Armed With A.I., This Company Is Making the Internet More 'Accessible' for Those With Disabilities

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@cyberguyesqDrew Rossow

There is no denying that AI and automation have had a significant impact on the way companies run their business — particularly online. Automation tools help brands track everything from inventory levels to sales rep interactions.
Despite all this innovation, those with disabilities have been largely left behind by these and other advances fueled by the internet. Until now.
As COVID-19 has taken the world by storm, forcing us all to self-quarantine and remain in isolation for what seems to be an indefinite period of time, companies are looking for new ways to keep themselves busy, while still putting out value for customers and patrons.
During my time of self-isolation, I happened to come across a relatively new A.I. solution that seeks to dramatically alter the digital landscape for those with disabilities. Speaking from personal experience, I've spent the last eight-years caring for my neighbor (now close-friend) who is blind. By observing how she is able to use her iPhone, Amazon Echo, and JAWS programs to help her stay updated with what's going on around her, it's also taught me how necessary it is for our digital landscape to provide a more accessible means to information--because at the end of the day, it does make it difficult.
That's where accessiBE comes into play. Though the needs of those with disabilities have historically been largely overlooked in the digital sphere, increased awareness of the issues those with disabilities face and powerful solutions like accessiBe have brought "web accessibility" front and center.

Digital Challenges for Individuals With Disabilities

For those with disabilities, accessing web content is much more complicated than having a computer or smartphone in the house. Someone who is blind can only access written text with the help of a
screen reader. Those with mobility issues may need special assistive devices to navigate a website.
On a global scale, the World Bank Group estimates that one billion people
have a disability, with one-fifth of that group experiencing “significant
disabilities.”
Physical accommodations are addressed in many countries through legal measures like the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) or India’s Persons With Disabilities Act. However, applying such regulations to a digital space has proven to be a greater challenge.
Because many of these laws were made before the internet’s dominance of society, they lack specific verbiage discussing web accessibility. As a result, many websites have failed to implement measures that would make their content more accessible to those with disabilities.
Even with the release of Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), it’s estimated that 98 percent of websites are guilty of some form of inaccessibility. As a result, those with disabilities find themselves unable to make purchases, access news or use other online resources.
As just one example, data from UK nonprofit Purple reveals that “73 percent of potential disabled customers experience barriers on more than a quarter of websites they visited.”
Because of this, 75 percent of disabled customers in the UK have “walked away” from a business due to a lack of accessibility.

The Challenge for Business Owners

A lack of web accessibility has led to increased friction between individuals with disabilities and the businesses they wish to patronize. Judges in many countries are increasingly taking a broader view of how acts like the ADA apply in a digital environment.
The number of lawsuits against businesses for failing to provide an accessible website rose significantly from 2017 to 2018, causing significant concern for many business owners.
Even business owners who use web design professionals or agencies to create websites under their names have a legal responsibility to deliver ADA-compliant websites to their clients. Merely trusting who (or what) they perceive to be “experts” in the space is a incredibly risky move with potentially painful, lengthy consequences.
In reality, companies have the responsibility to make their website content fully accessible to all customers — just as they would with a physical location.
The problem for many business owners is that implementing accessibility standards is viewed as a costly and time-consuming process. As a result, such initiatives are often pushed aside in the hope that the company will be able to avoid lawsuits in the future.
accessiBe claims to serve as a direct counterpoint to these misconceptions. By bringing an AI solution to web accessibility implementation, the company makes it easy and affordable for businesses to update their websites in a way that will allow them to serve everyone who tries to sue the internet.

How accessiBe’s AI Solution Works

Taking a few days to look into the company, I've found a few characteristics that struck my interest.
First, from an aesthetics perspective, accessiBE aims to take things well beyond browser plug-ins that attempt to improve only a few web accessibility issues.
According to its CEO, Shir Ekerling, the goal of accessiBe is to ensure that websites maintain total compliance with WCAG standards without the need for costly manual development work.
“Web accessibility is vital for the disabled community, but at the same time, we recognize that making such extensive changes can be a burden for business owners. We want to make the process relatively simple and affordable with a comprehensive solution that does the work automatically.”
accessiBe provides an AI solution that scans a website to identify any WCAG issues, then automatically implements solutions that will improve accessibility.
On average, the company’s initial website scans and updates take roughly 48 hours, with some variation based on how many pages a website contains. Pretty sweet.
After the initial scan, the accessiBe AI solution continues to monitor the website’s content, implementing new changes as needed. New or revised content is scanned every 24 hours, ensuring that any new non-compliant areas are fixed as quickly as possible.
A host of AI tools come together to allow accessiBe to affectively address all elements related to web accessibility. Contextual understanding technology, image recognition, machine learning and collaborative efforts with other tech corporations ensure that the AI solution is constantly improving, becoming even better at recognizing problems and implementing solutions.
Best of all, the use of this platform requires hardly any effort from the site owner. Simply adding a line of JavaScript code is enough to integrate the accessiBe AI.
The result of all of this? A low-cost, low-effort solution that allows businesses to meet the needs of disabled customers without placing an undue burden on their budget or their internal teams. Just think about it. How many times does a company like Spectrum, AT&T, or even Verizon get a phone call from a customer who is impaired or suffers from a disability that makes it difficult to deliver 100% service. I can tell you I've seen it first-hand, as I've definitely had my moments where I've screamed at customer support because of their inability to provide effective assistance to my neighbor.

Building an Accessible Future

The internet is one of the most important resources in today’s society. Individuals with disabilities should not be denied access to the information they need or the products they want because of a website that presents navigational barriers.
By helping companies implement needed web accessibility settings on their websites, accessiBe offers an easy-to-implement solution that will ultimately benefit businesses and their customers alike. f

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