Why Website Accessibility Is Critical To The Digital Experience

 

Rafi Glantz is a Senior Partner Success Manager at an innovative website accessibility company called accessiBe. The company was recently featured on the Experience This! podcast.

Dan Gingiss: Rafi, could you please introduce us to accessiBe?

Rafi Glantz: Sure. Thanks so much. So really briefly, accessiBe is web accessibility or our slogan, “Web accessibility is accessiBe.” To make a very long story short, according to the law and common sense and morals, websites need to be accessible to people with disabilities. And right now, less than 2% of websites in the US are. Our goal, our vision as a company is to change that. And by 2025, we hope to make every last website accessible. In service that we realize that because manual work making websites accessible is so expensive in time and money.

To give you a very broad idea, on average, it’s going to cost you 10 grand a year to make your website accessible by hand. It’s not accessible to most business owners. And so we realized that until Web accessibility is automated, simple enough for the average business owner to deal with that on their own, and affordable, there’s no way it can possibly be widespread.

We’re very proud that, we believe at least, we’ve achieved that. Our pricing starts at $500 a year. We make any website accessible in 48 hours or less, and everything is totally session based. So there’s no permanent changes made to your code base and there’s no actual manual work that a business owner needs to do.

We bring you up to WCAG 2.1AA compliance, which is the level required by law. It’s also the only internationally recognized set of guidelines for accessibility. So wherever you are in the world, you can be sure that if you comply with the WCAG, your website is accessible to the widest range of people possible, aside from just being a great thing to do to comply with the law and be a good person, it also makes a lot of business sense.

According to the CDC 26% of American adults live with a disability today. So it’s a very significant portion of the marketplace that you may not be opening your business up to. So we hope to help all different kinds of businesses and people out there make themselves available to everybody.

Dan Gingiss: I love that and I spent some time at Discover Card heading up digital customer experience, and I remember the work that was necessary in making the site accessible and following all the guidelines and regulations. And it was tons and tons of hours of coding, manual coding. I didn’t know about accessiBe back then, but, man, if I did, I would have absolutely brought it aboard.

I’m wondering if you can walk us through your website. I know that the the experience for the user starts with a little circle with the human on the bottom of the screen. [Note: You can try this out for yourself by clicking on the icon on the bottom left of this page.]

Rafi Glantz: Absolutely. So for a lot of users, that is how it starts, you’re right. But there’s also users who use something called assistive technology, and that can be as simple as a screenreade or a Braille reader. It can be a click stick. It can be all different kinds of technologies that people with a wide range of disabilities use to interact with the web. So in some cases, somebody may not be able to even see these buttons or they may not be able to use a mouse to access it. So in those situations, our system detects the technology that’s active on their computer and we send them either a voice note or another prompt to turn on the adjustments that they need. Now, you saw those profiles up there and those are super important as an example, seizure safe.

A lot of websites today for marketing reasons and for attractiveness reasons. They’ll have all kinds of animations on there. But what most of us don’t consider, because it’s not something we deal with in our daily lives, is that animations and flashing lights can seriously harm people who may have seizure-related disorders or epilepsy. On the other hand, you have people who may have slightly less good vision in a variety of ways. So a vision impaired profile helps make things easier to see. There’s, you know, we could spend all day on this, there’s a super wide range of disabilities that various people have, and we have tons of different options available to make it as easy as possible for everybody to access the adjustments that they need regardless of their abilities.

Dan Gingiss: Yeah, and one of the things that really got me excited about accessiBe was that you design these experiences with people who use them. So, for example, we had a chance to hear a podcast from your chief vision officer who is actually blind and who started off as a user of accessiBe before joining the company. Tell me how how important that is to actually be having people who use the product help to develop it?

Rafi Glantz: Oh, it’s super, super important. Like, you know, it’s the difference between having a product that just protects you from being sued and having a product that actually lets people access your website. Because to be perfectly blunt, there’s no such thing as a perfectly accessible website. It’s a constant struggle to make it as best it can be, and people update their websites all the time. So a vital step is checking and testing with these people who have actual disabilities on a daily basis. Now, Mike Hingson is a special case because he’s pretty amazing with his story and everything else. And what I love to say about him being the Chief Vision Officer is what he says, which is “you don’t need sight to be a visionary,” which we love that quote.

One of the guys who helped us create accessiBe in the first place is D, also a gentleman who’s blind since birth. And he became a developer because when he used his screen reader, Jaws, there were issues and he complained about it and nobody did anything. So he taught himself to code so that he’d be able to not just send complaints, but also solutions along with those. So we’re really proud to work with him and people like him all the time, because what most of us again, most of us don’t deal with people with disabilities on a regular basis. These people want to use the Internet just like anybody else, and they’re just as smart, if not smarter than everybody else. So taking their opinions and their experiences into account is just vital.

Dan Gingiss: You know, I can’t help but think from a customer experience perspective. You mentioned at the top of the show that it’s the right thing to do morally and all that. And I completely agree with you. But even so, if you take a step back from the customer experience perspective, why would we prevent a customer from buying from us? Like, don’t we want as many customers as we can get, no matter who they are? And if they want to pay us money, doesn’t it make all the sense in the world for us to make it easy for them to engage with us?

That’s one of the things I really love about accessiBe, because it makes accessibility accessible to companies without having to spend the thousands and thousands of man and woman hours programing, which I think is so cool. Now, I know that you guys use A.I. In terms of how the actual system works. Can we dig in a little bit about the artificial intelligence part of this?

Rafi Glantz: So we have actually two main bits of A.I. that we use. We have a contextual understanding engine. It’s proprietary. It’s been exposed to literally tens of probably hundreds of millions of data sets at this point. And basically, you put it on a website. It knows what that website is. If you put it on a car dealership, it’s going to say, oh, it’s the Ford website. If you put it on Zappos.com, it’s going to know that you’re selling shoes.

And that’s important because our A.I. actually needs to look at your website and then rearrange the header tags. It needs to rearrange the tab order for somebody who can’t see. We actually look inside images as well. We have Iris and OCR Technology OCR’s optical character recognition. So basically when we look at images, we can determine what’s inside them as far as objects and as far as text and then write that down as an alt text. And again, super, super important for people who may not be able to see those images or may just have a little bit more difficulty seeing them.

 

Dan Gingiss: Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t that one of the challenges of a typical screen reader is that if you’ve got an image that has words in it, it can’t tell that it’s words?

Rafi Glantz: Right. So if you don’t have an alt text on that image, even the best screenwriter will just read it as “image.” And that’s that’s not a great experience. Now, to be fair, you don’t want to have a 10 paragraph long text either, because most people who are using a screen reader, like, let’s say you’re on a clothing website, they know that they’re looking at jeans, they know what they’re shopping for. You don’t need to tell them two paragraphs about these specific jeans. But if you have a picture of somebody wearing the jeans, you should tell them, oh, these are blue and size thirty four and whatever it might be.

Dan Gingiss: So, if I don’t have an alt tag on my image and I’ve got words in my image or even if I don’t, what you’re saying is essentially accessiBe temporarily adds an alt tag that then can be read, am I saying that correctly?

Rafi Glantz: 100%. So really important part of our service is that everything is on the session. So for 90% of the users that come into your website, nothing’s changed. Your design is exactly as you intended it. And of course, most people don’t require a text when they look at an image. But when somebody triggers their adjustments, we make all those adjustments on the fly.

So if somebody turns on accessible mode, whether it’s by clicking that button or whether it’s hitting on one or any of the other triggers that we’ve implemented into the system, all of those relevant adjustments will be made only on their session. They won’t impact anybody else’s experience. And by the way, this is not just something for people with disabilities, like I can tell you is the owner of a failed e-commerce store. If you sell anything online, you have to make it as easy as humanly possible for people to buy stuff from you. And accessiBe helps with that no matter who you are.

Dan Gingiss: Yeah, and actually, I was just going to go there. We’ve been talking a lot about visually impaired people. But tell me about some of the other disabilities that that accessiBe addresses, because I’m going to go out on a limb and say that maybe they’re not thought of as often as somebody who might be visually impaired.

Rafi Glantz: Absolutely. So in a lot of cases, people may have autism, dyslexia. They may have a little bit of cognitive disability. They may have they may be aging into disabilities like Alzheimer’s and be forgetful. So, for example, we have an online dictionary in our system. So if somebody has forgotten what Cyber Monday is or they may come from a culture that doesn’t have Cyber Monday or speak English as a second language, they can look that up really easily. We may have somebody who has a seizure or epilepsy related disorder and needs to turn off all the animations like we saw before.

It can be as simple as somebody who has ADHD. I don’t know if you could tell, but I sometimes suffer from that as diagnosis as a kid. I deal with it now, as an adult. But I actually really like if you open up the interface there, I really like the ADHD friendly profile because we have a reading mask that comes with it and it lets you focus on specific parts of the website. And if you scroll down on the interface itself, we have an option to hide all the images as well.

For somebody who gets very easily distracted, hiding the images just to focus on the text of a website can be really helpful. Even if you don’t have any disability at all. You’re a student who’s trying to focus on a particular piece of content to study, and you don’t want to be bothered by the images. You can hide all the images directly or if it’s nighttime, you can do a dark contrast, we have tons of options.

Dan Gingiss: Yeah, that’s so cool. And I love this like little magnifier. It’s really cool. And I could see, you know, I could definitely see lots of other uses for this, even outside of of ADHD, just sort of, you know, it’s just easier to kind of follow what’s going on on the site. So and I think what is so cool about this, guys, is that this can be on any site. You don’t have to program anything. So let’s say I’m going to I’m interested in purchasing your software. What do I have to do as the site owner? And how much time and effort is it going to take for me to get this up and running later today?

Rafi Glantz: So it should take no longer than three to five minutes? I can tell you that we intended it to be dummy-proof. And the fact that I can do it means that it must be. We have plugins for pretty much every major CMS so a lot of times you don’t even have to come on to our website. But it really is just one line of JavaScript code. And the moment that’s installed, our interface will pop up on your site. It’ll start working.

Within 48 hours you are going to get an email from us with a statement of accessibility telling you that you are now accessible. And then immediately after that we start our shot clock. So every 24 hours or every update, whichever one comes first, we’re going to do a full scan of that website to make sure that the statement of accessibility we gave you is still valid, because, as you know, some websites like government websites will update once every ten years and other Web sites like ecommerce stores will update every five minutes. So we have to be on our toes with those.

Dan Gingiss: That totally makes sense. And what do people do with the statement like is that just is it to make me feel better or is it, you know, what do I do with that?

Rafi Glantz: Well, it’s available to everybody who comes into your website. It’s it’s available in the interface itself as well. It is a compliance requirement for the law and for the WCAG. if, God forbid, anybody approaches you with litigation about your website not being accessible, which unfortunately is becoming extremely common in the US. It’s the first line of defense. Of course, we also have pretty extensive litigation support package at no additional cost.

We’ve helped literally 5,000 of our clients in the last year make lawsuits go away. And a point that’s really important to mention, is that with these types of lawsuits, both sides are right. Of course, people with disabilities deserve access to websites. There’s no question and the law is super clear. But at the same time, most small businesses can’t afford manual accessibility and they certainly can’t afford a ten thousand dollars or thirty thousand dollar settlement against them.

That’s why having a solution like ours that can bring you into not just compliance, but actually make you accessible to everybody who wants to access your website is, I think, a great solution and a way to hopefully bridge this gap between trying to make websites accessible manually and bluntly, not being accessible to everybody and all of these constant lawsuits.

Dan Gingiss: Yeah, I think that’s you’re right. It’s the right tradeoff there. So the website is www.accessibe.com, definitely check out the site. So tell me, Rafi, what’s next in terms of accessibility? We went through a period where we had a lot of regulation. It’s very detailed. And if I recall correctly, there’s different levels of compliance that you can hit. What what should businesses expect as we move forward?

Rafi Glantz: I think that probably and hopefully the Biden administration has already shown that they are passionate about web accessibility. They made whitehouse.gov accessible. They put out a call for accessibility developers to come work with them. Unfortunately, the most recent law that was proposed in Congress basically let businesses off the hook and said that you don’t need to be accessible. There have been rulings both ways in circuit courts. We don’t know exactly what’s going to happen in a legal sense. But for businesses, I can tell you this, we recently joined the W3C, which is the organization that writes the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. We’re coming out with the 2.2 version relatively soon. There shouldn’t be too many major updates there. It’s just modernization more than anything else.

I don’t think we’re going to see a significant change in the requirements. Your website does need to be accessible and there are going to continue being these lawsuits as long as it’s allowed. People are going to keep sending them out because they’re so profitable and also because, again, people deserve access to websites and less than 2% of websites in the U.S. are accessible right now. So I think that the best thing that you can do is get yourself accessible as soon as possible and tell everybody else about it, too, because it’s really not meant to be a big hurdle.

It’s not meant to be something that you need to stay awake at night worrying about. It should be something that you can say, OK, we’re accessible. Let’s move on and deal with the rest of our business because we want to make sure that everybody can shop at our store, just like in a restaurant where, you know, if you make that restroom or you make that parking space, you don’t need to deal with it every week.

accessiBe logo

Dan Gingiss: Yeah, exactly, and again, you can talk about the the moral and ethical side of this, you can also just talk about the business side of this, like the fact that people are coming to your site, they want to engage with you or buy from you. Why not make it easy to do? When I worked in the credit card industry and I worked for Discover Card, you know, as you may know, not every merchant accepts discover it’s not quite as widely available as Visa or MasterCard.

It’s pretty darn close, but not everyone does. And I remember having some conversations with some merchants and having it’s a very similar question. Why would you stand in the way of somebody paying you? If they want to pay you with their Discover card, why would you not let them? It doesn’t make any sense. If I want to give you money, take it!

This is true here with a accessibility is that if somebody wants to do business with you and your site isn’t accessible, you know what they’re going to do? They’re going to go to a site that is accessible and that’s going to be your competitor. So from a business perspective alone, it makes all the sense in the world, I think.

And then that’s if you want to completely ignore all of the goodwill and moral reasons for doing it and it be the right thing to do, even if you want to bypass that or frankly, even if and I don’t advise this, but even if you don’t agree with that, there’s still the business reason for doing it, right? And to me that I think that makes the time. So this is absolutely fascinating. Rafi, how do people get started with what’s the best way to get started with accessiBe?

Rafi Glantz: Well, on our website, on the top, right, there’s a button that says start free trial. We give anybody who wants it a seven day free trial. And that’s the best way to start. Our team sends out a couple of emails when that trial expires. But we have a live chat on our website is always manned by real people who are pretty darn smart. And if anybody has questions, I’m available. My team is available. We have a ton of resources for you, regardless of what questions you have or what stage you’re at or what size your business is. And also on what you just said, I want to add that because less than 2% of websites are accessible right now, making yours accessible makes you stand out.

People with disabilities have a lot of trouble finding the right website for them, so when they find one that is, they’re going to be repeat customers, they’re going to keep coming back. And a lot of times they’ll send you a nice letter saying thank you. And in service of that, we created a website that’s going to be a search engine that only shows accessible websites as results so that people with disabilities will be able to find the right store for them.

Dan Gingiss: That’s awesome, and another piece of it when I talk about customer experience, I always talk about how a remarkable customer experience can be your best marketing. And the reason is that when people have a good experience with you, they tell other people, I know that a lot of folks with disabilities are in communities, with other people that have the same disability. And so when you find a website that works for you, what are you going to do? You’re going to share it with other people because you want to spread that love. And that’s one of the best ways that you can grow your business, is by having any customer talk about you in a positive way. And I absolutely love that.

We’re at a point in time where technology can solve a lot of this. And I’ve played around so much on your site and the different things that it can do and is really, really cool how, not only does it change the site in real time, it doesn’t disturb it. It doesn’t distort it or change the intention of the site or or the beauty of the site. It simply makes it better.

I would finish with one last thing about customer experience is that I always found that as we were going through, even when I had to do this manually at Discover. As we were going through the requirements for accessibility, I always found that making various pieces accessible almost always made the experience better for everyone, even for people that don’t require the accessibility features. You make things clearer, you make things easier to see, you make things more obvious. You get rid of distractions. These are all good for any kind of a customer, right?

I think what we take when we look at accessibility through that lens as we’re making the experience better for everyone, not just this small population, I think that’s often why your number is only at 2% is that a lot of companies say it’s just a really small population. First, I don’t think that’s true, and second, the result of it is that you make the experience better for everyone.

Rafi Glantz: Agreed. 100%. And I’ll add on to that very briefly that it’s the same thing in the physical world as well. You know, curb cuts, those ramps on sidewalks were introduced for people who need wheelchairs. But now most often today, they’re used by mothers pushing strollers or people who prefer not to jump up and down on curbs. It makes a better experience for everyone.

Dan Gingiss: It’s great for bicyclists as well. Yeah, exactly. And that’s a terrific example of something that may have had one particular intended consequence but ends up being a benefit for for everyone.

Once again, to learn more about website accessibility, visit accessibe.com and as Rafi said at the beginning of the show, it’s about $500 a year. This is not a giant investment to make your entire website accessible, so please check it out. Thank you so much for being here. I really appreciate you sharing this really important technology with us. I appreciate all your insights today.

Rafi Glantz: So happy to be here. Dan, thanks for having me.

This interview was edited for length and clarity. Watch the entire video interview on YouTube. 

Related: 6 Ways To Improve Online Customer Experience