accessiBe’s founders from left to right, Dekel Skoop, Gal Vizel, and Shir Ekerling.
The world has over 4.4 billion internet users which is over 57 percent of the global population. This increasing access has been largely made possible through cheaper broadband access and the growth of mobile connectivity even in developing countries.
Yet, people with disabilities still find it a challenge to be part of this demographic. In the US, where over 56 million people live with some form of disability, disabled Americans are three times as likely not to access the internet compared to those without disability.
A major reason for this divide is the generally poor accessibility of websites. Websites and web content still aren’t developed or configured to have features to aid those with impairments or support assistive devices. Adherence to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) should address this but most websites still don’t follow these standards.
For businesses, it is high time to consider working on web accessibility and promoting inclusion for users with disabilities. The passage of laws and regulations such as the Americans with Disability Act (ADA) seeks to compel organizations to be more inclusive. Legal action against non-compliant websites and site owners have now become quite common.
To help organizations abide by these regulations and guidelines, accessiBe recently launched its own AI-driven platform that conveniently helps organizations make their websites compliant.
accessiBe CEO and co-founder Shir Ekerling shared, “People with disabilities are clamoring for inclusion. They now have laws and regulations on their side. Organizations, must do the responsible thing and provide accessibility or risk facing legal action. We believe that through our platform, we can create a win-win situation for people with disabilities and businesses.”
Threat of Legal Action
Many site owners and developers still aren’t aware of web accessibility. Worse, there are those that simply don’t care. To assert their rights, various groups pushing for inclusion are now leveraging existing laws to encourage organizations to comply and work on accessibility. In 2018, ADA lawsuits filed in federal courts rose almost three times to over 2,258 cases from just 814 in 2017.
Perhaps one of the higher profile ADA cases was the one involving music artist Beyonce’s website. A visually impaired user complained that the website contained mainly visual elements and lacked features that could help users with disabilities to access and navigate content. According to the suit, the site failed to feature alternative or “alt” texts that would have allowed screen readers to properly interpret the site content. It also lacked navigation support and accessible drop-downs. Without these, the site was essentially unusable for users with such impairments.
However, the wave of web accessibility lawsuits is not a matter that only known brands such as Beyonce and Domino’s should take under consideration. Small businesses have been recognized as a big target for web accessibility lawsuits as well. In fact, critics define this trend as ‘legal extortion,’ as small business owners feel like ‘sitting ducks’ for ADA lawsuits regarding their websites.
These lawsuits should serve as a wake-up call to all companies and site owners. Any form of negative press these days can cause damage to reputations and degrade customer loyalty and confidence. In addition, facing suit entails costs on legal fees. The ADA also contains provisions on monetary fines and penalties that may be levied upon non-compliant sites.
To help organizations get their sites in order, accessiBe aims to make accessibility and compliance easy and convenient.
Currently, web accessibility takes significant work. Some content management systems feature plugins that help improve accessibility. However, their effects are limited and only cover about 15 percent of the WCAG. To ensure full application of WCAG, site owners have to undertake accessibility audits and perform comprehensive site remediation. Unfortunately, these are costly and lengthy to implement.
Upon integration, accessiBe’s AI then scans and analyzes the site. Within 48 hours, the site will display compliant content and can work seamlessly with screen readers and special input devices.. This includes automatically inserting alt-texts using image and character recognition, form label creation, and enabling navigational capabilities. It also automatically rescans for new content and applies the necessary fixes.
“Making websites accessible is a project of weeks that cost tens of thousands of dollars. AI allows the process to become simple and automatic and removes the human interaction from the process which in turn, makes it possible to charge an affordable price. By making web accessibility simple and affordable, AI basically makes the prospect of an accessible internet an achievable and pragmatic reality,” Ekerling said.
Focus on Inclusion
What this ultimately achieves is a more accessible internet. accessiBe offers various pricing tiers that make it affordable to organizations. For websites with lower page counts, the service can be acquired for only $490 a year.
“People with disabilities are 20 percent of the population, this is a huge buying force that is prevented from opening their wallets and buying online. And if that is not enough, accessible organizations are perceived better in today’s world, because social and corporate responsibility are actual concepts that people value,” Ekerling concluded.
The availability of such a platform can certainly be a game changer not only for websites but for people with disabilities. The lower cost and technical barriers for websites to achieve web accessibility will inevitably allow people with disabilities easier access to the internet.