On this episode of THRIVE — sponsored by Workamajig — Kelly and Rafi Glantz of accessiBe discuss web inclusivity and accessibility, what it means to people with disabilities, and why it should matter to us all.
Episode 111: What Do We Mean by Web Inclusivity?, with Rafi Glantz
Kelly: So welcome back to Thrive, your agency resource. Today, I am joined by Rafi Glantz, who heads up the agency partner program over at accessiBe, which is an integrated accessibility software and actually, a lot more. I've personally been using accessiBe on consciousnessleaders.com since we launched that site earlier in 2021. So, I've already been a user adopter, and really, really happy to be a customer of theirs. So, today we're going to actually dive into what it actually means to be accessible and inclusive on the web. What do we mean by web inclusivity? So, Rafi, thank you so much for joining me today on Thrive. I'm really excited to talk to you.
Rafi: Me too. I'm glad to be here. Thanks for having me.
Kelly: So, we already talked about your background. Amazing. I love that you're all nice and acoustically paneled back there. Totally on brand.
Rafi: And I've got a charizard to protect me. That's probably the most important part.
Kelly: Definitely the most important Pokemon. So, let's start today by talking about why inclusivity and accessibility matters specifically on the web.
Rafi: Absolutely. So, in the last couple of years, we've seen inclusivity, diversity, inclusion, DE&I take a lot more precedence in both social and business circles. And we've made a lot of strides. Unfortunately, it seems like a lot of people with disabilities have been left out of that progress, for several reasons, but mostly because most people don't know that their website needs to be accessible. And that alone would have been bad enough. But particularly with the Coronavirus pandemic, we've been seeing a lot more business than before moved online, whether it's supermarkets or buying a car, anything that you want to do, a lot of that is being done online. And because 98% of websites in the United States are not accessible to people with disabilities, they're being left out of the modern world more than ever before. Despite the fact that the internet really offers people with disabilities or should offer people with disabilities a chance for even greater equality, it's very, very clear according to the law, according to our morals that we are all taught. And for business reasons that it makes sense, it's needed to be accessible. But unfortunately, up until now, for most businesses, it either was not feasible, or they didn't know that they need to do it. And so, we're doing everything that we can to change both of those.
Kelly: So more specifically, like to get more granular when we say that a website is not accessible, right? It doesn't mean that we can't go to it, that it's down. Can you talk a little bit more granularly about what the potential implications are, and like what we mean by something being accessible to those without disabilities and not being accessible to those with?
Rafi: Absolutely. And it's something that a lot of us take for granted, that I take for granted all the time to start working in this field, that I can use my hands, I can see what's on the screen, I can use a mouse, I can hear everything, I can see everything. For a lot of people, they're not able to see, for instance, or they may have vision impairments. There are other people who can't use their hands the same way you or I do or may not even have them. And beyond that, there's people who have invisible disabilities like, for instance, seizure related disorders or epilepsy. One of the reasons that I have the Pokemon behind me is to remind me that in 1997, there was an episode of Pokemon for the nerds out there, the first appearance of Porygon where over 600 American children were hospitalized as a result of excessive flashing lights in the intro, and there was no warning. And since then, there have been a lot of warnings on TV. And, if you go back, I think the first one I remember seeing was Kanye West's all of the lights video on YouTube, where there is a warning before it that says hey, there's a lot of flashing lights. If you have a disorder, maybe this isn't the video to watch. But if you don't have that, that can physically harm somebody. For most of the accessibility, we're not talking about that. We're talking about somebody who can maybe visit your website. But if they're blind, for instance, they may not be able to navigate it because they can't use a mouse and your website might not be optimized for keyboard navigation or for screen readers. You might not have descriptions of all of your images or all of your animations. And for people who have other “minor disabilities” like color blindness, they need to be able to adjust the website to match their needs. For example, not everybody who's colorblind is colorblind the same way some people can't see perfectly. Some people can only see purple just as a random example. So unless you're building a website, only in grayscale, it's not going to be accessible to everybody. And even then, of course, there are people who can't see at all. So, it's really important to give website visitors the option to customize the appearance of it to their needs without impacting anybody else's experience, of course, and without building websites that are all grayscale, and of course, don't convert.
Kelly: Right. It's a lot. There's so much to take into into account. So, if we're thinking about designing websites in this way, and it feels like kind of overwhelming, let's talk about what the differences or to try to remediate these things. Like there's native accessibility, and then there's integrated accessibility. How do you see the connection between the two? And like, what role does accessiBe play?
Rafi: Absolutely. So, to give a little bit of clarity, native accessibility is when you're doing work on the source code, and you're permanently changing the website to make it more accessible for people. That can be adding alt text images, to describe them, adding ARIA-labels to links, all different kinds of stuff. The problem for most businesses is that that requires humans to do a lot of work and generally take at least a few hours to do that work.
Kelly: And not just a human, but like a really great developer.
Rafi: Exactly, a skilled developer, who doesn't want to do this work, because it's boring for them to just go over and describe images all the time and that kind of thing. And even if it's, let's say, four hours of developer time, and you got a very affordable developer $150 an hour, that's 600 bucks. For most people, that's almost as much if not more than you spend on your website, particularly if you're using a low-cost CMS. And it's just not feasible to expect them to be able to maintain that because every time you update your website, you have to update the accessibility as well, if you're doing it manually. What we initially did was more integrated assessment accessibility, which is basically adding a tool onto the website and overlay, if you will, that lets people make changes on their session only. So, there's a difference between the template and the session, right? The template is what the source code says. And the template and the session is what people experience. Really, it doesn't matter if the template is accessible, as long as the person who's coming into your website has an accessible experience. That being said, we believe that accessibility is really a journey rather than a destination. And that the best way to get where you're going to be as accessible as possible, is to do both integrated and native accessibility so that when you build websites, as an agency, especially, you should have best practices in house. And of course, you should use accessible structures, and you shouldn't just ignore describing images and all of that stuff.
Kelly: Which is great SEO, right?
Rafi: Exactly. It's really important for SEO. And by the way, so is accessibility. If you're not accessible, you're going to have people with disabilities visiting your website and immediately bouncing. Whereas if you are accessible, your bounce rate is going to lower and your on-site time is actually going to improve. Because generally when people are using assistive technology, it takes them a little bit longer to navigate the website than somebody else. But overall, the approach to accessibility has to be integrated, that you need multiple approaches. You need best practices internally. Sometimes you will need manual work. It depends on the organization, and we do recommend this. And I certainly recommend that even if you have an overlay, and it does most, take care of your needs. I always recommend having user testing, which is something that we offer where you can have actual people with disabilities test your website, go through the whole thing, try to use it with their assistive technology, and give you a report and tell you, hey, is this working for me? Because the American system is confusing. And as you know, our legal system always worked perfectly. But the best test of accessibility is whether a real person can use this website. And so that's always what I tried to let people know that you can do all the work you want, whether it's manual or integrated. But the best test is having a real person use that website.
Kelly: Right. [Commercial] And so I want to go back to something that you said earlier, aside from sort of the moral responsibility and ethical responsibility that we have to design for everyone. Why does this matter so much to agencies that have any portion of the lifecycle of a website, from strategy to design, to development, to maintenance, and so on. Why does it matter to them in terms of legality, their clients? Like, give me a little bit more about how this benefit an agency? Because I can already, like, start to read the minds of my listeners and viewers, right? Why does it matter? What's in it for them kind of thing? Right?
Rafi: I get, right. And just like you, I think we're in agreement here, we'd love it if everybody did this, because it's the right thing to do. But business is business. So legally speaking, it is 100% the law that you need to be accessible. The specific laws in the US are a little bit unclear, the ADA in particular. And so even though the internationally recognized standard for accessibility is WCAG, or Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, the ADA is not super clear about that. And the problem is that that's allowed certain attorneys to start issuing demand letters rather than a lawsuit. Don't need to be filed in court. They just send you a letter and say, hey, we'll sue you, basically will sue you if you don't give us 10 grand, or however many $1,000. And unfortunately, because of the way the US legal system works, most of the people who get these letters will call their lawyer, right? And the lawyer will explain, hey, we can take this to court, but it's going to be 20, 30, 40 grand and legal fees. It's cheaper for me to just negotiate with them down to three grand and we'll settle and it's all fine. And even though that might be theoretically the best move for that business owner at the time, it's really not because, it's like if you give a moose a muffin, that old book, that if you give them an inch, they want a mile. And this kind of thing. In my opinion, I don't think you would disagree that these kinds of lawsuits tend to create a lot more animosity towards people with disabilities than actual desire to be compliant. It creates a desire to not be sued rather than a desire to be accessible. And as much as we all want to avoid lawsuits. And more importantly, as agency people, we have a responsibility to our clients to make sure that they're aware of and protected from things like this. On the other side of the coin, though, according to the CDC, 26% of American adults live with a disability. I mean, not all of those people need assistive technology to use the internet. But let's say it's 5%, right? 5% of the market has a significant disability that requires them to use the internet in a different way. For 50 bucks a month, if you don't want to expand your potential market share by 5%, your business might have a bigger problem than accessibility. For an agency, I think it's a good line. But for agency owners out there, this is not just an opportunity to protect clients from potential litigation or to appear to be more inclusive. It's an opportunity to actually be inclusive and to capture a market that is very often not catered to. And one more point on that, the community of people with disabilities and there's data from Nielsen to show this is the most brand loyal community, and also one of the most likely to bring you referrals. And as an example, because we actually had the privilege of having a lot of people with disabilities come visit the office a few months ago, and one woman who happened to be blind told us a story that she went to a shoe store. They were very, very friendly, very accessible, and very helpful to her. And what does she do, not just go back to that shoe store the next time she needs sneakers, she put up a post on Facebook and in her WhatsApp groups with other people who are blind in their families and said, hey, these people, these stores care about us, go buy your shoes from them rather than from somebody else. And that's something that can make a real business difference for any kind of company.
Kelly: Yeah, there are so many reasons to do this. And I think what I appreciate is that we're moving the conversation and shifting the conversation from like, only legal and box checking. Doing it almost as I don't know, if you would say like an offensive or defensive positioning versus doing it because it's the right thing, because we want to make the web more inclusive, because like the ripple effect of only good comes from this, which is the case for best practices in general on the web. There's a reason why they’re best practices. Yeah, so we're just talking about, like, taking that even further, and making sure that those best practices are actually touching all of the people who are going to be using the websites that you build. So yeah, and the last time that we talked, you mentioned something about an agency partner program, which I would love to hear a little bit more about. And I think, again, listen, viewers would want to know a little bit more about that. What's it all about? How does it work? And like, where can people learn more about that?
Kelly: Yeah. And correct me if I'm wrong, but I think that part of the program is also that the agency itself gets access to accessiBe on their own agency website. Right?
Rafi: Yes, you get your own website for free. Because, of course, the last thing we want is for you to be talking about accessibility and having an accessible website. And also, we want to make sure that our agency partners are taken care of. We want you to be able to walk the walk as well as talk the talk.
Kelly: Yeah. No, that's great. And, I think that the starting point, I mean, even if you're kind of like, oh, I'm not sure about the partner program yet, or whatever, I think just going to accessiBe.com/ace, which I guess is ace, starting there and seeing like, oh, well, what about my own agency website? Like, how does that measure up first? Or maybe I have a client who, for sure caters to some customers who have disabilities, like maybe start there, either one of those scenarios and just kind of take a look like, what are we looking at in terms of the evaluation or the assessment of how accessible these websites are that we have potentially built? Or even if we haven't built them? Right? I think it could be a good use case for agencies that aren't necessarily web developers, but could at least broach that conversation with some clients to like, move them into a place where their sites can be more accessible, more inclusive.
Rafi: Yeah, and it's a foot in the door with new clients, sorry to cut you out. It's a foot in the door with new clients as well. A lot of people are specifically looking for a solution for this. So, it can be a great way to know whether you're a strategist or anything else, it can be a great way to acquire a new customer and build trust with them.
Kelly: Yeah, I mean, again, so many business use cases. Yeah, I can't say enough. I'm really excited about it. And to that end, as we kind of start to wrap up here, I want to tease out that, to my listeners and audience, there is a really, really big announcement coming in 2022 for our very first episode, so stay tuned for that. I know, I'm kind of dangling a little carrot, but I'm really excited about it. And so, stay tuned for that. Make sure that, if you're not subscribed to the show that you do, get subscribed to whatever platform that you're listening on, or watching on right now. And again, if you want to learn a little bit more about accessiBe’s agency partner program, which I definitely recommend, head over to accessiBe.com/thrive. Rafi, thank you so much for joining me today. It's been an absolute pleasure.
Rafi: Thanks so much for having me. This was really fun.