accessiBe Purpose Statement
Written by Shir Ekerling, accessiBe’s Founder and CEO
I’m writing this document to transparently share why we started accessiBe, where our focus is currently, what we’ve learned in the last few years, and what we plan for the future.
In 2016-2017, Israel began legislating a regulation for web accessibility (IS 5568), mandating most businesses make their websites conform to WCAG 2.0, Level AA by 2018. Back then, we owned an agency that provided design, automation, and software services for clients. We learned about this upcoming regulation from our enterprise clients - banks, government, and large corporations, who asked us to look into accessibility solutions for software we created for them. This was the first time we encountered web accessibility. We started researching the topic and learned that the solutions the market offered for web accessibility, mainly professional, manual services, were created specifically for enterprises and large corporations. And while corporations are important, the vast majority of businesses are small businesses (99% in the US). We believed that if small businesses are mandated by legislation but cannot financially and technically comply with it, in a few short years, the business community is going to face a dramatic market failure and such a chaotic legal environment that many might end up going out of business.
This was when we began researching a new approach to web accessibility. One that will help small businesses implement accessibility successfully, avoid legal battles, and also open their websites to the disability community and increase their potential customer base.
The research and development began in 2016-2017, and we launched our first product in 2018 with the goal of automating the process of making websites accessible for small businesses. Our approach was to create technologies that could make businesses achieve and maintain web accessibility as simply as possible, so it can be scaled massively, making millions of websites accessible as fast as possible. Our intention with this approach was to “fix” the web from its inaccessibility. Technologically, this approach makes a lot of sense. But socially, it can create inclusion challenges because accessibility must become core to every business practice.
Today, our approach to digital accessibility has broadened significantly, as I’ll explain in detail throughout the document. In short, we don’t believe in a single AI-Powered approach to make the internet accessible as we did previously. Instead, we believe that accessibility should become foundational to anything on the web.
I personally have been working side by side throughout the last 24 months with leaders from the disability community to learn how crucial accessibility is in their daily lives. These community leaders have expressed to me what they want to see from accessiBe and have been helping me to grow and evolve accessiBe into what it is today.
We’ve made it our goal to be led and directed by the disability community, and we are fully committed to it. The more connections we make, employees with disabilities we hire, and collaborations we establish, the more we learn, grow, and evolve our vision, products, and services. What you’ll read here is a product of our evolution. It is developed under the guidance of leaders in the disability and business communities, with the goal to be endorsed by both.
Our focus today is on creating an ecosystem of solutions, services, products, and educational activities to help businesses of all sizes, from mom-and-pop stores to enterprises, develop inclusive business practices and mindsets online and offline, and incorporate web accessibility as part of the planning, design, and development processes.
Each topic in this document can easily be an entire post on its own. The first section is the longest because it provides a lot of required background information and details that many do not know. The other sections are shorter and more cut to the chase, but they build on the information foundations laid in the first section.
This Statement details how we think about the following topics:
- The current state of web accessibility
- The “Web Accessibility Gap” and the reasons it came to be
- The legal problem and wave of web accessibility and ADA lawsuits
- The harmful and unfair situation the disability communities are facing
- Our approach to helping address the web accessibility gap
- Providing a web accessibility ecosystem of solutions for businesses of all sizes
- Educating coders, designers, and product owners about web accessibility
- Raising awareness and instilling inclusion education in the business community
- Our work and relationship with the disability communities
- Being led by and accountable to the disability communities
- Building community-led solutions explicitly driven by the communities
- Serving as a bridge between the disability and the business communities
1. The current state of web accessibility
Background on the web accessibility gap and how it came to be
There are over 1.5 billion people with disabilities in the world. Some disabilities, like blindness and motor impairments, require assistive technologies. While a wheelchair is a known-to-all type of assistive technology - a screen reader is another type of assistive technology that most non-disabled people aren’t aware of. Generally, assistive technology is a term for devices that help people with disabilities perform different activities.
For context, I myself am using a few different assistive technologies. I have type 1 insulin-dependent diabetes (aka Juvenile Diabetes). It requires me to inject insulin externally about 5-6 times a day because my body cannot produce it independently. One assistive technology I’m using is a sensor that is attached to my body, and it continuously tests my blood sugar level and transmits the results to a receiver. The receiver beeps and vibrates if my reading is too high so I can take extra insulin or when it is dangerously low so that I can consume glucose quickly.
Every assistive technology works differently and has a different purpose. A wheelchair helps people with mobility disabilities get around, and a screen reader enables blind and low vision users to interact with computers and mobile phones, and of course, the internet. These are a few examples of assistive technologies. There are many more I haven’t touched on.
Today, we manage our lives online—everything from buying clothes and ordering groceries to pay bills or scheduling a doctor’s appointment. Of course, our social interactions with friends and family, and even our employment and work, are all mostly done on the web.
We do all these things thanks to 200–500 million active websites (depending on the research firm) that are out there. And with almost two billion (!) overall websites and more than three million new websites created every month—our lives will become increasingly digital.
The problem is that most of those websites, 98% according to our research and 97% according to competitors’ research, have been specifically designed to work for non-disabled users with standard touch screens, mice, keyboards, and monitors. Of course, this isn’t purposeful and isn’t because the owners of those businesses knowingly discriminate, but still, this happens.
The fact that hundreds of millions of websites are inaccessible to billions of users is what we call the “Web Accessibility Gap.” Of course, with how fast the internet is expanding, this gap grows wider by the day, and the more difficult it becomes to reverse it.
The Web Accessibility Gap is much more prominent among small business owners than large ones. SMBs are 99.9% of all businesses. According to the US Chamber of Commerce, the US alone has over 31 million small businesses, compared to just about 27K large or Enterprise ones. Because of this, small businesses run the vast majority of websites and contribute significantly to the Web Accessibility Gap.
For context, here are a few examples of disabilities that affect how users use computers:
- Users with mobility disabilities who cannot point a mouse accurately need to use their entire computer with just the keyboard, voice commands, or other tools.
- Users that use assistive technology like screen readers. A screen reader is a software that takes over the computer’s navigation system and changes the way it works through keyboard commands, text-to-speech announcements, and audible cues.
- Users who are neurodivergent may find certain writing styles or wording choices confusing and animations, pictures, or interface components distracting and unusable.
- Low vision users may find fonts too small, handwriting fonts confusing, and different color combinations problematic or barely visible.
The lack of accessibility on business websites results in active but non-intentional discrimination of a large number of people. It also hurts businesses’ bottom lines. The disability community is vast, and users with disabilities can buy from a business or hire its services through its website, just like any other potential client or customer, provided the website is accessible.
In my opinion, there are many challenges on the web regarding accessibility and several reasons why we’ve ended up with such a huge “gap.” Each reason on its own is much more complex than what I can lay out in one post, but I’ll do my best to explain how I see things.
Implementing digital accessibility is not as difficult as many believe it to be, as long as it is a foundational part of the design, development, and quality assurance (QA) processes if exist. However, here are some of the significant problems that contribute to the Web Accessibility Gap.
- For every topic, be it security, programming languages, DevOps, UI, or anything else, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of excellent, free, and paid, modern courses and tutorials everywhere. However, there are very few modern, solid resources at the level Research & Development (R&D) teams are used to learning from. Specifically, these courses do not cover integrating accessibility into the planning, design, and development processes. Not to mention courses that teach accessibility from a user experience perspective.
- For about ten years now, most websites are not being coded by developers and are not designed by designers. Platforms like Shopify, WiX, SquareSpace, and WordPress page builders like Elementor and Visual Composer have enabled anyone to build a hyper-professional website on their own. These platforms do this by using a “Drag and Drop” approach, which auto-generates the source code and the design (using templates and presets). Today, you can build an entire, highly complex, fully-featured web application, be it an E-Commerce website or a social media application, without writing a single line of code, or designing a single user interface component. These excellent technological advancements have enabled society to go from 84 million websites to two billion in a decade. Most websites today are built by people who don’t know any web-related material. It is the sons and daughters of small business owners who build websites for their fathers’ and mothers’ businesses, or those business owners do it themselves, provided they are a little tech-savvy. They don’t know coding, security practices, server management, or performance optimization. Let alone web accessibility. Also, most businesses don’t even have access to their source code. It is primarily auto-generated, and even if a small business had the budget to hire a professional developer, they couldn’t physically access or modify the source code. This is no longer just a trend. It is the reality on the web, and it gets more prevalent every year. Accessibility providers must consider this reality when working on accessibility solutions for businesses and provide a combination of services and products to cope with this reality.
- Disability and inclusion education is highly lacking. I believe that most business owners do not want to discriminate actively, and if they were aware of it and had solutions that fit their business needs and reality, they would change. Most businesses, especially small ones who make up 99% of all businesses, aren’t even aware of web accessibility. . Without being impacted by disability directly, through a friend or loved one, or through work, most people aren’t aware of how others live or access the world around them. And it is unfortunate, but most people do not have a lot of interaction with people with disabilities. There aren’t a lot of co-workers with disabilities in most offices, TV ads barely include people with disabilities, and established businesses do not do enough to promote inclusion and diversity among their employees. This makes it difficult for people to relate. They aren’t aware of the need, do not interact with people, and do not get enough education about inclusion. And this has been going on for years.
- Businesses find it challenging to think about things that aren’t their own struggles. Their priority is to make their business survive and grow, while most end up closing. The reality for most businesses, especially small ones, is difficult. Taxes, regulations, employee management, legalities, and budgets are their primary concerns which keep them up at night. Not to mention building and selling their products or services, which is why they even have a business. Today, companies create products and services to help small businesses handle many parts of their operation effectively, so they can focus on what’s important to them - their services and products. Every business has a different reality, with different concerns, needs, resources, and capabilities. This is why many vertical-specific startups and companies are trying to help businesses solve particular challenges. Web accessibility providers should understand that and create solutions that the disability community endorses and that fit the realities businesses of different sizes and industries face. And this is especially true for small businesses that power 99% of websites.
Those problems have been the case for over a decade and are as relevant as ever today. According to Statista, In 2012, there were about 80 million websites. In 2022, there are almost two billion. This rapid growth, while the problems mentioned above remained unsolved, in my opinion, is the driving factor for the Web Accessibility Gap and its continued growth.
The legal problem and wave of web accessibility and ADA lawsuits
In recent years, some legal firms and individual attorneys have found a way to exploit the ADA and other laws, which were originally designed to protect the civil rights of people with disabilities, for these attorneys’ financial benefit. They collect millions of dollars in settlements without fixing accessibility by running operations to scare small businesses, who can barely afford an attorney, let alone a litigation process. Businesses pay these attorneys thousands of dollars not to be taken to court.
According to accessibility.com, over 265,000 demand letters were sent to businesses, primarily small ones, in 2020 alone. Given the number of web-ADA lawsuits is increasing every year, we can assume that the numbers are even larger today. This obviously causes a huge problem for businesses that need to handle those lawsuits and demand letters, but it severely harms the disability community first and foremost.
The LA and San Francisco District Attorneys have recently investigated and sued one of these predatory firms. You can read about the investigation and those firms’ operations here. Even more recently, a grand jury indicted a Beverly Hills attorney for demanding monetary settlements from businesses and non-profits in a fraudulent ADA lawsuit scheme. Read more about this Beverly Hills lawsuit scheme case here.
As quoted by the district attorney: “We continue to take action against unscrupulous attorneys who are exploiting vulnerable small business owners. These fraudulent lawsuits steal from San Francisco businesses and non-profits while doing nothing actually to promote greater access for disabled Americans”.
As I’m writing this, we are aware of more investigations by different authorities involving other firms and individual attorneys participating in similar activities. It seems like more cases as these will continue to unfold and come to light shortly.
From knowing the disability community and working side-by-side with multiple community leaders and individuals, the last thing the disability community wants is for judges and lawyers to decide its “fate.” because it makes the community lose control over its civil rights.
The community wants education, collaboration, inclusion, and solutions that do not involve legal actions as much as possible. Businesses should want to become accessible because they understand the importance of inclusion and because it is just good for business. A customer with a disability is just the same as any customer. The vast majority of the web-ADA legal actions today are not being initiated by users with disabilities but by frivolous law firms.
The harmful and unfair situation the disability communities are facing
Of the over one million businesses that received demand letters and lawsuits in the last few years, the vast majority of them are small ones. From their perspective, people with disabilities are “out to get them” by all means necessary. Obviously, this isn’t true, and the vast majority of those demand letters are lawyers exploiting the ADA. But businesses don’t see it that way. This is especially alarming because those law firms seemingly represent, through their legal actions, the will of the disability community. The sheer number of businesses that end up in these situations is so large that it directly shapes the perception of the disability community in society.
Those legal actions cause millions of business owners to have a negative perception of the disability community unjustifiably. And it spreads even further, as every business owner has employees, friends, and family with whom they share what happened, shaping their perception as well. Those legal actions reverse the community’s efforts to get to global inclusion. They alienate the disability and the business communities and weaponize people with disabilities while taking away the control over how the disability community is perceived by the general population, which is far from litigious. The longer this goes on, the more significant the harm is.
And there’s another concern to consider. Businesses won’t take this much longer. The uproar may result in regulations that will attempt to stop these law firms but, in the process, might take away the legitimate right of people with disabilities to act against actual discrimination.
The community leaders we work with raise this issue as a primary concern and struggle to find solutions. This is unfair and harmful to the disability community, but this reality exists nonetheless and needs to be addressed and solved as soon as possible.
We need to get businesses to stop being terrified of demand letters and lawsuits. This only makes them resentful. Businesses need to want to become accessible because they understand the importance of inclusion and see the disability community as a material part of their customer base who came to buy, not to sue.
2. Our approach to helping address the web accessibility gap
Providing a web accessibility ecosystem of solutions for businesses of all sizes
We believe that accessibility should be incorporated into the core of business fundamentals. Every business, regardless of size, budget and resources, should do the best they can, according to their business reality and abilities, to incorporate accessibility, endorse inclusion, and treat all customers, with and without disabilities, equitably and fairly.
As mentioned previously, every business has a different reality. Whether it is a small business, a huge corporation, an internal development team, a solo developer or designer, a webmaster working with a Content Management System (CMS), with or without code access, or even those who don’t know what code is, they all use different platforms, have different needs, abilities, and resources when it comes to incorporating accessibility in their projects.
We believe there isn’t a single solution for web accessibility. Businesses should utilize a combination of solutions, approaches, and practices to incorporate web accessibility successfully. Those, of course, are not only technical. Education is a massive part of this, and many topics should be considered, from coding accessible applications for developers to education about inclusion for business owners. I will discuss those topics and how we approach education in the following sections of the document. This section will primarily discuss the technical solutions and services we’ve been working on in 2021 and 2022.
Since 2021, we’ve been working on expanding our approach and offerings for web accessibility dramatically. We’ve developed an ecosystem of solutions for businesses to achieve and maintain accessibility throughout their software lifecycle. Our ecosystem includes everything from PDF or media accessibility to technical training, user testing, auditing, live monitoring, manual and auto-remediation, inspections, accessibility projects management, and more. This diverse combination of approaches is how we think accessibility should be addressed. We are very advanced in the development stage, and many of the products and services in the new ecosystem are already used by hundreds of businesses. We still have some products and features under diligent development, though. Some of these are smaller and simpler, and others are more significant. We expect all to be ready by Q2 of 2023.
This solution ecosystem is robust enough to help businesses of all sizes, from tiny mom and pops to large-scale enterprises, do their best to achieve digital inclusion. Today, our ecosystem includes three products (with more under development) and eight professional services. This suite of solutions enables anyone, from a tiny business owner who builds their own website, a solo developer building websites for clients, and full-on engineering teams of enterprise software companies, to incorporate web accessibility into the core of their web projects.
One of the more interesting parts of this ecosystem is that these solutions complement each other, work together and speak to one another continuously to ensure that accessibility is implemented appropriately at all times. Here’s a quick example of this synchronization: while one product, in this example, accessFlow, continuously monitors and finds accessibility problems introduced by a problematic update, accessCampus flags and notifies development teams of possible approaches they might not know about and offers the proper tutorial to broaden their knowledgebase directly from their accessibility dashboard. This way, those issues won’t reoccur in the following updates. In the meantime, accessFlow can deploy an auto-fix which the developers will turn off when they’ve managed to fix the problem in the source code.
As mentioned, we believe that different businesses should do their best to incorporate accessibility according to their size and resources. As one example, in addition to a robust software approach and technical training, we believe that large businesses should train their Customer Service representatives in the basics of disability communication etiquette, assistive technology, and web accessibility to provide proper assistance to all users who may be calling for help. And as part of our solution ecosystem, we aim to help businesses with that training effectively.
As mentioned, there are a lot of new developments in the pipeline that we will announce soon, but here’s a quick rundown of the solutions that make up our ecosystem today:
- accessFlow - an all-in-one platform to test, monitor, and remediate the accessibility of websites and web applications to achieve and maintain native accessibility with complete source code remediation. accessFlow helps developers incorporate web accessibility natively by treating it as another pillar to address while developing for the web. Like security, performance and observability are application essentials; web accessibility now gets the same treatment.
With accessFlow, developers can treat accessibility as a material part of the software lifecycle without doubling the workload. accessFlow continuously audits the websites and applications by simulating an assistive technology session, creating a remediation project workflow for the developers to follow while giving constant feedback on the project’s success through ranks and scores. It also monitors websites on an ongoing basis to ensure that updates and changes do not introduce new issues and inaccessible code, and if they do, alert the developers and provide immediate feedback.
accessFlow incorporates essential features such as a complete tutorial system to teach developers how not to repeat the same issue next time, monitoring dashboards and alerting schedules, structured project workflows, code suggestions, user flow, action funnel auditing, reporting, data analysis, and more.
From extensive market research and listening to the community, we believe that we understand the main reasons why web accessibility is difficult for engineering teams to incorporate. One primary reason is that engineering teams don’t know where to start and in what order to approach an accessibility project without getting lost. This is especially true with companies that update their websites frequently and struggle not to break previous accessibility work.
accessFlow offers a unique approach to incorporating accessibility by web professionals. Rather than being “only” a dashboard for scanning results and Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) recommendations, accessFlow creates an entire four-phase accessibility project for the engineering and product teams to follow. Phase one is implementing basic accessibility requirements and addressing the most prominent barriers. Phase two involves more in-depth learning, such as exploring how to incorporate accessibility procedurally as a core part of the application. Phase three is about usability. Implementing WCAG and technical requirements is a good start, but ensuring a pleasant and effective user experience is just as important, if not more. In this phase, the teams will also address accessibility that isn’t about their application’s source code, like document remediation, video captions, and audio descriptions. The last phase is a verification process that aims to ensure that the coding is done correctly and that nothing has gone unnoticed.
Another approach we’ve taken, also unique to accessFlow, is how it teaches engineering teams about accessibility issues and effective remediation techniques. accessFlow provides a table structure, enabling blind developers to work as accessibility managers and take a material part in the remediation process in companies. It also provides a visual remediation feature for product managers, coders, and designers, so they can truly understand what they are doing rather than adding code whose impact and effect they do not fully understand. This visualization feature provides a complete live render of the website with direct markings of all accessibility issues and possible remediation approaches. Using this feature, teams can efficiently understand how those barriers affect their users, why it is essential, and how to fix them.
- accessServices - one of our primary goals is to provide web accessibility solutions on a large scale so that many websites and applications can become accessible as effectively as possible, to close the Web Accessibility Gap. Our new expert services department helps businesses overcome accessibility challenges quickly and effectively, even if they haven’t implemented accessibility right from the start.
The accessServices approach is to provide manual human services, using advanced project management and collaboration tools alongside software that reduces the time spent on admin work so that the experts can focus on the actual accessibility work. This way, we can scale professional, manual services and significantly lower the prices, enabling even small businesses to hire expert services they could not afford before, for example, a disabled user to test and provide feedback on their application or website. Those kinds of services are also an opportunity for businesses to learn from users with disabilities and incorporate inclusion in other areas of their business, not just the web.
accessServices provides the full spectrum of web accessibility services. These include document remediation (PDF, Excel, etc.), media remediation (captions, voice-overs, audio descriptions, etc.), VPAT production, expert auditing, testing and inspections, end-user testing in collaboration with various disability communities, including UX, assistive technology, and more. Soon, accessServices will provide accessibility training by utilizing another one of our new products, accessCampus.
Teachers in accessCampus are subject matter experts with and without disabilities who teach using a combination of lived experiences and expertise in areas like assistive technology, coding, planning, and designing with accessibility in mind.
Additionally, accessCampus is going beyond the technicalities and offering an educational space to discuss accessibility as a foundational component of inclusion. Specifically, accessCampus offers disability community-led education, helping businesses to provide an equitable environment, products, services, and culture.
Traditionally, accessibility is categorized under equity in the DEI framework. We think that in order for businesses to implement accessibility successfully, at least right now, accessibility needs to be its own pillar. We believe that businesses need to understand accessibility on a foundational level, like they understand how to do their taxes. When achieved, which is the ultimate goal of accessCampus, a business has achieved a culture of inclusion, and all users, employees, and customers of that business will feel belonging.
Another goal of accessCampus is to provide a place for fruitful discussion and collaboration between the disability and the business communities. We’ve heard from disability community leaders that they want a place to engage directly with the business community and share their experiences of accessibility, belonging, and inclusion. Given opportunities to relate to one another, both communities can work together to form new ideas to successfully implement inclusion in a positive way.
accessCampus includes multiple courses, split by expertise: web developers, QA testers, product managers, and web designers. Each expertise must approach learning accessibility differently because each should incorporate completely different aspects of it into their workflow. Product managers should learn how to plan and characterize digital projects that work for everyone. Designers need to create user experiences that everyone can use, whether those are visual or multisensory. Developers must know how to incorporate and maintain code that works for every person, regardless of what senses they use for interacting with their applications. QA testers must include accessibility testing regularly in their applications, just like testing for UI, features, security, and other bugs and possible issues.
Web professionals need to understand the WCAG, of course. But primarily, they need to grasp how users with various disabilities actually use web products. To achieve that, accessCampus will feature “Cross Courses,” which everyone should take before diving into courses relating to their specific work. Those courses, among other things, teach, for example, how users with disabilities utilize assistive technology. This includes full training on operating screen readers and other assistive technology to gain a solid understanding of what users encounter when visiting websites. This way, accessCampus does not just deliver information but builds an understanding of the concepts, needs, and reasoning related to and behind web accessibility for people with disabilities.
- accessWidget - as mentioned earlier, millions of websites today, especially small businesses, do not include or provide access to source code, as they have not been built by developers and have not been designed by designers. These websites are usually created using drag-and-drop builders and platforms like WordPress, WiX, Squarespace, and Shopify, and they heavily rely on pre-built plugins, templates, and presets. Because of this simplicity, lack of technical experts in the development process, and lack of access to source code, these websites need solutions that integrate with the existing technology stack and do not modify the core application but work on top of it.
accessWidget is designed to enable such websites to address accessibility using an “integrated accessibility” approach. Businesses are used to working this way because this is the only way to include solutions and services on such websites. It works similarly to how Google Analytics, online chat platforms, payment and checkout forms, and other modern solutions integrate and work on such websites.
accessWidget works by utilizing two applications that work together in parallel, each towards a different accessibility-related goal. The first application is a UI and design usability tool, which we call an “accessibility interface” or “accessibility widget.”. Every disability is unique, and every user requires different accommodations for a better experience. Using this application, users with various disabilities can modify the website’s user interface to fit their specific usability needs. For example, users with Epilepsy can choose to stop all animations and flashing objects, which gives them a safe browsing experience. With this, the user no longer needs to be concerned about unexpected risky animations like Black Friday flashing banners, promotional videos and commercials, and other such surprises. The second application, which is AI-Powered, adjusts the user-session source code in real-time to make the website work for keyboard-only, screen readers, and other assistive technology users. This robust software was written with hundreds of thousands of lines of code, runs thousands of processes every second, and utilizes technologies such as computer vision, OCR, and contextual understanding. This application runs continuously in the background to catch and remediate as many WCAG issues as fast as possible.
accessWidget protects the privacy and security of its users, and it does not track or monitor them. Security and privacy are our utmost priority, and we are committed to keeping them that way. Although the software runs on a browsing session, it does not collect any personal information from the page or the users. The data collected from the processes is analytical data on elements in the UI, the code, and features selected in accessWidget to improve the user experience.
Today, accessWidget is used more than a million times each month by users with various disabilities to tailor online experiences to their needs. accessWidget provides three categories of adjustments for users to apply: Content, Display, and Orientation. Other than the use cases above, there are many more ways users utilize and benefit from accessWidget. For example, low-vision users can change the fonts, magnification, sizing, spacing of words, letters, and paragraphs, color contrasts, and more. The level of control users has over the UI with those features is significantly higher than what the operating system or browsers provide by default. Users with cognitive disabilities, ADHD, and Neurodevelopmental disorders can stop moving objects and space out busy graphical areas to reduce distractions and focus on the page’s essential parts. accessWidget can help users with many more disabilities, with features like Quick Navigation, Reading Mode, Cursor Changes, Dark/Light Modes, an Online Dictionary, and more.
- accessScan - a significant challenge to achieving an accessible internet is the lack of awareness among the business community about web accessibility. There are many reasons for this. Lack of education and prioritization on inclusion is one reason, and another is that web accessibility and the WCAG are complex and often difficult to understand.
For businesses to consider web accessibility, they must first be aware of it. accessScan is a tool designed to raise awareness in the simplest way possible, so every business owner can understand where their website stands regardless of technical knowledge. It shows you where you are doing great and where there is room for improvement.
accessScan is entirely free, enabling businesses to put in their domain name and receive a comprehensive accessibility report designed for non-technical people to understand. accessScan does not require registration, trials, email addresses, phone numbers, or anything else. The whole point is that businesses can get a streamlined, simple, and friendly introduction to web accessibility without being overwhelmed.
Even though accessScan is free, we consider it a crucial part of our solution ecosystem and invest significant resources into its continuous development. accessScan’s auditing approach combines “dry” WCAG requirements with accessibility user experience. As part of the auditing process, accessScan loads the website in its cloud environment and uses it as part of an automation testing session to provide a detailed report that goes beyond the usual rules most testing tools offer.
accessScan’s main testing categories are clickable and interactive elements, orientation auditing (focus, logical order, popups, etc.), menus and navigation regions, carousel and sliders, tables, graphic elements including icons and spacers, forms, fields, and validations, document structure like language and landmarks, and page readability of fonts, spacing, contrast, sizing, and more. In the end, accessScan produces an easy-to-read report that introduces the business to web accessibility in a friendly manner.
Educating coders, designers, and product owners about web accessibility
As mentioned in the previous section, I believe that one of the most significant contributors to the Web Accessibility Gap is the lack of publicly available modern, high-level education materials like courses and tutorials about web accessibility.
Most web-related topics like UX and UI, security, server management, database management, and others have hundreds and often thousands of fantastic educational materials—free and paid, in every language and format possible. Be it written, video or audio. There are so many different authors and teachers for each topic, so even if the student does not connect to how one teacher teaches, many other options are available to them.
Because of this lack of accessibility education opportunities, most web professionals don’t know web accessibility and don’t think about and incorporate it while planning, designing, and developing projects. Web accessibility is just not a part of the development pipeline today.
My commitment to helping remedy this situation is with the development of accessCampus. The premise of accessCampus is to provide an educational hub for web professionals who are not yet accessibility professionals to learn how to incorporate web accessibility natively into any web project right from the start. Developers, designers, product managers, content writers, QA testers, engineering teams, and others should incorporate different aspects of web accessibility into their standard workflows. This way, web accessibility is not an afterthought but an essential part of the process and will not break when updates occur.
We aim to teach web accessibility from the user perspective by disabled expert teachers. Our goal is to teach not just the technical aspects of accessibility and WCAG but accessible user experiences, combined with usability, from inclusive design and user testing to training web professionals to properly operate assistive technologies.
Raising awareness and instilling inclusion education in the business community
Web accessibility, as crucial as it is, could be a vehicle for achieving a larger societal goal—the inclusion of people with disabilities in all aspects of life and business. Because the internet is so vast and relevant to every single person and business, there’s an opportunity to blend web accessibility awareness with education about diversity and inclusion in the business community.
For example, when a business learns about web accessibility for the first time, it is a great chance to start an educational campaign that will pave the way to start a discussion around accessibility and inclusion as part of their business culture on all levels of operation. Eventually, if done successfully, businesses searching for web accessibility will learn that accessibility and inclusion are not difficult, should not be expensive to implement, and that accessible businesses have a much larger target audience.
Furthermore, this approach can motivate businesses to choose accessibility because they understand its importance, and they’ve made a conscious decision to endorse inclusion rather than doing it just because of lawsuits and regulations. This can also break the negative perception of the disability community created by the waves of frivolous lawsuits brought by drive-by lawyers exploiting the ADA.
We’ve started to incorporate the educational approach into our funnels in 2022. We measure those programs’ success by surveying businesses hiring our services after engaging with these campaigns. So far, the results seem promising, and we look forward to learning more.
We stay clear from attempting to represent the disability community in those educational activities. We collaborate with organizations, leaders, and individuals who do the advocacy directly through a platform we provide. Essentially, we spread the messaging the disability community wants directly from the disability community through our network of hundreds of thousands of businesses. So far, we’ve helped spread educational campaigns to over six million businesses in various formats under multiple projects. This is good progress, but considering over 30 million businesses exist in the US alone, there’s a long way to go.
We’ve implemented those processes by creating an advocacy department within accessiBe, responsible for running the educational projects together with the disability community. This department includes both employees with and without disabilities who actively provide the platform and offer resources, assistance, and partnership to the broader communities.
Each such educational project is a world of its own and deserves a full-featured post, but here are a few tip-of-the-iceberg examples of initiatives our advocacy department runs:
- accessCulture - a hub of resources that instills an inclusive culture for businesses, communities, and individuals through content and messages provided by the disability community. accessCulture improves access to information, fosters an atmosphere of awareness, promotes inclusive conversations, spotlights disability-focused initiatives, and gives the community a platform to reach and educate the business community.
- Spotlights Project - spotlights is a series of dozens of interview sessions that hosts individuals who significantly impact the disability community and improve the inclusion of people with disabilities in society. The idea is to spotlight the voices and stories of disability-focused organizations and the community leaders responsible for important initiatives. This helps them spread their messages directly to the business community and the general public, intending to reach and educate as many people as possible on topics that are essential to their communities through our platform.
- Webinars & Lectures - educational webinars for the business community to raise awareness for the leading causes of the Web Accessibility Gap and for what we can all do to address it proactively and hopefully solve it. Those webinars include disability advocates who share their thoughts about all matters related to accessibility.
- Unstoppable Mindset - the podcast series by Michael Hingson, our Chief Vision Officer. Michael is blind from birth and had to overcome many obstacles in a largely inaccessible society. In this series, Michael explores ideas to overcome challenges of unacceptance and resistance, and to break barriers and prejudices. Each episode includes a guest conversation with a prominent figure in the disability community who joins Michael to discuss these topics. We aim to have those messages help the listeners tune into an inclusive mindset. Additionally, listeners with disabilities can use the tools and ideas Michael and his guests share in the podcast in their own lives. The podcast already has thousands of regular listeners and shows exciting results.
- Activity Sponsorships - Collaborate with disability community leaders and individuals on various activities and events that promote global inclusion. Each activity is unique, and we’ve collaborated and assisted on multiple projects, from obvious things like web accessibility remediation assistance to events like car racing fundraisers and music production initiatives and events.
3. Our work and relationship with the disability communities
Being led by and accountable to the disability community
Our direct customers are business owners. Of course, we love it when the business community loves and endorses our solutions, services, and products described in the previous section. However, the people affected most by what we do, are the many people making up the disability communities.
We provide three products (more soon) and eight professional services; all directly or indirectly help businesses make their websites and web content more accessible to users with disabilities. Effectively, we must deliver solutions that help businesses implement accessibility successfully and sustainably over the course of their software lifecycle.
Additionally, our messaging in marketing campaigns may indirectly and unintentionally affect how the disability community is perceived in society because many businesses interact with these campaigns. This is a huge responsibility, and our top priority is to get it right and continue learning and getting feedback from the community. We do not want to represent the disability community but be a platform to help the community represent itself and reach as many people as possible through promoting education and awareness.
Last year we agreed to adhere to the resolves put forth in the NFB’s resolution regarding advertisement, coding, and general practices. This document details these changes in depth. Specifically, the new campaigns in advertising are based on feedback from the disability community, who expressed what they want and don’t want to see in campaigns.
Because of these reasons, we’ve made it a top priority to be led and guided by the disability community. In practice, this means that everything we do, from product development to marketing messaging, is created together with and often directly by disability community leaders and individuals. Some are accessiBe employees, and others are collaborators who have direct control over the outcome of these projects.
We’ve started to implement these processes in 2021. Based on them, we developed a new professional services department, multiple new products, and a complete overhaul of our marketing campaigns, materials, and messaging. And this is just the beginning.
We are fully accountable to the disability community and integrate it into our company’s heart. This year, we have done more listening and collaborating than ever before. So far, we’ve established strong relationships with many disability-focused organizations. But more importantly, we have built an advisory group of leaders from the community to help us do it the right way. We are thrilled with the latest results and changes and plan to keep advancing those processes further by hiring more senior and director-level executives from the disability communities. We also continuously work to establish more relationships with disability community leaders and organizations.
Building community-led solutions explicitly driven by the communities
Community leaders we work with and our employees with disabilities often raise great ideas for services and products the disability community might find helpful. In 2022, we’ve started focusing on and prioritizing building these products, which are entirely led and managed by the disability communities. accessiBe’s role in these products is to provide technical and financial support to the community leaders who lead these initiatives, so they can build exactly what their communities need without conflicting agendas. Those are community-built solutions offered to the disability community by its leaders and members.
One such product is accessFind, our gateway to accessing and promoting only accessible websites. We’ve been working on accessFind for about a year now. The planning, research and development processes are entirely driven by individuals from the disability community who decide on the type of content, features, and practices accessFind includes. The roadmap for accessFind is determined by its “Founding Members,” who are made up of a dozen non-profit organizations that came together to be a part of the project and turn it into a reality.
Another, more recent idea came from a leader in the blind community – an executive director of a prominent non-profit. This idea focuses on providing a platform for the disability community to solve its own challenges online by connecting users with different disabilities to solve issues they face on websites. It goes much further than that, all the way to reaching out to businesses and assisting them in solving their users’ access barriers without legal action. There’s a lot more in this initiative that we can’t share yet, but more info will start flowing in the following weeks and months, as we plan on starting a pilot period shortly.
There are more ideas we actively research, and we hope to see those initiatives take off and provide a lot of value to the disability communities. Specifically, I am committed to investing resources and funding in the community I have become a part of and in leaders that know how to improve the lives of their communities better than anyone.
Serving as a bridge between the disability and the business communities
Many times, businesses find it difficult to understand complaints and criticism that come from the disability community. We’ve experienced this firsthand and understand the reasons for this miscommunication. Lack of education and not enough listening are the primary culprits. We often encounter business reps who do not understand assistive technology and its workings. When a user requests assistance, the representatives cannot communicate appropriately with the assistive technology user, which results in even more considerable frustration.
To illustrate that point, we need to understand a fundamental technical aspect of screen readers. Screen readers read the code literally. If an element is coded as a link, screen readers will tell the users that it is a link. However, regardless of how the link functions, developers and designers often change the visuals of coded links to make them look more like buttons, standard text, menu items, banners, list elements, or other things. In many cases, this is fine accessibility-wise, but it creates a significant communication barrier.
When screen reader users reach out for assistance, and the business representative tells them to “click that button,” the representative refers to the element by how it looks, while the screen reader user refers to it by how it is coded (based on what the screen reader announces). This results in a severe miscommunication that is beyond frustrating for the user, who cannot seem to understand why they can’t find this seemingly obvious “button.” Of course, this is just one example of dozens of possible scenarios.
Another communication barrier between the disability and the business communities is regarding effort, priorities, and expectations. Working alongside both communities for years, I believe there’s an agreement on at least 80% of topics. Still, the discussion is unintentionally misinterpreted and miscommunicated because of frustration on both sides.
We’ve experienced that miscommunication firsthand and feel the frustration of everyone involved. I have heard the concerns of both communities, and I believe that accessiBe can be an effective, much-needed communication bridge to help deliver messages in a way both communities can understand and support. Many of our disabled employees are or were business owners and entrepreneurs and are incredibly passionate about the opportunity to help bring the business and the disability communities to a place of shared understanding and responsibility for achieving accessibility and inclusion by every business of any size.
That’s it! If you’ve reached the end of this lengthy document, thank you. I couldn’t be more excited for what the future holds and eager to see a better, more inclusive world for everyone.