Blind radio enthusiast Patrick Purdue regularly purchased equipment through the amateur radio website. The code on the website allowed him to easily navigate sections of each page using the keyboard, and screen readers read the text aloud.
It all changed when stores started using automated accessibility tools (often called accessibility overlays) created and sold by accessiBe. Suddenly, the site became too difficult for Perdue to navigate. The accessiBe overlay introduced code that was supposed to fix the original coding error and add more accessible features. However, the page was reformatted and some widgets such as the checkout button and shopping cart button were hidden from Perdue’s screen reader. The image and button labels were not coded correctly. He said he couldn’t find the search box on the site or the headers needed to navigate each section of the page.
Perdue is one of the hundreds of people with disabilities complaining about the problem of automated accessibility web services, with advances in AI and new legal pressures to enable businesses to access websites. Due to this, the popularity has skyrocketed in recent years.
Over a dozen companies offer these tools. The biggest two, AudioEye When UserWay, Is listed and has recently reported millions of revenues in its financial statements. According to their website, some charge monthly fees ranging from about $ 50 to about $ 1,000, while others charge annual fees ranging from hundreds or thousands of dollars. (Prices are usually displayed in stages and depend on the number of pages on your site.) These companies list large companies such as Hulu, eBay, Uniqlo, hospitals and local governments as clients.
What is built into their marketing is often that their services can occur if the site is inaccessible, as well as making the Internet easier for the visually impaired and the visually impaired. It is to prevent companies from facing a lawsuit.
But it doesn’t work that way. Users like Perdue say the software is of little use, and some clients using AudioEye, accessiBe, and UserWay are facing legal action anyway. Last year, more than 400 companies that posted accessibility widgets or overlays on their website were sued for accessibility. Data collected by digital accessibility providers..
“I haven’t found anything that will improve my life yet,” said Perdue, 38, who lives in Queens. “I spend more time avoiding these overlays than actually navigating a website,” he added.
Signed by over 700 accessibility advocates and web developers last year Open letter He urged organizations to stop using these tools, writing that the practical value of the new features is “significantly exaggerated” and “the overlay itself may have accessibility issues.” The letter also said that many blind users, like Perdue, already had screen readers or other software to help them while online.
AudioEye, UserWay, and accessiBe said they shared the goal of making websites more accessible, acknowledging to some extent that their products weren’t perfect. UserWay Chief Operating Officer Lionel Wolberger said the company apologized for the tool’s problem and promised to do the same for others who pointed out the problem and worked on fixing the tool. AccessiBe didn’t answer questions about specific criticisms of the company’s products, but company spokesman Josh Basile criticized the open letter for overlays, “pushing the conversation in the wrong direction.” “. But he added that the company was willing to learn from the feedback.
All three companies say their products will improve over time, and both AudioEye and UserWay say they are investing in research and development to improve the capabilities of artificial intelligence.
AudioEye CEO David Morradi said his automated services and other services are the only way to fix millions of active websites on the Internet. “Automation needs to work. Otherwise, we can’t solve this problem. This is a big problem,” he said.
However, accessibility experts want enterprises not to use automated accessibility overlays. Ideally, they say the organization will hire and train full-time employees to oversee these efforts. However, doing so can be difficult.
“We absolutely need people with accessibility experience, and the job is there,” said Adrian Roseri, who has worked as a digital accessibility consultant for 20 years. “Since it’s been a niche industry for so long, the skills haven’t matched yet.”
This gap gives websites the opportunity to explode the number of companies selling automated accessibility tools, providing websites with seemingly quick solutions to accessibility problems, while the visually impaired navigate the web. It can be difficult to do.
In addition to automated tools, AudioEye’s Moradi says he advises customers to use accessibility experts to manually fix errors. But AudioEye has no control over whether the client follows that advice, he said. He advocates a hybrid solution that combines automation and manual correction, and says he hopes that automation capabilities will gradually improve.
“We strive to be very transparent about this,” he said. “Automation does a lot, but it doesn’t do everything. It will get better and better over time.” ..
People who are blind or have poor eyesight say it is unreasonable to ask them to wait for an automated product to improve when they need to use a website more and more in their daily work. Common issues such as unlabeled buttons and images with overlays could prevent blind Toronto-based Brian Moore, 55, from ordering pizza. There is, he said.
In addition to poorly labeled images, buttons, and forms, visually impaired users use the keyboard because the page headings are not properly marked or certain parts of the page cannot be searched. Documents overlay issues such as being unable to navigate web pages. Or selectable. Automated tools can also make all the text on a page a headline, making it difficult for users to easily jump to the section of the website they want to read.
Moore said he had trouble completing tasks such as buying laptops, claiming employee benefits, booking transportation, and completing bank transactions on websites with overlays.
“If the goal is to make it accessible and you can’t fix the basic problem, what value would you add?” He said.
Accessibility issues can also make it difficult for people to work.LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired, a non-profit advocacy and education organization in San Francisco, recently sued a human resources software company. Automatic data processing, Was using AudioEye’s automatic accessibility tools. Despite the overlay, “there were many examples of blind employees failing to work,” said Brian Basin, CEO of the organization. The proceedings handle ADP has agreed to improve accessibility and not rely solely on overlays.
The ADP did not answer questions about the proceedings, but said it “highly appreciates digital inclusion.”
“We’re in the wild west right now,” Basin said, referring to an array of accessibility software, whose quality can vary significantly.
Still, he said the LightHouse for the Blind and VisuallyImpaired did not oppose these types of tools. He could imagine a future where automated software would dramatically improve the online experience for the visually impaired. That is not the reality at this time.
“Currently, even if AI is a mixed bag, I think AI will do this right, just as AI will eventually provide self-driving cars,” he says. “But, as some of you may have noticed, I’m not driving now.”