We are the first, and still, the only company to do this. Somebody needs to, right?
  15. Ignoring the data: There are over 100,000 websites, thousands of partners, numerous connections with disability-focused organizations, and most importantly - hundreds of thousands of people with disabilities who use accessiBe, in millions of sessions, every month, proving there is practical hope for a problem that was never tackled to this scale.

In conclusion, I am surprised that such an influential institution as NBC would disregard a significant side of the story and only present one side. I am surprised that NBC would take a stand against a company that invests so many resources into such an important cause, raising awareness for accessibility at a scale that has never been seen before. Most of all, I’m concerned that NBC would put itself on the side that impedes progress and access for people with disabilities, contributing to the existing obstacles that stand between people with disabilities and an accessible web.

accessiBe has always been, and will always be, motivated by this good cause. That, I promise you. We are an innovative technology company and will never stop until we have made the Internet accessible at scale.

Shir Ekerling, accessiBe’s CEO