Discussing the future of web accessibility, the real problem the industry faces, addressing accessibility misconceptions, and accessiBe’s future roadmap.
Recently, the topic of web accessibility has become a point of an increasingly heated discussion on the right approach to making websites accessible. There are the proponents of the manual, traditional approach that has existed for over 15 years, and then there are advocates for the scalable web accessibility approach which is based on automation.
With this post, we want to take a step back and review the problem that everyone is trying to solve and give our perspective about the way it should be addressed while cutting through the noise that has been fueling the conversation.
Unfortunately, some people are trying very hard to take control of the narrative and have spread a lot of misinformation. But not only that, in the last several months we’ve been going through a non-proportional amount of harassment that is not only unethical but in some cases borderline illegal and involves sabotaging our customers' businesses and trying to harm our digital assets. We’ll address this later, separately from this post.
Therefore, if you’ve arrived at this post with an established mindset or preconceived ideas about accessiBe or accessibility in general, please put them aside for the next few minutes, be objective and read the post with an open mind.
First and foremost, and especially if this is the first time you’re hearing from us in our own words - accessiBe’s objective is, and always will be, to make the entire internet accessible by 2025.
Intro video to this post by CVO Michael Hingson and CEO Shir Ekerling.
Here are the topics we’ll be discussing in the post:
- Let’s talk about the web-accessibility elephant in the room
- Enough with the problems, let’s start talking about solutions
- Impractical claims and arguments about accessiBe and web accessibility that need to be addressed once and for all
- Argument: “Accessibility has to be part of the source-code”
- Argument: “AI can’t describe complex images such as graphs, instructional manuals, and origami”
- Argument: “By making it too easy, people don’t care about why accessibility is important and don’t incorporate accessible practices into their operations”
- Argument: “If accessibility is subscription-based then you can just pull the plug on it”
- Argument: “You should stand down until you can offer a 100% bulletproof solution”
- Argument: “accessiBe customers are getting hit with lawsuits”
- Argument: “accessiBe is not open to feedback”
- accessiBe’s future roadmap for transparency and effective communication
1. Let’s talk about the web-accessibility elephant in the room
Set accessiBe aside for a minute and let’s put the real problem in the spotlight (don’t worry, we’ll get back to accessiBe). As of this moment, the internet is not even remotely accessible. This is because the traditional approach to web accessibility (as thorough as it is) is just not scalable, doesn’t take the web-business-ecosystem into consideration, and can only affect a very small portion of the 1 Billion+ websites that are out there.
For those not in the industry, the traditional approach starts at a cost of $10,000 and can get to hundreds of thousands per website remediation (depending on complexity and website type), must be constantly maintained throughout the website updates by accessibility professionals, and requires intervention within the source-code.
We are currently amidst a market failure that derives from years of reliance on the traditional approach. Here’s why:
- Small businesses, which comprise 99% of the market, can’t afford manual web accessibility. Most websites are built on a less than $100 WordPress template or $20/m website builder. It is unrealistic to expect business owners to pay for accessibility more than what the website itself costs.
- The vast majority of coders don't know or understand web accessibility. It would be amazing if we could educate and teach all of them, but (1) most websites are not being built by coders anyway, which is why the CMS and website builders market is booming, and (2) this type of education, as important as it is, will take dozens of years.
- Following the above point, we can’t expect most business owners to become accessibility experts themselves and code/design their own websites. Again, they use these services specifically because they just don’t know nor have the time to find out how to do it themselves.
- Expecting accessibility to be implemented from the get-go disregards the fact that there are already hundreds of millions of active websites that aren’t accessible and need to be completely overhauled.
- This approach requires practically everybody to become an accessibility expert. From the small business owner who manages and updates their own website to every web designer and even marketer who creates websites for a living.
- Reality proves that the aspiration of the traditional approach, which is to make web accessibility a top priority for all businesses and invest ongoing resources and efforts is unrealistic and does not reflect the fast pace of modern sales and marketing practices - which is ultimately why they even have a business.
Yes, in an ideal world every business could and should prioritize accessibility, afford accessibility, think about accessibility, and have the privilege to care about accessibility as much as they do about sales and marketing. This is a beautiful idea, and we hope someday to get there, but in practice, it just doesn’t happen.
If you think otherwise then why isn’t the Internet accessible already? Why are less than 2% of websites accessible? Traditional web accessibility has been around for 2 decades, multiple versions of the WCAG have been published, the W3C’s website list hundreds of testing tools, there has been regulation for years, there are tens of thousands of lawsuits and hundreds of thousands of demand letters (every year!), there are thousands of accessibility consultants, service providers and large accessibility vendors that have raised tens of millions of dollars years ago, and still, why isn’t the internet accessible?
We are not saying that there isn’t room for the traditional approach, but we must acknowledge the points outlined above, and understand that new approaches are essential if we want a practical way to make the Internet accessible someday soon.
Even if we put the traditional approach’s price aside, the willingness of businesses to collaborate, the incredibly lacking awareness towards web accessibility, the no-code future of the web ecosystem, and test the traditional approach like it has none of those problems, let’s take a look at the following rough estimation:
To make only 1,000,000 websites accessible manually, we'll need about 10,000 accessibility experts that are also engineers, who work 24 hours a day, each completing 2 full remediation projects every month, for 5 years straight. And this is just for 1,000,000 websites which make up 0.3% of ~300,000,000 active websites that currently exist just in the United States alone.
Of course, during those 5 years, more websites will be created than the 1M fixed, and we need to also consider that updates made to those websites will cause the accessibility work to degrade over time until they are inaccessible all over again.
Users need the internet to be accessible to them now, not in (maybe) 50 years. The traditional approach cannot reach that scale, and the solution needs to be one that businesses can and want to incorporate.
We must acknowledge: web accessibility is a two-way street between business owners and people with disabilities.
Have we stopped for a second to consider business owners’ needs? Their wants? Their day-to-day operations? Their vendors? Their projects? Their expenses? Their priorities? Their challenges? If we want to achieve an accessible Internet we must consider what business owners are willing to do, what’s realistic for them, and what they actually need. Business owner’s nature is to care mostly about their revenue, their employees, and providing for their families. This is the nature of humans and humans run businesses.
Reality proves that you can’t force an approach (and not just in accessibility) that isn’t aligned with the other side’s needs and challenges.
This is our responsibility as accessibility advocates to offer businesses an accessibility solution that can coexist with their day-to-day operations, challenges, and resources.
Rob McClinton, a web agency CEO explains this problem from a business standpoint.
2. Enough with the problems, let’s start talking about solutions.
Recently we participated in some meetings with advocates of the traditional approach. The idea was to bridge the gap between the two approaches, establish that we share the same goal and are on the same team, and get their perspective on solving the industry’s major challenge, which is to make the internet accessible in the foreseeable future.
Unfortunately, they were unwilling to discuss this question. Every time we tried to bring the discussion to the main topic, they deflected it by focusing on things like Origami, messaging, and our business model, that we are happy to talk about (and have addressed and will address again later on the post), but are far from being the main issue when it comes to solving web accessibility.
Even though they may not have any answers, we’d like to share with you our solution, while also addressing some of their arguments against it.
accessiBe was created because of the need for a scalable solution for web accessibility.
By using AI, automation, and a cloud-based integration, rather than intervening with the source code, our approach significantly cuts the costs and time of making websites accessible, while still providing a high level of user experience to end-users, as evidenced by thousands of users with disabilities that browse, use and buy from websites that are using accessiBe today, every single month.
An approach such as ours is highly scalable and practically doesn’t have a limit to how many websites it can process and make accessible in a given timeframe. This solves the aforementioned market failure, making web accessibility achievable and practical for businesses of all sizes.
We are proud to have created a scalable solution that has the potential to make the entire Internet accessible. This is and will remain our #1 goal. Of course, there’s always room to improve user experience, and a lot of development resources are being invested every single day. This is an approach that can really achieve a significant, large-scale impact.
accessiBe works, from day one and on a daily basis, with users with disabilities.
accessiBe is not the first company with an automated approach to web accessibility. However, other than solving UI adjustments, which are relatively basic, we are the first to incorporate AI in order to solve the most challenging aspects of web accessibility: keyboard navigation and operation, and screen-reader adjustments. Not to speak for others, but we truly care about web accessibility, our end-users, and are vocal about our goal of making the internet accessible.
We very much understand, and have understood right from the beginning, how important it is to work with the end-users, and are working closely with many of them. Some are “standard” end-users, while others are accessibility experts themselves. We have various focus groups for testing, development, and brainstorming ideas which, by the way, is one of the biggest reasons we became advocates for and passionate about solving web accessibility globally.
3. Time to address the impractical claims about accessiBe and web accessibility
Below, we break down key arguments brought up in the aforementioned conversations with advocates of the traditional approach.
Argument: “Accessibility has to be part of the source-code”
As mentioned above, In 2021, it is unrealistic to expect businesses to meticulously design and plan out their websites and every single element that goes into them. It’s just not how websites are being built today. There is a reason that the CMS and website building market is booming and that is because there is a soaring demand for the ready-to-go website and design templates.
No one has the power to change the no-code course of the web design industry.
Therefore, a cloud-based solution that is not part of the base source-code is exactly what modern businesses need and want. By understanding this, and catering to it, we are enabling web accessibility to occur where otherwise it would be completely left behind. It is not a mistake to get on board with the reality of a drag-and-drop world if we want our goal of an accessible web to be accomplished.
Let’s say tomorrow new accessibility guidelines are released, or there’s a major browser update, a CMS update, or a new technology that displays websites (say VR).
- How can we manually go back and redo all of the work that’s been done on websites?
- Who will agree to pay again for all the additional required work?
- How much time will it take to realign all those websites with the change?
- Who will re-educate the entire market (coders, website owners, agencies, etc.) regarding this new change?
One of the biggest benefits of a cloud-based approach is one that traditional approaches simply cannot offer - to update many websites quickly and effectively. Since our technology is cloud-based, we can update our software for all of our customers at once, and incorporate the new requirements into their websites immediately.
Argument: “AI can’t describe complex images such as origami, graphs, and instructional manuals”
The vast majority of websites use images to either describe their offerings (promotional banners and product images), or as a visual tool to attract users, provide more context to the text, and create brand recognition.
To provide a description (an alt attribute) for images, accessiBe uses AI technologies. Specifically, computer vision. We utilize IRIS and OCR engines in order to learn and extract the scenery, building blocks, and embedded text of images that lack manual descriptions.
Take for example a banner on a website with a picture of children and text that says “Back to school sale! 30% off all categories”. accessiBe’s AI will provide a description like “Children playing on a playground, back to school sale 30% off all categories”.
See the below example of an actual alt provided by accessiBe's AI to an image
We can’t let the edge cases define an entire industry:
- Origami, graphs, and instructional manuals. Realistically, those images don’t exist on the vast majority of websites, and shouldn’t be the benchmark. Having an entire website accessible, but one graph with a description that could be better doesn’t change the fact that the website is indeed accessible. Of course, we always want to improve user experience and are soon starting to incorporate website scans for complex graphs, instruction manuals, and origami to make the descriptions even better.
- The current reality is that most websites don’t have alt text at all or have alt text which is just the name of the file, “banner”, or “image”. There are billions upon billions of images that have these kinds of descriptions today or nothing at all. How could anyone possibly provide accurate alt text for this overwhelming number of images without automation?
Argument: “By making it too easy, people don’t care about why accessibility is important and don’t incorporate accessible practices into their operations”
It’s disheartening that there’s an attempt to establish a connection between accessiBe’s simple-to-deploy solution and the fact that awareness towards web accessibility is extremely lacking (and it is), this is a pure demagogue statement.
We do, of course, agree that businesses need to be educated on accessibility as a fundamental business practice, but we believe that low-barrier solutions are the only way awareness can exist and actually spread dramatically.
Alongside our product development, we invest significant time and resources into increasing the awareness of web accessibility among business owners around the world. We believe this to be a crucial part of, and quite honestly a huge challenge to making the Internet accessible. We constantly engage with our customers and partners about the importance of web accessibility and inclusion in general. We have a huge reach and take full advantage of it to raise awareness and make people care.
We participate in large-scale collaborations and have created awareness campaigns towards web accessibility in general that have reached literally millions of businesses, which is more than the combined efforts of those who oppose our approach to web accessibility.
Just one example for this is the video below which has reached more than 1 million views from businesses that most of them had no idea what web accessibility even is prior to watching it. We invest millions of dollars into raising awareness.
Argument: “If accessibility is subscription-based then you can just pull the plug on it”
Websites are dynamic and constantly changing. Whether it’s a subscription-based solution, a service retainer for an expert, or a monthly salary for an accessibility team, websites need to be remediated on an ongoing basis. Doesn’t matter what you call it, but business owners need to continue to pay overtime for accessibility if they want to maintain results. If accessibility is not constantly upheld, no matter the payment model, the result will be the same: customers can willingly choose to discontinue investing in their accessibility.
We’ve decided to follow a business model that not only reflects the needs of our customers, but also resembles the vast majority of services that they are used to pay for such as Internet, cable, web hosting, website builders, domain registration, utilities, and more. By allowing them to pay via a subscription, we are making web accessibility a more comfortable decision.
Argument: “You should stand down until you can offer a 100% bulletproof solution”
We refuse to accept the narrative that only flawless solutions with no room for improvement can exist. If that’s the case then stop using the Internet because sometimes WiFi disconnects, don’t take vaccines because they aren’t 100% effective, and better yet, stop using your laptops and smartphones because there are bugs and they constantly need to be updated. And what about the manual, traditional approach? Is it flawless? Or even screen-readers, are they bulletproof? Or should we just stop using them altogether?
Evolution is at the core of every technology and saying that a new solution should not be allowed to have a market simply because it has more room to evolve is - quite frankly - a dangerously flawed idea.
Argument: “accessiBe customers are getting hit with lawsuits”
This argument is particularly misleading because our opposition claims that these websites are accessiBe customers who got sued when in fact these customers actually received the lawsuit or the demand letter prior to accessiBe and only then implemented the solution in order to settle or dismiss the suit.
We’ve explained this several times before, and it is particularly easy to prove - those customers still use accessiBe to this very day because we successfully solved their legal matter.
Thousands of customers join our service every single month, many of them with a lawsuit or a demand letter in hand. The lawyers who target businesses with those lawsuits (some have made a business out of it) don’t just “give up”, even when a website becomes accessible with accessiBe or with any other solution.
Because these lawyers still want a settlement, they may sometimes add our name, on an already existing case. This is in order to keep pushing the business to settle, and not because the website is inaccessible (they all are accessible!). Of course, to help all our customers, including those who’ve arrived with a lawsuit in hand, we provide a litigation support package that time and time again helps them settle and often even completely dismiss the case.
Yan Margolin, an attorney who we've helped resolve an ADA lawsuit shares his perspective on how accessiBe works with its customers.
Argument: “accessiBe is not open to feedback”
We know that technology is always a work in progress, and so is accessiBe. accessiBe has tens of thousands of users and customers who think that it is a great solution. However, we believe that there is always room for improvement and we welcome any feedback and never turn it down.
In fact, feedback is literally how we’ve been able to continuously improve and get to where we are. We are extremely proud that some of the users that have given us feedback, and even criticism, have become employees, testers, and members of our focus groups.
When we get this feedback, we can improve on it, and because accessiBe is cloud-based, when we improve something, it happens on all of our customer websites simultaneously.
4. accessiBe’s latest updates for transparency and effective communications with the community
To establish better communications with the community, and because we know that user experience can always be improved, we’d like to present our future roadmap and share some of our upcoming initiatives:
- We are happy to welcome Michael Hingson to our family as our Chief Vision Officer. Michael spearheads the efforts to raise awareness and drive inclusivity, alongside ensuring that the community’s vision and accessiBe’s are always aligned.
- We are now establishing a consultancy service, by connecting community experts with our entire customer base. This will not only enable our customers to receive extended accessibility-related services but will also help experts and consultants to find new clients through us. This will go live on our site in a few weeks, so if you want your services to be featured to a lot of potential new clients, please contact us.
- We are in the process of joining the W3C this will probably be finalized in a few weeks. We do this so we can share our knowledge, expertise, experience, and resources and take an even bigger part in the collective efforts of the community.
- We are working on two huge new projects and products in joint efforts with different accessibility-focused organizations, that are not for profit, and for the betterment of users with disabilities. More information coming soon.
- We’ve recently completed major funding rounds and are committed to using these resources to increase awareness and educating entire industries and markets on the importance of web accessibility and inclusion in general.
To our customers, users, partners, and believers in our mission, we promise to continue working every day to make web accessibility accessible for everyone.