Hillel's Tech Corner: accessiBe: The web made accessible

Web accessibility is both a legal requirement and a moral obligation for companies with online presence.

accessiBe (photo credit: Courtesy)
(photo credit: Courtesy)
 We have to talk about something slightly awkward. While you and I use the worldwide web thousands of times a day, and while we are caring people, we have all but abandoned millions of others around the world.
If I were to ask you what percentage of websites are accessible to people with disabilities, what would you guess? Are you ready for the answer? Two percent. That’s right. Ninety-eight percent of websites are not fully accessible to people with disabilities.
How is that even possible? The answer is actually quite simple. The cost of making a site accessible and maintaining its accessibility as you add more things, such as products on an e-commerce site for example, is simply too high for most site-owners. Combined with a lack of awareness, they just ignore the issue.
But the fault in its entirety shouldn’t be placed on site owners alone. Media coverage of the issue is very thin, and misleading.
When Domino’s lost an accessibility lawsuit in the Supreme Court, it was obviously reported widely, along with other big names that got hit with an accessibility lawsuit, like Burger King, Nike, CVS Pharmacy and even Beyonce. The coverage failed to report that others are also getting sued in very large numbers; in 2019 more than 2,200 accessibility lawsuits were filed in federal courts. So a combination of lack of awareness and lack of media attention leaves millions of people locked outside large swaths of the internet.
I want you to close your eyes for a second and imagine trying to do the most basic thing on the Internet without the ability to see. It’s impossible, right?
Meet an Israeli company called accessiBe.
The company was founded in 2018 by Shir Ekerling CEO, Dekel Skoop COO, and Gal Vizel CRO. AccessiBe now has 75-plus employees. In addition, Michael Hingson just joined as chief vision officer. Michael has a remarkable story. On September 11, 2001, a blind man escaped the World Trade Center by walking down 78 flights of stairs with his guide dog. Days later, America fell in love with Mike and Roselle and the special bond that helped them both survive one of the country’s darkest days.
As far as funding, accessiBe has raised significant capital. It recently announced a $28 million series A.
Here is some background on web accessibility. The ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) passed into law in 1990. The WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) was published by W3C (World Wide Web Consortium) in 1999. Together they formed the framework to make the Internet accessible for people with disabilities. In 2018, the US Department of Justice reaffirmed that websites are “places of public accommodation” and as such, must comply with the ADA.
Web accessibility is both a legal requirement and a moral obligation for companies with online presence. Let’s not forget it’s also good business, since, according to the CDC, one in four US adults (61 million Americans) suffer from some form of disability, by not having your website accessible you are losing a quarter of your potential audience.
SO HOW DOES accessiBe work? Its product is an artificial intelligence-powered fully automated web-accessibility solution.
A single line of code inserted into your website allows accessiBe’s AI engine to audit and remediate your website for accessibility issues. The process takes 48 hours and at its end, your website is ADA and WCAG compliant.
Prior to accessiBe, accessibility service providers did a one-time audit and remediation process that takes months to compete and costs tens of thousands of dollars.
AccessiBe continues scanning your website every 24 hours to monitor if accessibility issues arise, and if they do, it fixes them in real time.
As mentioned, today’s websites are dynamic, being constantly updated with new content; more so with e-commerce websites where new items are added and removed all the time, sales sections go up, etc. That means, if you just do a one-time accessibility project, your website is indeed compliant at its end, but falls out of compliance as you keep updating your website. With ADA and WCAG compliance there is no scale, you are either compliant or you’re not.
Let’s take images as an example. ALT tags are used to add descriptions so screen readers (the software blind people use) can pick them up. If you have an online shop, you have hundreds if not thousands of images. Adding description ALT tags for each of them is mighty time-consuming. AccessiBe uses a combination of image recognition, OCR (optical character recognition) and contextual understanding to attach to each image highly descriptive ALT tags.
So how is accessiBe different than what’s out there?
Until now there were two prevailing web accessibility options:
1. Accessibility service companies that work manually, which means the process takes months, is highly expensive, and if you want ongoing monitoring, you need to pay extra. They either do just the audit and your development team needs to implement based on their report, or they also do the remediation for you manually, which means more cost.
2. Accessibility widgets, installed on your website in a second and providing just a facade of accessibility. Why a facade? Because 70% of WCAG requirements are in-code that deal with screen-reader and keyboard-navigation compliance. The widgets don’t touch on that. They just allow for appearance adjustments like font size, contrast, highlights, focus and stuff.
AccessiBe provides a full solution, completely automated, and affordable - starts at $490 a year.
So how successful is accessiBe?
The company’s product is currently installed and running on 105,000 websites including Fiverr, Seiko, TheNextWeb, Energizer and many more.
AccessiBe’s founding team has deep domain expertise in the field of website creation and digital marketing and created the technology in close partnership with users suffering from visual impairment, epilepsy, motor impairments and cognitive dysfunctions.
“For millions of consumers with disabilities around the world, online shopping, digital entertainment, and even important public-health information is out of reach, closed off in non-accessible sites,” says Shir Ekerling, CEO of accessiBe. “By making web accessibility simple and affordable to any size of business, we are changing that reality.”
COVID-19 and the digital transformation that it provoked have helped draw attention to the need for accessible sites, and the accessiBe team plans to keep the issue at the forefront for website and business owners.
The bottom line is, in a world without accessiBe, no one could blame you for not making your site accessible. It was super-hard and super-costly. But now, with accessiBe’s automated and affordable solution, there really is no excuse for any website to be inaccessible to millions of people around the world.