accessiBe's letter in the Braille Monitor

Written by Shir Ekerling, accessiBe’s Founder and CEO

Dear Members of the Federation,

My name is Shir, and I am the founder of accessiBe. I am writing to address our past actions and offer our deepest apologies for how we communicated and reacted. I also want to outline what we are doing and have done to change and improve in response to feedback from Federation members and individuals in the broader disability space.

Before I go further, I want to share with you that I have a deep personal understanding of what it feels like to be dependent on assistive technology. I am a person who relies daily on multiple assistive medical technologies due to my Type 1/Juvenile diabetes. My medical journey has been challenging at times, and thus I am driven by a singular conviction when it comes to my work and accessiBe. I can personally relate to struggling with assistive technology, and this is one of the reasons it is essential for me to be the best ally that I can be to you.

When I founded accessiBe, other than in the very technical aspects, I was a newcomer to the accessibility and disability communities. As software engineers, we incorrectly believed that the technicalities were all that we needed to know. When some community members voiced their concerns, my colleagues and I became defensive and resistant, and we mistakenly treated it with dismissal or, at times, even anger. As the founder of accessiBe, I want to take full responsibility for these reactions, and I wish to outline how, in the past two years, feedback from Federation members and many individuals and disability rights activists have guided me and accessiBe through a meaningful transformative process.

After several years of learning, and as I reflect on our choices during that time, I recognize that the way we reacted to concerns did not demonstrate my commitment to my conviction. Even though we failed to respond appropriately, we did hear you. We have been learning a lot from your feedback and have been changing our approach and how we do things because of it. For our improper reactions and responses, we want to express our deepest apologies to everyone who has been affected and we are committed to responding with openness, gratitude, and accountability going forward. I also want to apologize for emphasizing our marketing on avoiding legal action, when it should have been on making one's website usable to users who would otherwise be left out. We have many things to do until we get there, but I hope that soon, you will trust us enough to call us your ally and bestow that honor and responsibility on us. I am committed to that goal and to receiving all available guidance and learning to support that work.

At the core of what we do is our belief that creating an inclusive environment for all individuals requires work from each of us individually and from us as a collective. As a company handling digital accessibility, it is our responsibility to work alongside you, to demonstrate why it is so crucial for businesses to provide online access at all times, especially in a rapidly changing digital space. This is why we strive to provide solutions that make it easier for businesses, from the smallest family business to the biggest enterprise, to provide equal access and opportunities to all their users and customers, with or without a disability. We want to provide businesses with tools that help them recognize that accessibility and usability are possible for them, and that even if they lack resources, providing accessibility will be a positive decision that drives their business forward. I'm not writing this to advertise accessiBe, but to provide background on what we are trying to do.

I'm writing this letter to ask you, Federation Members, for a second chance to build a relationship with you. I am aware of your concerns about overlays, privacy and security, advertising, and more. Some of these concerns are addressed here; others are too complex for a short letter, and I wish to remain focused on the communication and people aspect, and on our commitment. I am, however, going to address these and any other concerns you bring to my attention as we move forward, in our communication, conversation, and the work we put out to the world.

Over the past two years, we focused on seeking guidance and training from disabled leaders, activists, individuals, and disability-led organizations, willing to teach us where we fell short and what we needed to do to revise our approach. This work is ongoing.

We took the time for a deep review and are making significant changes that include complete employee training, disability history, civil rights activism, disability justice workshops, and guidance on accessibility and disability communication. We are committed to building an inclusive culture from the core and to being directed by the disability community in the work that we do. We want disability to be present in all aspects of accessiBe.

Making significant changes takes time, and we understand that building trust is a lengthy process. We strive to continue learning and making further improvements that demonstrate our commitment as we move forward. The experience of every individual is unique. We cannot capture every perspective or understand every situation. Therefore, we will continue to learn and improve. Accessibility is not only about technology but mostly about people, culture, and education. We are committed to inclusion both internally and externally.

We are also committed to being transparent about our journey, and I want to begin by sharing our "Purpose statement." This 20-page document details the journey we have been on, delving deep into the changes we have made and our focus for the future. We encourage you to read it to learn more about our efforts. Here are some highlights:

Our marketing department has undergone a significant overhaul that encompasses communication, activities, and team structure. We have replaced our Chief Marketing Officer and discarded previous campaigns. We have shifted our focus towards education, and our goal is to provide a platform for the disability community to reach our customer network and directly educate the business community without us speaking for or representing the community in any way, yet providing it an opportunity to educate millions of people and businesses directly. We are committed to supporting, elevating, and amplifying your voice and advocacy efforts. We strongly believe that educating people and businesses about disabilities, accessibility, and inclusion is crucial to creating an inclusive society. By offering individuals and businesses education, in cooperation with the disability community, we can collectively take steps towards bringing the digital world closer to where we all want it to be.

We recognize that web accessibility is not a one-size-fits-all process. Therefore, today, our approach is to provide a variety of accessibility tools and solutions to help businesses address accessibility comprehensively. We are creating an ecosystem of tools, services, products, and educational platforms for businesses of all sizes to develop and implement inclusive business practices and successfully incorporate web accessibility in their projects. We also provide comprehensive accessibility services, including human audits, accessibility consulting, technical accessibility training, user testing, and ongoing support to ensure that accessibility is maintained over time.

We are incorporating talented professionals from the disability community and their expertise into every aspect of our company. Everything we do is made with, and often by, a person with a disability in the process. From research and development to the way we deliver services, build products and solutions, and come up with campaigns and communications for businesses and customers. Every layer of accessiBe relies on leadership and talent from people with disabilities, including input, education, guidance, and review.

As the founder of accessiBe, I have a responsibility to lead by example. I am committed to listening to your feedback and concerns and to taking actions that reflect that. I am also committed to being accountable for our reactions and to being a part of the solution. For that reason, I want to offer a direct line of communication with me for your concerns or questions. Please do not hesitate to email me directly at [email protected].

We have a long way to go, but we are committed to making the necessary changes and doing better. We believe that accessibility and inclusion are critical foundational components of society and should therefore be essential and achievable for businesses of any size. We must create resources, solutions, and services that support this goal while providing the best user experience to each person. We look forward to working with you on creating a more accessible and inclusive future for everyone.

Sincerely, Shir