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Voiceover: From Wellington, New Zealand, to the world, it’s the Living Blindfully podcast – living your best life with blindness or low vision. Here is your host, Jonathan Mosen.
With rapid advances in AI, can automated remediation make more websites accessible, or does the technology fail to live up to its promise?
I speak with Lionel Wolberger, one of the founders of Userway, which offers automated remediation and much more.
Welcome to episode 254, where we are returning to one of the most important topics for any blind person who uses the web.
But before we get into a lively discussion, I do want to send a big yee-haw out to the people of Texas who are living in area code 254, places like Killeen, Temple, and Waco. Welcome to you.
Meanwhile, country code 254 belongs to Kenya, of course, the home of President Obama’s father, and some great athletes, and all sorts of exciting things go on in Kenya.
So if you happen to be listening to us from there, a special welcome to you. I’m hoping that there might be one or two, because there are over 55 million people who live in Kenya.
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The industry may not particularly like the term, but we’ve come to talk about accessibility overlays. I’m sure we’ll cover this point. We’ve devoted a lot of time to this on the podcast because it does have the potential (if this technology really works) to make the web a better place, a more accessible place.
If it doesn’t, though, if it’s snake oil, then it could be very harmful technology. And there’s certainly been some very lively debate about which is which.
We’ve covered AccessiBe a lot on this podcast, probably because they have mixed it up. They’ve been quite active, perhaps arguably in a pretty negative way, with our community.
One company in this space that we have not talked to, or talked much about, is Userway. And I’m joined by one of its founders, Lionel Wolberger.
Lionel, welcome to the podcast.
Lionel: I’m really glad to be here, Jonathan. Thanks for having me.
Jonathan: The NFB convention is almost over. I mean, it’s gone so quickly.
What’s that been like for you, actually being in the presence of a lot of blind people like this?
Lionel: I’m very fortunate to have come to the convention. I’ve come for the whole convention. I’ll be staying through the banquet. And it’s really been eye-opening to be with, I believe there’s 2,000 people here, over 2,000.
Lionel: And to not only have all the discussions that we’ve been having about the different needs and benefits that we can bring with our technology, but just having fun. I mean, we opened the grand piano. They tell me at the front desk that they don’t do that. John Legend was here, and they wouldn’t open it for him, and yet they opened it for the NFB. And there were amazing musicians. We just sat around the piano and made music for hours. That was a delight.
Lionel: The conversations are deep. And really just spending time and learning what it is to be among blind people.
For example, not raising hands but calling out a name – how the meetings were run. That’s something I didn’t know about. And so when I had two meetings, I ran them that way. Of course, raising hands wouldn’t help if the person running the meeting can’t see that.
Lionel: So you call out a name, and then that means that you want a turn to speak.
Jonathan: Yes, exactly right. So there are a lot of cultural factors that I guess, blind people who go to these things regularly just take for granted.
Lionel: It’s one reason why I really looked forward to it, because I think there are some things that they’re not really things to talk about. They’re things to live. It’s a lived experience. And it’s really been a privilege. Really wonderful to be here.
Jonathan: The web has revolutionized our lives because we have more access to information than we’ve ever had before. It’s really potentially an equalizer.
And obviously, we get frustrated when we go to a website with information that we need, and it’s not accessible, and it could be. And we have always felt strongly that the way to do that is to spread the word that you have to design these things properly, you have to be inclusive. Accessibility professionals have devoted their lives, literally their whole careers, to advancing that narrative. So when companies like Userway come along that potentially challenge that narrative and suggest that there’s a better way, that can be controversial.
How did Userway come to be? How did you get into this space?
Lionel: I just want to make a small correction. We don’t feel that we’re coming along saying there’s a better way of correcting the way that you just spoke about. Obviously, everything should be accessible to all people equally. I don’t know how you could argue that position.
I think what really happened is just the sheer scale of the internet that you described … (There’s 200 million websites, there’s more every minute.)
I went to a wonderful session by a blind programmer who was making a wrapper. So we’re going to talk a lot about the web here, Jonathan, because Userway makes solutions for the web.
But there’s also what is called native code, you know, software that just runs on PCs. And he was addressing the issue that native code isn’t accessible. And he’s made a wrapper for that.
And he said, “We’d love for all the developers to just write code that’s accessible. But just new things spring up every day.”
And the way he said that, I think that really captured it.
Jonathan: So that was Matt Campbell with AccessKit, is that right?
Lionel: That’s right.
Jonathan: Yeah, yeah.
And Matt’s no stranger to this podcast. So people will know Matt and his work with Pneuma Solutions, and RIM, and all those good things.
Lionel: Yes. And we spoke at great length. He came to my session, which was called, “We’re here to listen and ask me anything.”, and we spoke at great length and with some nuance. And I’m really here hoping that we can bring some nuance to this discussion.
So the thing I do want to point out is just the vast scale that we’re dealing with. 200 million websites. There are easily 2 billion people raising websites, dealing with websites.
And the sheer scale of new websites popping up every minute with free and open source community code. People aren’t writing their own code. They’re copy pasting. They’re using WordPress, all kinds of platforms.
And so it’s in that setting that Userway did come along with, let’s say, some innovation. Not at all correcting course, not at all saying we shouldn’t teach people to make things accessible.
And Userway’s practice is really good, if I may say so.
One of our products is called the Empathy Lab. And we craft it as a kind of infotainment because it’s very important for people just to be with a user of a screen reader, you know, Jonathan, that’s your lived life, and as I’ve said, I’m here having that experience every day.
I mentioned we were standing around the piano and having the people who were coming up and singing, they were having their screen reader read the lyrics to them in their ear as they were singing.
Lionel: I never lived that experience.
So one of the products that we offer at Userway is called an Empathy Lab. And it has to be crafted very carefully because we want to avoid any feeling of like the medical approach. You know, the people who are attending. We’ve had 100 attendees with a pharmaceutical company, we had 70 attendees with an e-commerce company, a scientific equipment company.
So this is one of our products. And when we craft the Empathy Lab, we want to make sure that the people attending actually have some fun. We actually look for some humor.
And ’cause we want to avoid them feeling compassion, or God forbid, even pity, or thinking that this person needs to be fixed in some way. Instead, we make a journey.
And I’m telling about the Empathy Lab because, you know, people just, … They are even shocked by how fast the screen reader goes.
I know you did a podcast where you asked Siri to talk faster and faster, see how fast she would talk. And she didn’t come up to the speed of JAWS, did she?
Jonathan: Right, no, no.
Lionel: She came close.
So to get back to the question, Userway absolutely believes we must continue to inform the people who create these digital experiences that they have to make sure that their experiences can be accessed by everyone.
And frankly, Jonathan, people want their stuff to be accessed by everyone. It just means more people coming at them.
But yes, Userway also innovated with the Userway widget. That was our first product. It was a free product.
My partner, Allon Mason, we both know each other from Cornell. We’re both Cornell alumni.
And he had a very successful startup called Xplace. It was a two-sided market.
Two-sided means that he had to do this trick of bringing freelancers who wanna offer their products, and then he had to bring services who want to seek their products.
And he succeeded. It was an amazing website with hundreds of thousands of users.
And in Israel, they passed a rather fierce law with teeth in it that everything had to be accessible. And so he thought, “Well then, I’m gonna now go about making my site accessible.”
And the first aspect he tackled was low vision.
Allon, I love working with him. He has such a beautiful sense of design.
He’s an Apple fan. I’m not. I was originally Windows. I’m now Apple ’cause I work with Allon so much. [laughs]
Lionel: But at one point I was teasing him and saying, you know, what’s with the one button? You know, Windows mice have three buttons. Why is there just one button?
And I’ll always remember Allon said, “No buttons.” And I’ll always remember that.
And that’s Alon’s sense of design. He has a really good sense of how to make tools that are usable, easy to use, and fit the human being using those tools to achieve the human’s goals.
So Allon first made a widget for low vision. And these have since proliferated.
But Userway was one of the first, and one of the most popular. It went viral quickly. People just loved this thing and put it on their site.
He put it out in the wild for free because his main business was XPlace at the time.
And you could click this widget, you could make fonts bigger, you could change contrast. And it was very popular.
And I think one theme that we do wanna keep in mind when we talk about nuance, when we talk about the discussion I had with Matt and with Curtis is that there are different people with disabilities with different needs, and they don’t overlap.
People with low vision do enjoy having access to adjustments like larger font, reading guide, contrast adjustments.
In some regions, they love it more than others. In Israel, it’s very popular now.
And a blind person doesn’t need that at all.
So that’s where Userway was born, with the free widget. It had nothing to do with screen readers. It didn’t change any of the underlying code to make the experience better for a screen reader. It did offer these options for people with low vision, or people with cognitive issues who also sometimes enjoy having the fonts enhanced in certain ways. It makes it easier for their reading comprehension.
Jonathan: Why make a widget though?
So when your co-founder discovered that his website wasn’t accessible and there’s some requirement for compliance in Israel (which is driving a lot of the technology in this space that’s coming out of Israel because people, I presume, just want quick solutions and quick fixes).
But why not get an accessibility professional in to do it properly?
Lionel: Jonathan, I object to “do it properly”. [laughs] We’re talking about doing it in different ways. [laughs]
Jonathan: Right. We will come back to whether this actually works or not a bit later. Because you see, I’ve heard so many people say these overlays, at least for screen reader users, actually don’t do anything of value. So we’ll come back to that.
But I guess I’m curious about why it is that he decided to write something to remediate the code, rather than just get an accessibility professional in to fix his own code?
Lionel: So he was doing both.
I started the story from the low vision widget because that’s going to be a centerpiece of our story – why there is a widget.
We made a Userway widget. And as you said, it became known as an overlay, which we don’t think is the best word, because overlay means on top. And we don’t really think it’s on top.
But to go on with the story, Allon did contact professionals. And just as he had built that whole site by himself, he studied up and became an accessibility expert. And he did re-code his site.
And he became very interested in those aspects that could be automated because that’s Allon’s heart and soul and mine as well – looking for places where people and technology can collaborate to make a better life, a life with dignity, what I call digital dignity.
I am drawn to those situations where tools help us to be more human, reduce us to being machines. Like when you call those voicemails and they say, “Click 4 if you want this, click 3 if you want this”, and they, kind of the machine forces you to behave like a machine.
But look at the other kinds of tools we have. The voice assistants are really amazing.
And Google Translate, they’re making that for free. It’s just astonishingly helpful, you know. When I travel, you can say I become situationally disabled ’cause things that I’m accustomed to doing, like just ordering food, become very difficult when I’m in Japan.
I was in Japan for 2 weeks. And so I relied on Google Translate. That’s a tool that helped me to achieve my goals.
So yes, we have a passion for tools.
Allon did study up. He is an expert now in WCAG, in front-end development, in making things truly accessible at source.
And at the same time, we found that there were things that we could automate. We started with what we call the low-hanging fruit, the things that were easier to automate.
Computer vision is a very mature artificial intelligence. When we started using it to automatically provide image alts, we were one of the first.
Since then, it’s just proliferated.
Now, the Chrome browser will automatically identify image alts. Microsoft’s Immersive Reader will do that. I’m wondering when screen readers themselves will start doing that, ’cause that type of artificial intelligence has become more and more commoditized, and cheaper, and easier to do.
Jonathan: You’re talking about computer vision, as in recognizing images, and then giving a text description?
Jonathan: Yeah. So JAWS already does that.
Lionel: Oh, good. [laughs]
Jonathan: It’s got a smart scan feature where you can invoke that and get a description of images. So that is a tool that’s in there.
I think there may be an NVDA add-on, but I don’t know. I’m not an NVDA user. But JAWS certainly has it.
Can I come back and ask you about alternative approaches? What would happen if all this energy was put into advocating to the manufacturers of the big CMS products like WordPress that essentially said, “You must not list inaccessible themes in your theme store on the WordPress site.” “You must, when a webpage is being saved, provide a warning that makes it clear that this has some accessibility issues and make it very difficult for that page to be saved without correcting them.”
Wouldn’t that be a much more constructive approach, so that a lot more is accessible natively?
Lionel: I follow where you’re going, and I’m walking with you. I would not be against things like that.
I tend to use metaphors to help me think about the world, the modern world, and what we call the built environment. And I’m looking out your window, and I see a highway out there, and there are cars, and there are very strict rules about what cars can have and what they can’t have.
And if you go out on that highway with something that you’ve cobbled together in your garage, and doesn’t have a rear view mirror, and doesn’t have a blinker, then at some point, you’re going to get pulled over, and you’re going to be told you’re not allowed to do that on this road. There’s laws, you’re going to get a fine. And if you continue to do it, they’ll impound your vehicle.
So that’s an example of rules, rather strict rules, which our society made and enforced, and we’re all comfortable with them.
You know, you don’t see people protesting that they want to bring their go-carts out on the freeway.
Unfortunately, and as I said, I’m not against what you said at all, because we need to ensure equal access to services.
And by the way, when people look at technologies (because you’ve mentioned the competitor of ours several times), I would just urge to look at one of the key differences. Do they do equal access, or do they require a certain button press? Userway never require a certain button press. We do equal access for all.
So when society has things like this highway outside that I’m looking at, now we have the internet which we call the information superhighway, and you’re saying there should be like rules of the road. You don’t get to put something on the information superhighway, unless it’s assured that a blind person would have equal access through their screen reader.
So as I just said, I’m sympathetic to that. No impulse to say, “Jonathan, I don’t agree with you.” I agree with you.
Now, let’s explore together. Why isn’t it so?
And I would suggest that it’s not so because it’s just a much younger thing. We’ve had roads and highways for 110 years, and we’ve had the information superhighway for only about 30 years. And it’s unbelievably, we call it democratized. I’m not sure that’s the right word because everybody jumps on it no matter what their political government works as. But anyone can get on the internet superhighway.
And that’s, I believe, what Matt was saying – that just new code springs up every moment like weeds. You can think about it like a field. You know, just seeds fall and weeds grow.
And who’s going to enforce these rules? We’re trying. We have laws now that point to WCAG. WCAG is an incredible achievement that we can all look at it, and learn it, and assess.
There are gray areas, as you know. You bring 3 accessibility experts, and you might get 3 different opinions about certain aspects of WCAG.
Just to change topic a little because it helps. We did a training for designers, and we went to, … There’s a very popular design site called Dribbble.
And just to make the point, we looked at what are the top 10 popular designs at this moment, and they all had color contrast challenges, they all would not be accessible, Jonathan. And that’s after decades of sending this message.
So why does this remain a challenge? I don’t know.
But we should pay attention to the fact that we want everyone to think this way. And yet, the top 10 designs are not accessible.
And so that’s why I hope people can open their hearts to the innovative approach that Userway takes, which is to put automated checkers.
By the way, everyone’s using automated checkers today. The so-called overlay controversy only comes into play when you say, “I’m going to do automated checking in the last mile in the user’s browser.” No one’s against doing automated checking in the test environment.
Jonathan: Yeah, but you’re doing more than checking. You’re remediating. And I think that’s where the controversy comes.
I mean, I remember a thing called Bobby that was around 20 years ago that was doing automated checking.
But I think the issue here is once you’ve verified that there’s an accessibility problem, how do you remediate that?
Standards are available in physical buildings. If you walk into a building like this here at the Hilton in America, they will have had to comply with a range of standards, health and safety, building codes, you name it, in order to open this hotel.
Why aren’t the blind entitled to the same respect, in that there are standards that must be adhered to if you publish a public website?
Lionel: Again, of course the blind are entitled.
Jonathan: But they’re not, though. Otherwise, there wouldn’t be a need for this technology that you’re doing.
If there were standards that were enforced and enforceable, there wouldn’t be a need for Userway, right? Because the world would have to be accessible on the web.
Lionel: I hear you.
I would point you again to the issue of maturity. You mentioned buildings.
Well, buildings of this height started in 1880s, in Chicago, and fire rules about buildings. I’ll just remind you, a fan of history like I am, that the fire department was invented by Benjamin Franklin. And when fire departments were first made, you had to sign up with a particular one and they actually, if you didn’t have the right fire department, they were even setting fire to the competing fire department’s buildings.
And it’s hard for us to imagine that because the standards around the built environment have settled down, but it’s a matter of maturity.
We’ve been building skyscrapers for 150 years, and we figured out that we need well-indicated exits.
You know, there was the Triangle Fire where a lot of people died horribly because the exits were locked. Those kinds of things still happen in other countries where there isn’t as a mature set of building standards.
We see earthquakes happening in countries. There was one recently in Turkey, a tragedy where many buildings fell down because it turned out that the people enforcing the building standards weren’t really doing their work.
So I really think looking at maturity will help us to understand this, and not to take it personally. It’s not like anybody wakes up and says, “Well, I’m going to discriminate against the blind.”
In fact, in our business, we’re trusted by over a million websites. We deal every week with many many businesses of all sizes, and shapes, and types. Not one of them says, “Well, I don’t want blind people on my site.”
In general, we have just the opposite thing. “I didn’t know,” they say. “Why isn’t it working? Why do I have to buy this other thing to make it work? Why do I need an accessibility expert?”
I sometimes tell them the story about buying a car. I say, “You bought a car, and you have a child.”
And then they say, “No, you have to buy a child car seat.”
I have a Toyota and it’s unbelievable how you can fold down the back. You can take the headrests off, and then you can fit a whole table in there.
I’ve had to move my son and put all kinds of furniture in the car. It’s like a transformer robot. It’s unbelievable how you can fold it all different ways and make all this room, but a seat for a child. Oh, we couldn’t figure out how to do that. You just have to go buy that separately.
Why is that? That’s just how cars are. Currently, that’s just how it is.
I don’t think anyone woke up and wanted to discriminate. It just keeps being that way.
Jonathan: That’s an interesting approach because when the iPhone came out in 2007, I remember touching an iPhone and all I touched, of course, as a blind person, was a useless blank piece of glass.
Now, that iPhone didn’t become accessible out of the goodness of Apple’s heart. It became accessible because it would endanger certain revenue streams if it were not accessible.
So I’m suggesting that actually, if we go down this track of automated remediation, we are letting people off the hook by not doing what we’ve done.
You know, we can walk up to any computer in the world now and have it talk. If it’s running Windows, you’ve got Narrator. If it’s running a Mac, you’ve got VoiceOver. There are options for Linux. Chromebooks have their screen reader built in.
But that didn’t happen by accident. It happened because we insisted, as blind people, that it happen.
We’re gonna talk about the specifics of your technology.
But the actual philosophical harm that Userway and companies like Userway are doing is letting people off the hook, because an automated solution is never going to be as good as the real deal. Do not agree with that, that you’re going to have to manually intervene on a regular basis.
And if we, as a blind community, are not getting out there and literally marching in the streets for proper accessibility, we are not going to realize the promise that the web offers.
Lionel: Again, I hear you, and I am 100% sympathetic to what you’re saying.
I think the different opinions here are traditional in the blind community, from what I’ve learned.
Two examples that I’ve learned about through my extensive work with blind people is the pavement bumps at railway stations, and the clickers at traffic lights. These are two examples where the house was divided, where I believe the NFB itself was against the pavement bumps.
Jonathan: Yes, this is a uniquely American problem, by the way. So, I mean, the NFB was pretty much on its own in not approving of those things.
Lionel: Okay. So what I’m pointing out is that the house can be divided on certain topics that are of critical importance to the blind community. And I would like to respectfully propose that this is a place where the house is divided, and I’ll explain why.
Again, I love what you said, and I think the blind community knows this better than the world at large, which is very often, vulnerable populations will accept a less than good technology ’cause at least it helps.
And then, the technology gets fostered and grows in its capabilities within that subgroup. And suddenly, it becomes good enough. And then, everyone starts using it. It’s a kind of curb cut effect.
So closed caption is an example of that.
I remember when my mother turned on closed caption a long time ago, it was just awful. It was almost ludicrous, all the errors that were in it.
And now, voice to text is so good that everyone has it on, even people who hear, people who are sighted, what we might call fully abled people, they turn the sound off and they just read the captions. My wife will watch TV and only read the subtitles.
Jonathan: Audio description’s similar. A lot of people are now switching audio description on.
Lionel: There you go, because they enjoy the multiple modalities. And that is a really powerful curb cut.
And I don’t think people who are just watching Netflix realize that there was decades where blind people had to put up with craptions (I think they still call the automated captions craptions ’cause they’re still not quite good enough), but they got better quickly.
Now, what I would post to you, very respectfully, I would suggest that the house is divided here for the following reasons.
You’ve said multiple times that this kind of edge, detection and remediation, and if we have the patients, … By the way, Jonathan, it’s really important to divide those two. They’re related, but they’re separate.
So I would suggest that the ability to detect and remediate at the edge, to have some kind of square on the screen, and who knows what design the guy used, and who knows where the guy lives, and if he ever heard of accessibility, and I wish he had labeled it as a button. But you look at it and instead, it says div, div, div, span, span, div, but it certainly is a button.
So why not have an automated process?
And Apple has done this. This is on the new iOS versions. The Apple device sees the square and says, “Gosh, this looks like a button.”
And you, the end user, can say, “This is a button.”
And then, your Apple device will say, “This is a button from now on.”
And that’s an example of detecting at the edge, and then remediating at the edge.
And I would suggest, respectfully again, that we open our hearts to the fact that there can be a divided house on this topic because we do feel at Userway that edge detection and edge remediation, what we like to call ART (automated remediation technology) might not be perfect now. But it’s another example of a technology that will get better and better and better, and it helps solve the problem.
If it had been working, if there wouldn’t be guys doing div, div, div, span, span, …
And for your listeners who aren’t technical, (and I know you are, Jonathan, and many of your listeners are), there is a markup on HTML code which you can look at. You can right-click in a browser.
And I always encourage people, even when they say they’re not technical, I say, “You don’t have to be technical. It’s just a kind of patience to read this strange markup because it’s human-readable.” And it should say, “Button.” And instead, it says, “Span.”
Span was made because the geniuses, frankly, the architects thought, “You know what? We’re gonna need containers that we don’t really know what’s in it, so we’re just gonna make these general things called span.”
But then when a screen reader comes along and says, “Span,” the screen reader doesn’t know how to help the user what to say. They have no, what we call, semantic markup.
So how do you feel about that? Do you think we can have a discussion here about automatic remediation technology at the edge?
Jonathan: Yes. We need to find out whether it really makes a difference.
Can I ask you, for example, if you were to pick your best website, where you go onto a website where Userway is being deployed, and you think, “This is a very good example of our technology.”, what would a screen reader user notice?
This is one of the challenges that I have, by the way. And I’ve mentioned AccessiBe specifically.
I noticed you don’t name it, and I understand why. It’s kind of like the Voldemort of the…
It must not be named, or whatever.
But I think one of the…
Let’s just say for argument’s sake, for the sake of this discussion, that your technology is superior to that which AccessiBe deploys. And I’m not making a judgment on that. But let’s go with this hypothesis.
The trouble I have as an end user is, I don’t know which of these providers is offering the remediation. And I do think that it should be an industry standard that at the bottom of every website or somewhere that a blind person knows to expect it, we see powered by Userway, or powered by AccessiBe. So there’s absolutely no ambiguity, and we know who to talk to.
But I realize I’ve actually asked you about 3 questions there at once, so I’ll be quiet and let you respond to any of them.
Lionel: Again, I just wanna begin by saying I love where you went. I’m walking with you hand in hand.
You did mention a few different things.
So first of all, I do try not to mention competitors because I know my product’s the best.
Lionel: But I do know many competitors’ products, for better or worse, for various reasons.
And the second part of what you said also deeply resonates with me.
One of the differentiators in Userway is that one of its founders, myself, is a very committed W3C participant. I’m experienced in W3C.
I cut my chops there in the first startup that I ever founded, which I founded because myself and a friend of mine from when I was a child, (We were friends since we were 14.), he called me one day and said, “Do you realize Facebook is tracking, even when you’re not on Facebook?”
And I said, “Yeah, yeah, I do realize that.”
And he said, (’cause his kids were 8 and 9 at that time, and I had 3 kids), and he was like, “I don’t want this. How do we stop this?”
And we ended up forming a company called Emmett. We ran for a while.
That whole space is called the personal identity space. It’s now called sovereign identity. It’s a huge space.
Nobody’s cracked the puzzle, Jonathan, of really monetizing people’s desire for privacy.
It turns out to be a conundrum. Whoever cracks it is gonna have a trillion-dollar business ’cause just get $1 from everybody, you’ve got already $2 billion a year.
But no one’s cracked it.
But when I started doing identity and digital dignity, I quickly became aware that the W3C was working on a standard for that.
Now, W3C here, … Talk about a divided house. W3C had the advertising companies there – Google and Facebook, who are data maximalists. They basically want all your data, and they want you to feel that you can trust them. And they’re very active on W3C, but a lot of privacy activists were also.
I joined groups that are now called the digital identifier. I’ve deep and close friendships in that community.
And I became active, and came to love the W3C process.
By the way, W3C, 3W’s World Wide Web. Then, the C is consortium.
When I co-founded Userway, (I began the story earlier.), my friend had developed the free widget. He started doing automated remediations, and he started doing audits.
Jonathan, right from the beginning, Userway had a manual practice and an automated practice.
And as the business just took off, it skyrocketed. The free widget was viral. Our audits were being picked up by more and more enterprises.
And I saw that this was a very exciting opportunity. And the company that I was in was struggling.
Another interesting story to tell, because we were doing GPT before it became famous.
And then, I joined him. So we’re very active in W3C.
And I personally am chair of new standards, which I’d love to talk about, but we have so much for this podcast, maybe be a future podcast. I’ll tell you about our standard on alternative and augmentative communication.
Part of our challenges here is that it’s immature, it’s new stuff, it’s all new stuff. And it’s time consuming, and it can be difficult.
But we did an empathy lab ourselves. So we were very curious about that same question that you just asked, and we made a journey where a person who is blind, he went to 3 sites. He went to 2 sites of our competitors. And then, he went to a Userway site. And there was a night and day difference in the quality.
Quality is hard to assess. You have to be very knowledgeable to assess the difference in quality between these providers. And so I’m sympathetic to that problem.
I didn’t cause that problem, and feel I’m one of the people working to solve it. That’s why I started talking about W3C so much.
When we saw this divided house, I was chagrined, personally. I felt that our story isn’t getting out there.
People who get to know me personally know that I deeply care about people. In fact, I’m in this for relationships and people. I mentor people.
I don’t pretend to know what’s right for any individual person.
There’s a saying, an old Jewish saying, “Every person is a universe unto himself.”, and I love those universes.
So I don’t pretend to know what’s right for any individual person. But I do really care, and one reason why we’re here is we’re hoping people can get to know better who are the personalities behind these companies. And it’s a little bit simplistic to try to demonize a whole technology, and to claim that everybody who is developing edge and automatic remediation technologies is in some sense evil.
So we understand that it is hard to determine quality. And that’s why in W3C, we’ve developed a new specification. It’s new.
I shared it with you the other day. I think you read the first page.
Jonathan: I did, yeah.
Lionel: And what do you think? Is it a good direction?
We’re trying to give people … Instead of just saying overlay, you need to divide it out. Because as I already pointed out, you can detect, and you can remediate. Those are two separate things.
Lionel: You can do user-triggered changes for font sizes, or you can add instructions to screen readers for a form that didn’t have a label. Those are two different things.
Jonathan: I think the problem we have (and I’m coming back to the question that I don’t think you’ve answered), is that as an end user, (a lot of my listeners are in the same position), we do not know if it works. The standard is irrelevant if the technology is fundamentally flawed.
Now, you mentioned Matt Campbell earlier, and Matt Campbell is part of a team that has developed an extension for Chromium-based browsers called AccessiByeBye. And when you run that extension, it blocks you, it blocks AccessiBe, it blocks AudioEye, it blocks a number of the providers. And there’s been significant uptake of that extension.
And what I’ve said to Matt is I want a hotkey, if we could, so that I can toggle AccessiByeBye off and toggle it on again.
Because I want to ask you again, how do I know that this technology is making a difference if you won’t let me, first of all, find out who’s doing it? Is it you? Is it AccessiBe? is it AudioEye?
And secondly, that I can toggle it off so I can have confidence.
See, I don’t know whether the technology Userway is using is making a difference because I don’t know which is yours, and I can’t switch it off. So how can I tell?
Lionel: There’s a lot of things going on. Let me just go one by one.
If a site is using Userway’s free widget (which has nothing to do with screen readers, it only offers options for low vision or cognitive issues), then you’ll know it’s there because it’ll say, “Click here to open the Userway widget.”
If a site is using Userway’s automated remediation technology, which means that the widget is both detecting and remediating, then you need to be a little technical. You can right-click, and then you’ll know because Userway’s additions are marked with the letters UW, and you can tell. So it’s not like we’re keeping anything a secret.
If Userway is only being contracted for its training, Empathy Labs, and manual audit practice or scanner, then you can’t tell because there’s no indication at all. But that’s the same with every accessibility provider.
The leaders in the community who have been in the business for 20 years, they’re consultants.
One of the consultants who is, in the sense of this divided house, he’s, I would say, a leader of the opposition. He said, point blank, “I consult for companies that end up getting sued. That’s not my issue. I consult, I train them, and what happens is their own destiny.” So you can’t tell which consultant helps.
And so if Userway is contracted only for our consulting training and audit services, then there’s no way to tell currently, ’cause there’s nobody in the industry.
Lionel: There’s no policy around that.
So I hope I’ve now directly answered your question ’cause I was not avoiding it. I’m just delighting in the discussion here.
And I just wanna really thank you again ’cause you’ve made clear, if this is a divided house, you are in the opposition.
Jonathan: No, no, no, no, no, no, no.
Lionel: [laughs] Oh, no?
Jonathan: What I’m saying is I don’t know.
Lionel: Ah, okay.
Jonathan: So if I go to a website with Userway on it, it may be a really great experience for me. But I don’t know it’s Userway that’s doing it, that the automated technology is working.
And so as somebody who’s open to the idea, the traditional accessibility approach has an enormous problem with scale. I absolutely acknowledge that. It does not scale well.
So I’m talking to you because I’m open to the possibility, and I think a lot of reasonable people are.
What I don’t know is when I go to a website with your technology deployed, I don’t know it’s your technology, so I can’t evaluate how well it is doing or not doing.
Lionel: Good. So Userway.org is our website. We keep a list there of logos that are recognizable, that we’re proud of, that have adopted our services.
Again, it’s tricky, not because we’re trying to make things more complicated. But I want to remind you, respectfully, and this is something Curtis Chang talked about in our meeting that was called Here to Listen.
He spoke, and he said, “You know, in the blind community, there’s a very small percentage of people who are technical and patient.” like yourself, like Curtis, like Matt, who we keep mentioning.
But the vast majority of blind people are just like the vast majority of all people. They don’t understand that these things that feel simple, …
You know, you pick up your phone and you want to make an appointment for a medical visit. So you type in the name of the clinic, and then you click, and then you’re having trouble making the appointment, and you get upset.
Who do you blame?
So many people, right? Jonathan, they say, “I was using Google,” right? They don’t even know that they’re on a website.
So there’s a chain of complexity which we didn’t create. It’s a fact of modern life that things are complicated. It took me years. It actually would upset me.
You’d get the phone, remember? And then you’d get the internet service provider, and then the internet wouldn’t work.
So you’d call the phone and say, “Well, that’s not us.” And they both had the similar name. One was Verizon, one was Verizon Inc. And it took me 5 years to figure out who was who. It was really frustrating.
So I feel one part of your question is that frustration, and I’m honoring it. I’m honoring it. I’m just saying I didn’t cause that.
Lionel: Now, to help, I’m really going into the question.
So you can go to our site, Userway.org. We have there a list of many companies.
I’m just pointing out. Some of them may have their free widget. Some of them may have the automatic remediation, which is what you’re interested in. So I’ll give you examples of sites that do use the automated remediation.
The Motley Fool is a investment site, and maybe your listeners would be interested in that.
Jonathan: I am a Motley Fool subscriber, in fact. Watching my Amazon shares skyrocketing right now.
Lionel: So Jonathan, every time you’ve gone there, you’ve been using Userway without even knowing it. We’re not getting in your way. [laughs]
Jonathan: Yeah, I know. No, no. I know there is, because there’s like an accessibility button at the top. And I think, does it say something like click here for accessibility mode or something like that?
Lionel: So I’m glad you brought that up ’cause here, … And again, I’m apologizing that things are complicated. I didn’t cause that.
By the way, I tend to complicate things. I like to go into detail, as you’ve probably been figuring out by now.
And it’s one reason why I have such a delightful synergy with my partner, Allon Mason, who, …
By the way, I call myself co-founder ’cause I’ve been very significant, I am a very significant part of Userway. My title is Chief Compliance Operating Officer, and also I’m the Chief Security Officer.
I’m responsible for the architecture of Userway, which I’m super proud of.
It’s a privacy-preserving architecture, where we ship the algorithms to the browser.
I have so many things that I would be happy to share.
But my partner is into simplicity, as I already told you the story, where I was in the complaining about the Apple One button, and he said, “No button!” [laughs] So we’re not complicating things deliberately.
And I know that some people on the opposition in this divided house listen to your podcast. And again, I thank you for having me on.
So I’m even speaking directly to them and say, Please cut us some slack. Understand that we’re not causing this complexity. It’s just there.
Now, we offer several different products. And one of our products, the Userway widget, could be free, or you could use the widget that does automatic remediation technology, which is very cool. It’s art, which is kind of cool.
If you have that on the page, then a person with low vision or cognitive issues may want to click it, to open it.
Now, that’s very different from the competitors that you’ve mentioned who do something different. They want you to click it to roll out their automated remediation.
Or it might not even be automated. We have a competitor that does it all manually.
Lionel: So that’s very different.
Now, again, I’m reminding you, …
My brain is, for some reason, … I’ve been like this since I’m little. Some people say I’m on the spectrum in a way. I have the patience for all these details.
That is what we’re doing in W3C. So if you look at this accessibility edge specification, one item is, do you need to click it to bring in these automated remediations (which you have made clear, Jonathan, that you are concerned that they’re low quality)? I’m honoring that.
I’m reminding you and the listeners, I heard you. I think that’s an exciting place where technology will develop fast.
But that is not what Userway does.
Lionel: No. You don’t have to click us to turn on our automated remediation technology.
Jonathan: Okay. So let’s talk about the Motley Fool website, ’cause that’s a website I’m very familiar with.
And at the top of that page, of all the pages, there’s a button that says, I think the alt text is something like, click here for accessibility mode, or I can’t remember the exact terminology.
So what I inferred from that was that if I don’t press that button, I’m not getting automated remediation. ’Cause that certainly, I believe that is how one of your competitors, AccessiBe, works. And I guess at least with AccessiBe, I can tell what it’s doing and whether I approve of what it’s doing or not.
So this is a different approach with UserWay where unknowingly, I may have been benefiting from the remediation because that button does not actually toggle it on and off as other accessibility providers may do.
So what I can say now, being familiar with the Motley Fool, is that when I go there as a screen reader user, I find it pretty nicely delineated with headings. There’s nothing there that I can’t do, and it doesn’t look to me like a quick automated job. It looks pretty thorough to me.
But see, that comes back to the earlier part of my question. It may be that people who really care about this stuff, … I mean, this is our access to information we’re talking about. In some cases, it’s our livelihoods, it’s our independence. So emotions are gonna run high.
If I can’t tell that you’re doing all this good on the Motley Fool website, because I’ve got no easy way, (and maybe Matt’s gonna give me one with this toggle I’ve been asking for with his Chrome extension), but if I’ve got no easy way to turn it on and turn it off so I can see the difference, … I mean, maybe the Motley Fool is a really crappy website without Userway on it, but I don’t know that. And so it may be that you’re getting a lot of a bad rep for no good reason.
Lionel: I’m excited because you’ve, … Can we quote you? Can we put your picture on our front page and say, “I use Motley Fool and I love it.”
Jonathan: Well, here we are on a public podcast, you know.
Jonathan: But you see the point?
Lionel: I do, I do.
Jonathan: That I can’t tell that it’s you doing that. If you are actually doing good, then you’re kind of hiding your light under a bushel because there’s nowhere on that site that says it’s powered by Userway. And I have always assumed that by not pressing that button at the top of the page, I have not activated any automated remediation.
Lionel: Like I said, I’m excited now because as we’ve said, there are a small minority of people who are technical, and we’re here to listen to them. And we’ve had great conversations.
But the vast majority of people here are just like the vast majority of people everywhere. They don’t really think in these technical and mechanical ways.
And I’ve just said to everyone who came over to my table, they say, “What is this?”
And I say, “We’re Userway. We are a digital accessibility solutions provider. When you go to a website, if it has Userway, it makes the experience better for people who use a screen reader.”
Lionel: That’s what I say, and that is the truth ’cause that covers everything we do, except the free widget, which doesn’t do anything for a screen reader user.
So this is a challenge of communication.
If you do manual navigation, I’m gonna click tab. The first tab, it says skip to main content.
Lionel: So the Userway is on this site, and you’re getting a chance to skip to main content. We do that in case there isn’t a native skip link. If there is a native skip link, Jonathan, then in Userway, you turn off the Userway skip to main content, and you get your native skip to main content. That’s a choice that we give to our users.
Now, the next time I click tab, it says enable accessibility for visually impaired.
Lionel: And here, I know. And you’ve said it confused you. I honor that. I understand.
Jonathan: Well, if I don’t press that button, I figure it’s not enabled. I think that’s a perfectly reasonable assumption.
Lionel: Yes, but we meant low vision.
Lionel: And then if I click tab again, it says open the accessibility menu and I’ll tell you internally, we discuss, “Do we need to offer that option as well? Couldn’t they just tab over to the widget?”
And then, there’s one more. Open the accessible navigation menu. Now, this is an interesting topic. I think your blind listeners might be interested in this further detail.
We talk about curb cuts. Curb cut, as I’m sure most of you know, is the effect where the wheelchair and motor impaired community had to lobby off, had to struggle to get curb cuts to be enshrined in law.
And once they did that, everyone enjoys them. In fact, in Israel, where I currently live, they actually say for mother and child, they literally say those words for mother and child ’cause when you have a stroller, you want that curb cut. When you have a skateboard, when you have a bicycle, and of course, if you’re in a wheelchair, you need the curb cut.
So curb cut is the word for a accommodation that has been invented and perfected for a vulnerable community, but it ends up helping everybody. And we love curb cuts.
At Userway, we think it’s a curb cut the way blind users have become accustomed to discover what’s on a page by going to button navigation, link navigation, and heading navigation.
And sighted people in an ordinary browser never navigate that way. They don’t, and we’re excited by it.
So we built that into our free widget and our automated remediation technology widget that you can open a dialogue if you’re a sighted person, and it gives you the list of headings, the list of buttons. So that’s the accessible navigation menu.
Another difference with our competitors is that the user triggered options, they all bundled them. And there’s been some fierce opposition to that, ’cause do you mean I need to label myself as a certain kind of condition where I need all these 3 different remediations? I just want larger font, you know.
And some of our competitors insist on you choosing a profile. Userway did not have profiles in all of our early versions.
But when we saw that many of the competitors were doing that, and we saw that people liked that and were even requesting it, so we added, … You can optionally select a profile, and then we’ll turn on a bunch of things for you.
But we don’t require it. We do not label people.
Jonathan: And we’ll send a cookie with it so that it works across sites.
Lionel: Oh, you brought it up. Now there. Well, you have to be very careful here.
You brought up a topic I love, which is frankly, wouldn’t it be great, you go to the trouble of saying, I want this font.
By the way, we have a dyslexia-friendly font. We understand that it doesn’t solve, there’s no such thing as solving dyslexia. We understand that it helps some people.
Let’s say it helps you. You love this font. You’d like to bring it everywhere. Why not?
Or you’ve turned on Zoom, you want dark mode. Whatever your preferences are on the Motley Fool, why can’t you bring them everywhere?
So I just want, … We’re touching a tender, tender spot, and I want to share and really to dialogue about the issues around this.
So on the one hand, we don’t want to violate people’s privacy. I’ve already told you, I am a privacy nut, okay?
On the other hand, we want to bring a portable profile with us.
So in the W3C Accessibility at the Edge community, where we’re listing what you can do at the Edge, one thing that we’re very excited about is we’ve said, you could, (we’re not saying you should), you could have a portable profile. That would be a good thing. And that’s not up to the content source to give, it’s up to you at the Edge. It’s up to the Edge provider, like Userway.
So we’ve put it on the list, and we’re working on it. We’re working on it with the verifiable credentials and digital identifier community to open the door to this discussion.
It’s not going to be simple, Jonathan, ’cause we don’t want to give away things.
But the use case that I’m stuck on, just as an engineer, is why should you download images if you’re blind? Why bother? [laughs]
Jonathan: Yeah, I actually used to have images switched off for that very reason, because it makes page loading much faster.
Lionel: Much faster.
Jonathan: Much much faster.
But then, there came certain instances where that was affecting the user experience, so I reluctantly had to switch images back on.
Lionel: Ah, right.
Jonathan: But yeah, it’s an interesting question.
So I’m very intrigued by the specific Motley Fool episode or example. And it might be possible for me to just block the Userway stuff and see what the experience is like without it.
I mean, do you happen to know, is it appreciably more horrible as a screen reader user to…
Lionel: So I do just, I need to say quickly, Motley Fool is our customer. We think they’re wonderful. We were so excited…
Jonathan: I do too, and the recommendations are good.
Lionel: Yes. And when they joined the Userway family, we were very excited.
And I want you to know that Motley Fool is deeply committed to accessibility at source.
We have many customers, Jonathan, and they’re all different types. I would say every business is unique.
But I just want to stress, Motley Fool has a rich internal accessibility practice.
But they chose Userway because they wanted the low vision on-site remediations, and they wanted the automated remediations for those things that they haven’t yet fixed.
Lionel: So I just would like you and your listeners to know, they are deeply committed in the proper way to accessibility.
That we have some customers, large companies up to billion dollar revenue, who they just want everything to be done automated.
And this goes back to the discussion near the beginning where you’ve already stated your position, that you want those companies like, “Wake up, guys.”, Throw cold water over them.
But people have that position. They just want to throw automation on it and move on. And we don’t want that either.
We sell all the solutions, Jonathan. [laughs] We want them to teach their developers to do it right.
But Motley Fool is not a case of that. They’re deeply committed, and they just loved the choices for users, and they love that it will catch certain things that might have slipped through until they get a chance to remediate at source.
Jonathan: So it may be that in the case of the Motley Fool, at least, the major differences are low vision-related, and that the site for screen reader users may have been relatively all right in terms of its structure and other things before remediation.
Lionel: And by the way, only because we’re talking about so many important things, it’s a chance for me to just say, your podcast is wonderful.
And if people have dropped in here just to hear Userway, I recommend the Living Blindfully podcast.
And I think there’s something called the Mosen Explosion.
Jonathan: The Mosen Explosion is a radio show.
Lionel: [laughs] Yeah. And Jonathan, you haven’t made any musical references on my podcast. I want one. [laughs]
Jonathan: Well, we’ll try and get there. We’ll try and get there.
Lionel: But we’re talking about so many wonderful things.
Let me now finally address your point, which I 100% agree with and live with, which is, wouldn’t it be great to, if there is a site with an automated remediation technology, to do a comparison, turn it on and turn it off?
Jonathan: Yeah, yeah.
Lionel: And you’re absolutely right. If Matt puts an on/off switch, you’ll be able to do that easily.
We are working with one of the world’s largest blind advocacy groups. We’re about to close the contract where we will be able to do those tests.
They’re not totally simple tests, Jonathan. You take a certain kind of patience, a certain kind of, … You have to remember what you did, you have to do it with the automated remediation technology, without the automated remediation technology.
So it’s just a complex test. It’s a test that we love, and we’ve done it. We had an internal Empathy Lab for our team. We do Empathy Labs for our internal teams all the time.
And one of them, I told you, we make it a kind of infotainment. So in this one, the fellow who is blind went out to, I can’t remember exactly, but he ended up wanting to buy a motorcycle, and that was a competitor technology. And the experience was god awful, Jonathan. It was really awful.
And then, he decided to go to investigate buying an airplane.
You know, that’s funny, ’cause he’s blind. [laughs] So it keeps the audience awake.
And that was another competitor, and the experience was really bad.
And then, he went to send Elon Musk a message that he wanted to fly on the SpaceX, and that was Twitter before he fired all the accessibility people.
And then, he used a Userway site, and the differences were night and day.
Now that’s a long session, Jonathan. So really, I just think it’s time and money and maturity.
Look, another example. You see, I’m a history aficionado.
When electricity started being a thing, you know, think about it.
The world is made of wooden buildings, brick buildings. Everyone’s cooking at home on fires.
And then, Thomas Edison invents electricity. Nikola Tesla says it should be alternating current. They’ve got this new thing.
Thomas Edison wants so much to disgrace Tesla, that he’s electrocuting dogs and cats to say that Tesla’s alternating current is more dangerous than his direct current.
And then suddenly, there’s all these things being built – washing machines, lights, and people are dying.
And so you end up with something called UL. Today, you don’t even notice it. UL – Underwriters Laboratories. Independent firm that would say, this device meets the specifications. It won’t kill you. Just don’t drop it in the bath.
So all these automated remediation technologies, they’re just so new.
It’s not a simple test that you’re proposing. We would love it.
Please do the test and contact us. We think we’ve passed with flying colors.
Some of our automated remediation technology is really good. Some of it’s not so great.
We train our sales team to tell people the automated technology is not perfect.
We prefer that you do a manual audit. We prefer that you remediate at source.
But we will happily, and if I may now be on my side of the house, we will happily sell somebody just the automated technology ’cause it does do a fair amount of work to make the experience better for a screen reader user.
Jonathan: You drew some really interesting parallels there.
Because with any new innovation, there are people whose jobs are threatened, or people who believe their jobs might be threatened. And you can go from the horse-drawn buggy to the motor vehicle, any number of things. We’ve seen a lot of disruption over time with people who’ve been in certain lines of work, and something has come along and essentially automated that work.
And there’s no doubt that there are accessibility professionals who are concerned that their livelihoods are disappearing.
But I think if I try and diagnose the predicament that we’re in, I would say Userway’s been around for about 5 years, since about 2018, and this is your first NFB convention.
And it is true that a lot of people just wanna go to a website and know that it works, but they also rely on a group of blind influencers who do understand this technology, and who they rely on to give them assurance that this technology is not harmful.
And until recently, you’ve not really engaged with those key blind influencers – the people who are connected, the people who are online, the peoples whose opinions are valued because people have learned to trust them for years over time.
And those influencers, I mean, there may be one or two who are outright hostile, but what I’m detecting from them is they just are concerned about whether this really works or not.
So you’ve got people who are on the fence who are open-minded, but who just haven’t been engaged within a respectful, appropriate way.
Lionel: I love what you just said, really. I’m 100% on board with it.
And so let me add just a little nuance as to why things play out the way they do.
First of all, founding Userway and bringing it public was the most, the hardest thing I ever did in my entire life. I endangered my marriage in doing it. It took 15-hour days. I thought I was a hard worker, and this brought me to a level of work which was just superhuman.
And I’m glad I did it.
By the way, I’m married for 38 years.
Jonathan: Oh, well done.
Lionel: And we’ve patched things up. In fact, my wife says I completely exaggerated and the marriage was never, … [laughs]
But she was just tired of waiting around for me, Jonathan. And I got worried about that, and I thought I went a little too far.
So I just, … The first part of my answer is just, there’s just not enough hours in the day.
I have a nephew who has real challenges, and I mentor young people. And I haven’t had enough time to help him to do his job hunting.
So I like nothing better than these conversations. And I hope if just the people listening, if you want to talk to me, please do. I love the dialogue.
I’m not afraid of being on the other side of the house. In fact, I think that’s a dynamic society.
I mentioned the Jewish culture. We have an old joke.
The ship passes an island and there’s these two scraggly men waving sticks and lighting fires, and they come over and they say, “We’ve been here for 10 years.”
They go, “Well, how did you survive?”
They noticed there’s these three huts and they say, “What’s this hut here?”
And the guy on the left says, “Well, that’s my synagogue.”
And so they say, “Well, what’s that one over there?”
The guy on the right says, “That’s my synagogue.”
And they say, “Well, what’s the one in the middle?”
They say, “That’s the one neither of us will go to.”
Lionel: So there’s a deep tradition in the Jewish culture of difference of opinion being a healthy thing. And that’s where I live.
So it’s really just a matter of time. We would love to talk to all and anyone who wants to talk with us.
Jonathan: We’ll be back with Lionel Wolberger, co-founder of Userway in just a moment.
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Jonathan: Can I ask you about this? This was on my little mental checklist of things to ask you.
One of the things that came up in your listening discussions here at NFB was something that Adrian Roselli put out there on his blog. For those who don’t know him, he’s an accessibility consultant. He’s not blind. He’s a vocal opponent of overlay technologies.
I think one of your competitors is actually suing him at the moment.
He is alleging that the WebAIM tool that detects the accessibility of websites and compliance with web standards has been worked around by your technology. And I did want to give you a chance to respond to that because this comes back to this whole truth question.
Lionel: It’s a great question.
So there are many automated scanners in the world. I’ll just remind our listeners. There’s automated detection, which is different from automated remediation.
And I would say just to simplify that in the community in general, there is a consensus that automated detection is a good thing.
There’s a W3C supported community group called the ACT Rules, which is dedicated to automated detection. One of our competitors chairs that committee. They chair it fairly. So there is a free and open source availability of the automated detection.
They also then sell their own product, wrapping that.
So we use different automated detection rules.
But I would say, and this is maybe a moment you could just dissent, that people agree that automated detection is a good thing. Many people feel it should only happen in the testing environment.
And some companies, like Userway, think automated detection should happen in the browser with the user experience, ’cause that’s the only place where a company can know what’s really happening, ’cause there’s all these third-party services happening there that don’t happen in the test environment.
Lionel: Okay. Now, there are many automated detection tools, and WebAIM is one that we, Userway, actually will speak about sometimes.
There are others that we have to deal with because they’re used by plaintiff law firms. Basically, plaintiff law firms and what’s called the drive-by lawsuit industry, which monetizes the laws for accessibility, will run an automated detection tool, and then just file it as if it’s a correct report of defects on the site.
So there’s one (I’m just sticking to my policy of not naming competitor products), but there’s one that’s particularly awful, and it shows up constantly ’cause the plaintiff firms love it because it’s not good, Jonathan. And it does a lot of what’s called false positives, which means it falsely says you have these 18 violations of WCAG, and it’s wrong because automation is often wrong.
So of all of these automated detectors, WebAIM is one that we like. It’s hosted by the University of Illinois. We have a personal relationship with the director, Jared, who’s an amazingly good force in the community.
We like it. We talk about it, and we will sometimes even have our customers, if they’re curious, to try to assess a site in a different way, we would recommend that.
We would love to recommend the open source ACT. But as I said, a competitor chairs that community, and if you load that tool in your browser, then you’re gonna get opportunities to that competitor.
So that’s a tool that we don’t recommend as often, but that’s one that’s also very widely used.
Now, WebAIM makes a lot of false positives. It’s natural that it would. It’s an automated tool.
One set is color contrast.
You know, when I was at CSUN a while back, I had a meeting with Jared. And Jared said, “You know, you guys are doing something with WebAIM runs. What are you doing?”
And I said, “I don’t have the whole list, Jared. But one thing we do is we turn on color contrast.
And here, Jonathan, we’re in a strange space. And again, I’m urging your listeners to be patient ’cause this gets a little technical. But we’re in a strange space where we’re going to be more and more in the modern world, which is when my robot talks to your robot.
That’s what’s happening, ’cause you have a site with Userway, and as we’ve said, we have automated detection, automated remediation by a, I’m just calling it a robot to make it a little bit cuter. It’s algorithms.
And suddenly, this other robot shows up, Wave, and says, “I’m just trying to detect what’s going on here.”
Now, my robot sees Wave show up.
So then the Wave robot says, “Oh, you’ve got 46 color contrast violations.”
Now, we had a meeting about this early on. And he said this is just not true. It’s not true because a color contrast violation, in a legal sense, means that there is not a method to correct it.
Now, the people who were customers of Userway, you can do one click, and then there would be no color contrast violations.
So he said, “Why don’t we, when we see the Wave robot wake up, we’ll say, ‘Hold on a second, robot. Let me turn on my color contrast changes, and then you can go ahead and assess.’, ‘cause then, you’ll say, ’There’s no color contrast violations,’ which would be a true statement.”
So that’s one example, and there are many. There’s about 14 examples.
I’d like to give you one more if you have the patience.
Jonathan: Yeah, I’ve got infinite patience.
Lionel: Okay, so another example is, … Again, this is very technical, but there’s something called lazy loading.
You open a webpage, and it just seems like the webpage is there, but think about it. You scroll down sometimes, you get this fuzzy thing. And then suddenly, it’s there. Why is that?
Because search engines, Google, really prizes fast loading.
And so a pattern, we call it an architectural pattern, was to give the page the minimum that it needs, so that it can be there. And if you scroll down, we’ll deliver more.
It’s a very accepted pattern. I’d say, in fact, all major websites now work that way.
This has implications for screen readers.
Let’s say, in the first package that we give, (’cause we have to give the whole page, we give all this stuff).
And there’s something called ARIA labeled by, which means I’m sitting on your page. I have what I’m gonna say. If your screen reader pokes me, I’m going to announce something, but I’m labeled by. That thing that I’m gonna announce is actually not here on this item. It’s somewhere else on the page. And I’m going to read it to you when you ask me.
On first page load, the ARIA labeled bys aren’t there, Jonathan. They’re just not there.
So now the Wave robot comes in.
I already told you. Of all the automated scanners, we like Wave. We respect University of Illinois.
And it’s a false positive. It says, “Gosh, there’s these violations. It says ARIA labeled by, and there ain’t nothing here.”
And we’re like, “No, it’s just not there yet because there’s been no scrolling.”
This has nothing to do with Userway. This just has to do with the page itself, and how the Wave robot isn’t clever enough to force everything to load before it does its evaluation.
So that was another thing that we changed.
So our robot sees the Wave robot, and our robot goes, “Well, we know this robot. We know that this robot is deeply stupid about ARIA labeled by, so we’re just gonna tell it, all the ARIA labeled bys, don’t worry about that.”
Now, we could have done more intense work to load all the ARIA labeled bys.
I think we did a simpler algorithm than that. We just told the Wave robot, “ARIA labeled by, it’s cool. It’s cool, it’s covered.”
Those are two examples. There are a lot of examples.
And the advocates that you mentioned, you mentioned a particular gentleman’s name. I spoke with that person.
He routinely, I would say misinterprets what we’re about, what I’m about. And he doesn’t know all of these nuances that I’ve just told you two examples.
Jonathan: Yeah, so why would you not go back to the source and get them to fix the issues you say exist, rather than essentially, to work around them? It’s not a good look, is it, to essentially try and mitigate the testing tool that you believe to be inadequate, rather than get the testing tool to fix itself?
Lionel: Well, first of all, the best thing would be for the WebAIM team to meet the Userway team. And Jared was all for that.
We’re just both very busy. That’s why I began my answer with just how busy we are.
And we’re going to have those meetings, ’cause we, again, Userway, if I may modestly say, we are leaders in not only deploying these technologies, but deploying the patterns that can sustain even our competitors using them.
So what we’re proposing to WebAIM (and we’re going to have these meetings. Jared has said we will have them. We just haven’t yet had them.), is that our robot will send messages to Wave’s robot, and Wave will display those messages. So that that will not just work with Userway, but it will work with all of our competitors.
Because the future is robots talking to robots, which I know is like insane. It’s hard to imagine.
But the reality is that people are coming to a website, they’re not really interested in accessibility. They’re interested in making a buck. They’re interested in sending out a lawsuit, and forcing the business to settle.
So they’re going to run WebAIM. They don’t care what’s there. They don’t care who’s what.
They want the result. They want it to say 18 errors. They want to send that letter.
And then already, the business has to hire a lawyer, and you’re already starting to deal with thousands of dollars, just because you’ve sent a letter based on WebAIM.
Lionel: So our way forward, (we’re going in this direction. We’re not there yet.), will be that WebAIM itself, when you run it, it will present a message. And then, WebAIM will integrate with Userway so that Userway can say, “You know, you might be saying that there are color contrast errors, but we have a color contrast button. You might be saying there are ARIA by label, but we have ARIA labeled by, and you didn’t lazy load, you know.” And I think that’s the way forward for the solution for this problem.
Jonathan: In terms of those lawsuits, I believe Adrian has written a piece called Userway Will Get You Sued. He did a series of those.
Lionel: Pardon me, Jonathan, but it’s offensive. I would never say that about another company. Actually, we did say it once and we took it down because that’s not fair. It’s not accurate. It’s not correct.
And the fact that Adrian says that every day, says something that is incorrect, that is an incorrect statement that you said, my friend, seriously, and I don’t like it that you said it.
Jonathan: Right. I raise it, in order to give you an opportunity to respond to it, because there’ll be a lot of people listening to this who have read this.
Obviously, it’s a pretty eye-catching headline. And you’ve got to use a headline that grabs attention.
His argument comes back to this fundamental question of whether the technology works or not. That the reason why his argument is that Userway Will Get You Sued is that if a blind person goes to a website with Userway deployed, they will still find accessibility issues on the site that impact their ability to do what they need to do on the site.
Now, I know that there is a big drive-by lawsuit industry with the ADA, particularly in the United States, and possibly with other civil rights legislation and other jurisdictions.
But I wonder whether there has been a lawsuit involving Userway that’s gone all the way, where essentially, a court has found in favour of someone who has gone to court and said, “I want to use this website. It’s got Userway on it.”, (Although the user may not know that.), “and I still can’t.” Have you had any issues like that?
Lionel: Again, there are a few issues there. I wanna go one by one.
First of all, again, I object.
And you said it with a smile, as if it’s funny. And it’s not funny to say that about my company which employs hundreds of people, and helps thousands of websites. And we’re trusted on over a million websites.
You’re asking about actual lawsuits?
Lionel: So let’s ask the question slightly differently, just to open minds a little bit.
You have a website, and it gets a lawsuit.
What are the chances that it has an automated remediation technology like we’ve been talking about? Is it greater? Is it likely that the site with the lawsuit has an automated remediation, or not? Or that it has a consultant behind the scenes? What’s more likely?
Jonathan: If the website was fully accessible in the way, say, that a good quality human accessibility professional might make it accessible, the fact that that website is 100% accessible, fully compliant, a joy to use with a screen reader, you’re right, that doesn’t stop anybody from filing a suit because frivolous lawsuits are filed all the time.
But what you would then expect to happen is that any expert witness would be called in if the case went to trial, and the expert witness would say, “This is a bumpkin, this is just fiction. This person is being absolutely frivolous because the site is perfectly accessible.”
Adrian’s argument, (I don’t know him. I’ve only read his content.) My understanding is that Adrian’s argument and what he’s trying to paraphrase in that term (which I understand you find offensive, and I completely appreciate why), but his argument is, forget whether it’s frivolous or not.
If a lawsuit is filed that has merit and it goes to court, and an expert witness is called, will that expert witness be able to put their hand on their heart and swear, as they have to when they go into a witness box, that the website that Userway has remediated is fully accessible in the same way that a website that a human might have remediated?
Lionel: Simple answer is yes. It’s a nuanced question, so let’s go into the details.
The main objection I have to some of the activists is that they’re seeking to simplify what Userway does with one label, because they actually want to eliminate or sharply curtail the use of a certain technology.
General Foods makes all kinds of food. If you just eat potato chips and breakfast cereal your whole life, I don’t think you’ll be a very healthy person.
So to write an article “General Foods will kill you”, that would be wrong, right? General Foods does make salty snacks and breakfast cereal. They also make many other foods.
Userway is a full services provider. Userway is an active contributor to the finest standards that help the accessibility community.
When you look at the companies in this space, there are companies that bolt on positive things.
One company we’ve been mentioning over and over and over, [laughs] when they became aware that they pissed off a lot of people, they then made hundreds of videos that talk about accessibility. That has nothing to do with their technology. Those are videos that talk about accessibility.
Userway walks the walk and talks the talk.
I, Lionel Wolberger, I invite anyone to join me in W3C to look carefully at all of the agendas that we’re moving forward. It is not bolted on. It’s out of a deep understanding of how humanity and technology can work together to make a better world.
So, to simplify Userway Constantly, because we do, we do believe strongly that our customers benefit from having automated detection at the edge, and those customers who wish to use it to have automated remediation at the edge. We do believe in that product.
Now, if you’re against that product, I support your right to argue against it. And in fact, I’m gonna give you the tools.
Go to Google. Type accessibility at the edge. You’ll see a developing, it’s currently called a report. We’re going to move it into note status, and then standard status. It’s a list of everything that can be done at the edge.
And then pick out the things you’re against. Maybe you’re against all of them.
Just like WCAG, we’re giving you the list.
I’m giving you the weapons, you know.
Let’s not say weapons. Let’s use a gentler. I’m giving you the tennis racket. Let’s go out and play the game, okay?
Lionel: So I just need to start there.
This consistent tarring our whole General Foods, just ’cause they’re selling… And by the way, I’m not sure they sell fresh fruits and vegetables, so maybe it’s not the best example. [laughs]
But we also sell the fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as the salty snacks.
Lionel: Okay. Now to go on, ’cause I’m really not avoiding. It’s just so much to talk about.
Let’s say a company that is sued, which happens all the time…
And by the way, you didn’t answer my question. I would just love for you to answer it.
Let me repeat it.
We have a company that’s gotten sued. What is more likely? That it has an automated remediation technology or widget, or that it has a consultant behind the scenes who’s been helping the team learn to be accessible? What is more likely?
Jonathan: I don’t understand the question. I mean, obviously a lot, well, more automated sites exist now. I would imagine, even in this short space of time, than sites that have been manually remediated.
Lionel: Just to clarify the question, let me ask it a little differently.
We said in the beginning of the conversation, we just want everyone to understand accessibility and make things accessible. That’s what we want.
So we want people who took computer science classes who then understand accessibility. When they code, they code semantically and properly, so that they don’t have to use mats wrapper to be accessible.
We want designers to design with proper use of color, and to give the right instructions.
We want product managers to understand that their persona, maybe it’s in the middle-aged executive, well, they should also do it for a middle-aged executive who happens to be blind or who happens to be deaf.
Lionel: All of those approaches, let’s call that approach A or S – accessibility at source.
Let’s call the other approach – guys who didn’t learn anything, and they just slapped on some automation. Let’s call that automation only.
There’s a lawsuit.
Which is more likely, that the company behind it had some training of accessibility at source, or that it has some automation? Which is more likely?
Jonathan: Well, I think that depends on whether one believes that the automated technology is effective or not.
See, you are a very sincere man, and I’m not questioning your motives, and I understand why you feel that some of the critics that have come from others have been quite personally hurtful, particularly when you’ve invested so much of your time, and energy, and all the things that you talked about. We’ve been talking long enough, that I kind of understand the way you like to work. [laughs]
So let’s follow the analogy thing.
You can have a company with a range of very successful, effective products. And then, you can have a product within that company that is a bust.
You might have, for example, a computer company that makes a range of laptops. And one of them, for whatever reason, has a defect and has to be…
Lionel: It is a lemon, yeah.
Jonathan: It has to be recalled. It’s a lemon, right.
So no one’s suggesting that if you are remediating in the traditional sense, that you’re not doing good and making the world a better place. The jury is out specifically on automation, and this is the perhaps, rather crude paraphrasing of that phrase that you object to so strongly.
So that’s why I come back to the question of whether an accessibility professional, in a court of law, could put their hand on their heart and say, “This automated technology has done just as good a job as a person who would have done the whole thing manually.”.
Because there’s still a belief out there that fundamentally, it’s a wonderful ambition to automate accessibility, to make the world a better place. But right now, the argument is it just doesn’t do it.
And look. You’ve had, even in the last 2 or 3 weeks, a pretty bold statement from Europe where they have said essentially the same thing in very polite European language.
But this is not just some group of fringe people. This has come from European organizations.
There’s a view out there that automated technology does not do what you claim it does.
Lionel: The question we’ve been circling around, let’s answer it directly.
Again, at W3C, we have a specification called WCAG, which is an unforgiving binary standard. And you know that well.
And any website in the world will fail some of the success criteria, unless it’s been made in such a way that it frankly wouldn’t meet the requirements of any design or product manager in the world.
Today, there’s an expectation that things will look a certain way, move a certain way. And when you do that, it’s hard to meet all the details of WCAG 2.1. Soon, we’re going to have 2.2.
So W3C is working on two work streams to ameliorate the situation, because knowledgeable insiders know that the WCAG has caused an overemphasis on technical checklists, and less of an emphasis on usability.
There’s a leader, Jutta Treviranus, who recently gave a talk highlighting this disparity, and that’s a conversation that’s important.
Now at W3C, we’re working on two solutions.
One is that we have a hope in WCAG 3.0, there’ll be this idea of more general accessibility or certain sub-units of a page could be declared accessible, even though another sub-unit is not accessible.
Those are things that WCAG can’t do, and WCAG 3.0 is too much in the future.
There’s another parallel work stream where I am contributing, Userway donates my time to contribute called the maturity model. This is where an organization can say, “This is what we’re doing about accessibility. We have trained our developers. We have put a procurement policy in place. We have knowledge and skills across the organization.” So a maturity model is another better way, in many senses of the word, to ensure that we reach the goal with which we open this podcast – the goal that the world should be equally accessible to all comers, and here we’re of course focusing on the blind.
Lionel: I open my answer with that to stress that accessibility is a journey. It’s not unique in that sense.
I mentioned I’m a security officer. Security also is a journey.
You come to companies and they go, “Well, we want to solve security. Let’s put a lock on the front door. Okay, mission done. Solved.”
No, it doesn’t work that way. Yes, there’s a lock on the door, but you can get in through the window. You can trick someone to open the door for you.
Security is a journey, a process. It requires constant attention.
Jutta Treviranus, I loved it. She said, “Accessibility is more like washing the dishes than getting something done. It’s something you need to do every day, all the time”.
This is an extremely important frame in which to begin answering your question, ’cause people want to simplify it and say, “Okay, now I’m gonna replay Living Blindfully.”
You said, “Well, we’re in court and there’s automatic technology and you’re on the stand. I swear to tell the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Sir, did this automated remediation that bring you accessible, yes or no?”
You’re forcing the conversation into a WCAG checklist approach, and nothing will survive that interrogation.
Jonathan: Okay, so you’re saying you’re drawing a distinction between usability and accessibility?
Lionel: We need both. I’m saying accessibility is usability. They’re a technical checklist.
Lionel: They’re united.
Lionel: And so finally, I beg the patience of your listeners.
And by the way, my communications team says, “Lionel, can’t you learn to talk in just talking points?”
Lionel: I’ve got too many bees in my bonnet, Jonathan.
So bottom line, Userway sells an accessibility journey. We want every customer to be completely accessible. We work with the customers with what they’re capable of doing.
I have multi-billion dollar companies that I have multi-year contracts with who still will not let me get to purchasing and set the procurement policy, Jonathan, okay?
I have companies who are tiny businesses. We’ve talked about them extensively.
So every company has an accessibility journey.
One of them might be served with a lawsuit, just like any company on the planet might be served with a lawsuit.
We recommend Userway. Userway.org, by the way.
Can I get to plug my company for a moment, Jonathan?
Jonathan: Yeah, go ahead.
Lionel: Go to Userway.org and buy the widget for everything we’ve discussed. I promise you. That will put you on your accessibility journey.
And if God forbid you are served with a lawsuit ’cause you’re on a journey, … If you’ve only chosen to enable the automated stuff, our salespeople told you that doesn’t solve everything. It solves a lot. It makes it more accessible.
But the other thing we’re giving you then is we’re your partner. And if you happen to get one of these lawsuits, then the first step, we’re there for you.
You need an accessibility professional when you get one of those lawsuits, ’cause we have to do two things.
We have to first determine, is it a copy-paste lawsuit from one of these plaintiff’s firms that honestly don’t really care about accessibility? They care about their own profit and running up their lawyers’ fees, ’cause that’s what they’re gonna earn under the ADA, or under whatever state law they’re prosecuting under. Or is it a legitimate complaint by a blind person who has actually tried to get your attention and you’ve been ignoring them? That’s a tragedy.
And again, when we work with companies. We give them an accessibility statement. We say you have to train your support teams. You have to be sensitive to people who may have disabilities who are having trouble accessing your site.
Jonathan, everyone has troubles accessing sites. Sites aren’t easy to use by anybody.
But we have sensitivity training for support teams.
Some lawsuits are really legitimate complaints, and those need to be dealt with immediately.
And we are the accessibility provider. That’s why you hired us.
And yes, we do some stuff automated. That doesn’t rule us out. It doesn’t make us bad.
Jonathan: When someone goes to a website that Userway has assisted to make accessible, It may be then that there is no automation on that website. They may see the buttons at the top, like we talked about on the Motley Fool website, whose primary purpose is to provide color contrast and various options to customize the experience. But it may be that there’s been entirely manual remediation.
So one should not assume, it sounds like you’re saying, that when you go to a website, that perhaps when you become familiar with it, you can identify as being assisted by Userway. That automation is always in place in every use case.
Lionel: Well said. Exactly.
And any provider today, any provider, as far as I know, will be recommending automation, at least in the staging environment.
And Userway recommends putting automation at the edge as well because then, you can detect your violations and fix them.
And again, we can’t determine what the businesses do. We advocate. We talk to them. We push them. We urge them. We make more money if they buy more of our services.
And we’re not just in a for-profit margin. We really care.
I hope, as you’ve said, you’re beginning to have a sense of who I am. And I think that that’s important.
When you’re dealing with companies, it’s not just impersonal corporations. There are moods and motivations behind the founders.
And this isn’t an act. This is who I really am. I love what I do. I feel lucky to do it.
And this is complicated stuff, what we’re talking about. And I’m sorry it’s complicated. I already said I didn’t cause that problem.
But you said it perfectly. Don’t assume, just because you see automated mediation, that we’re not also doing manual audits, that we’re not doing everything that a classic provider would be doing.
And don’t assume that if a person gets a lawsuit, that they’re not on an accessibility journey.
I’m reminded sometimes, we struggle to get better healthcare.
And there was a fascinating study. Let’s just do something very simple. Figure out where people die, right?
It turned out that that was a terrible way to measure healthcare quality, because the finest institutions get the people who are most sick.
So we have to be very careful how we assess things. If you’re simply going to assess, well, if it has Userway, …
Jonathan, I think you’ve even said in a previous podcast with this competitor, you said, you know if I come to a site with an overlay, I’m going to look for a competitor.
Jonathan: Yeah, absolutely. I was going to come to that next.
Jonathan: I know you don’t like the user way will get you sued tagline.
Lionel: I don’t.
Jonathan: But there’s also a possibility that Userway will lose you business. Because I have to say that based on all of the experiences that I’ve had, and it may have been with your competitors, I don’t know. But when I see something like that, I’d look for another option.
In fact, I got to tell you, when I found that button at the top of the Motley Fool website, I seriously considered not subscribing because that button was there.
Now, I did in the end because in the end, the greedy side of me went out, and I wanted their stock recommendation [laughs] so I can live a comfortable life when I get too old to do this.
But there’s a backlash, Lionel, right? For better or worse, there’s now a major PR mess you’ve got to clean up.
Lionel: Well, I guess that’s why I’m here.
Jonathan: Yeah, yeah. [laughs]
Lionel: I didn’t cause it. I’m sorry to hear that that’s how you felt.
And I would point out one more thing. In the modern world, there are single grievance groups that decide there’s only one issue they care about, and nothing else.
And if you’ve decided the only issue you care about is that people don’t use automatic detection at the edge, then I would suggest that you are impoverishing society in the end.
Jonathan: Right, right, right, okay.
So I wanna push back on this because there’s a perception out there (and it may be a wrong perception, but it’s a perception you’re gonna have to counter if it is wrong), that these sorts of solutions are a quick fix.
So why people get emotional, upset, and invested in this is that there’s a perception that when you go to a website and you see a button like that, it’s saying this entity doesn’t care about me enough as a blind person to do it right, that they’re willing to pay their $49 a month, or whatever it happens to be, to make the problem go away, make them feel good, but not actually fix the issues at their heart.
And as a blind person, that makes me say, “well, screw them, I will take my business somewhere else”– to a company that does it properly,and a company that cares.
So this isn’t about single issue stuff. This is about what this technology says about the degrees of which I’m valued as a blind person.
Lionel: First of all, I can’t say anything back because as a blind person, you have obstacles that I don’t have, and you are rightly justified to become enraged that certain obstacles are still there. I really have nothing that I can say to that.
I would suggest if we can leave that place of rage and resentment, and just consider for a minute what can be done.
I mean, imagine if early captions were so awful. And they’re automated. So you’d say, “I’m not gonna watch any channel that has automated captions.”
If you had done that, we might not have finally perfect, … They’re not perfect yet, they’re not perfect, but they’re really good.
That’s how we see the edge technology. It’s early days, it’s not perfect. But to decide, and we’ve already honored the fact that you can decide that, this is a free country, democratic, and I’ve already stated I myself feel society moves forward from passionate arguing of views that can be opposing.
And I’m going to argue that to shut down this nascent technology will prevent it from keeping its promise.
You already said JAWS itself is now doing computer vision recognition.
Lionel: JAWS itself might start doing Button looks like a button. Apple’s doing that.
Why shouldn’t Userway do that? Why shouldn’t we do that too?
You’re going to shut us off because some other company did something crappy three years ago?
Jonathan: Aren’t there two separate questions though?
One is, maybe this technology will continue to grow and benefit the community over time. And all technologies are work in progress. We can look back at any piece of technology that we were using 10 years ago even, given the pace of tech, and we can see enormous progress and be grateful for that.
I’m old enough now to remember that the only way that I could read print in the 1970s was with a machine the size of a washing machine…
Lionel: Oh gosh!
Jonathan: In a dedicated room, and it took forever to boot up.
And now we’ve got amazing technology in our smartphones, in our pockets. So it’s incredible, and it will evolve.
What we have to determine as a consumer right now though, when you come across a website that’s offering this technology today, is whether it’s worth my business.
So if I’m paying for a service that is available to me through this technology, and I have the option to pay for a service that does not, …
This is not a rage thing. This is actually saying, “Well, I’m likely to get a better quality experience for my hard won earned dollars by going for someone who cares about this and doing it properly, than using an automated tool.” So it’s not coming from anger. It’s coming from being a savvy consumer, and getting the best value for money I can.
Lionel: It’s similar to what’s happening when the community found out that Elon Musk, for some reason, let an entire accessibility team go that drove the Fediverse.
Jonathan: Yeah, so we’re all off to Mastodon. You’re going to be on Masternode?
Lionel: Yes, I’m there. Why not? [laughs] Because I’m into sovereign identity and federation. I have no problem with that.
Lionel: So yes, I can respect that.
I guess one major outcome, though, of this conversation would be that people understand now that just because they see Userway on a site doesn’t mean that the company is not deeply committed to accessibility at source.
Lionel: People come to us because we have both technologies, Jonathan. And frankly, and this might also be news to your listeners, cooler heads prevail in the community.
I can’t tell you how many conversations I have.
There’s a petition out there that people sign that also claims to have facts. I’m not sure how many facts it has. I think it’s rather biased.
But many people, hundreds of people have signed it.
Hundreds of people have not signed it, Jonathan.
Jonathan: And you’ll notice that my name is not on that petition.
Lionel: Well, there you go.
Jonathan: And the reason for that is…
Lionel: I didn’t notice. [laughs] but I accept your word.
Jonathan: It is absolutely not. And the reason why it’s not is that I’m convincible. But it has to be based on evidence.
Lionel: By the way, that petition doesn’t claim to be a petition. It claims to collect facts.
Jonathan: It’s an OpenLetter, I think.
Lionel: It’s rather sparse on its facts, and very…
I fed it just for fun a while back when… Because our salespeople run into it sometimes.
So I just said, you know, “Is it biased or not? Give it to ChatGPT and ask it.”
So literally, I recommend this to listeners who like playing with OpenAI. Take sentences from that sheet and just ask ChatGPT, is this a biased sentence or not? Because it claims… I think it says it’s a fact collection or something.
And ChatGPT said these are biased statements, just like the statement I read to you earlier. They’re polemics.
Many people like you did not sign. Why? You said because I’m open to discussion.
Lionel: So this isn’t the only community where this is happening, you know. There are other grievances and struggles across the societies in which we live, where nuanced discussion is now off the table. And I think that’s the detriment of our societies.
Jonathan: I completely agree with that. And that’s one of the reasons why I do this podcast – that we try to discuss issues in a respectful way, and expose people to a range of perspectives.
Lionel: Right, right. You’re succeeding, you’re succeeding.
Although, you’ve jolted me 3 times. I don’t want to remind you because you’re going to go say it again. [laughs]
But those people, some of them are my mentors. They say, “This has happened before.”
There’s something called browse aloud, which is still a trauma in the community. You speak, read, speak or something.
It happens sometimes that something enters in the wrong way, and that’s it. The community doesn’t. It’s like Horton. He doesn’t forget. He doesn’t forgive. And it remains like a splinter.
I hope sincerely this isn’t like that. And what I’m urging is that we step back for a minute, and just think, “Do we want our tools …”
The screen reader is such an intimate tool of a blind person. I can’t even imagine the intimacy there. Or a refreshable Braille display. It becomes almost part of your body. Don’t you want it to get smarter and smarter?
And if there’s this darned rectangle on the screen and it says span, span, span, span, span, span, span, wouldn’t you love for your screen reader to say Button?
And we’re the ones developing those algorithms. And I want to tell you, they’re really hard.
There’s another competitor who came out very early and said, “We’re going to do, looks like a button is a button.”
And they don’t say that anymore, Jonathan. They don’t.
Insiders know what I’m talking about.
And the reason why is because it’s very hard. It’s expensive.
The Apple facility that we talked about, it needs human input.
And Userway’s technology always has significant human input. It’s another differentiator.
So if you’re going to go about your single issue boycott, like I said, I believe in vigorous society and debate.
But if we’re dealing with trauma, if we’re dealing with unreasoned opposition to a technology, I invite people to think again, and to visit Accessibility Edge on W3C, and to read this developing list of capabilities and just say, “Do you really object to something looks like a button is a button? Do you really object if we can get together reporting that if something doesn’t work, you can report. I’m being blocked ’cause I’m blind. I could not submit this form, reporting API.” These are the things listed.
Now it’s a long spec ’cause it’s like 30. We are up to 52 things we can do at the Edge.
Are you really gonna judge a company that’s using these early stage technologies ’cause you think they’re lazy?
I invite you not to do that, ’cause that’s not what Userway is about.
Jonathan: Having seen the way that technology in this space has advanced, even in the 3 years or so that we’ve been covering this on and off, it is quite remarkable.
I’ve got the Be My Eyes virtual volunteer feature. At the moment, it’s in beta, and it’s using chat GPT-4, and it’s using their image recognition.
I was actually able to take a picture the other day of 3 bottles in the shower. Just stand back and make sure that all 3 bottles were in the picture, and it gave me an incredibly detailed description of what those bottles were, the order.
It knew that I was a blind person because it said from left to right, these are what these bottles are.
Lionel: That’s amazing
Jonathan: It gave a description of the environment as well.
I posted that to Mastodon, actually, because it was just such an exceptional experience to get that description.
Now, 3 years ago even, that wasn’t around.
Could I just talk briefly? And we’ve been talking a while, so I will head towards a close.
But I wanted to discuss a limitation that I think we both agree exists in the technology at present that may rapidly be coming to a close.
And that relates to image recognition. If, for example, there’s a picture on a website of Bonnie with her seeing eye dog Eclipse, older automated vision recognition technology might just say woman with dog. Or if you’re really lucky, woman with service animal.
That doesn’t convey what I, as a blind person, really wanna know, which is that it’s specifically Bonnie with her dog Eclipse.
Would you acknowledge that’s a limitation at the moment, or are we rapidly getting to a point where that’s no longer a limitation?
Lionel: It’s a great question.
We do wanna remind people that ChatGPT will always sound like it knows what it’s talking about. [laughs]
Lionel: You have to check it because it might hallucinate.
Jonathan: Hallucinations are scary.
Lionel: That’s right.
And we mentioned a half hour ago that some people might feel they’re losing their jobs.
I just want you to know that I myself, with people I mentor, and in Userway, we feel strongly that things like ChatGPT, as remarkable as they are, always need a human in control. No one’s gonna lose their jobs.
Jobs switch, they migrate.
Lawyers are very worried ’cause a lot of what ChatGPT does is what they do day to day. But they’re not gonna lose their jobs. They’re still gonna need lawyers to review what it does.
I feel that it’s just a powerful accelerator of humanity.
So computer vision is good at saying woman with dog. And with the new transformer models and large language models, we can also now give some of the context of the page.
So if there’s woman with dog and it’s on a page that says, “Hi! I managed to get to the NFB with Jonathan, but we had to leave Eclipse behind.”, then the language model would have enough to say woman with support animal maybe, or even Bonnie.
’Cause I’m a privacy nut, I wouldn’t want it to do facial recognition and say it is Bonnie.
Lionel: And that’s a direction on that.
I do also wanna point out that the innovation at Userway is ceaseless and remarkable.
We’ve mentioned that AI is challenging, but we released FixMyCode, a new product where people can just enter code, and it will suggest what accessibility features or adjusters are missing.
Jonathan: So is that specifically the website?
Lionel: Yeah, that’s the website. Just type FixMyCode.ai, I think. And it will bring you to Userway. We’re very excited about that.
We’re the first to release a general large language model that’s devoted to code fixes right away.
Some people were deeply excited ’cause it’s amazingly exciting.
And then, as you poke at it, you find its limitations. But we’re working on it all the time.
We’re gonna increase its ability to have guardrails, and its ability to inform developers of how do you do proper coding.
And our automated detector, we’ve mentioned Wave. We mentioned automated detectors. Our automated detector gives exact instructions to developers of how to fix things. It doesn’t just detect.
If you look in Wave, it says color contrast issue. Our detector says color contrast issue.
Here’s the tool, how to fix it.
Here’s what you compare.
Here’s the levels.
And that’s a simple one, color contrast. We have much more difficult challenges that we also find with our automated detection.
So we are passionate about automation in the context of an accessibility journey.
Jonathan: A lot of people who require remediation to perhaps change the color contrast already have magnification technology installed on their computer that is doing that, don’t they?
Lionel: Yeah, that came up in Accessibility Edge. It’s very important.
So again, we might have a divided house on what we call the topic of redundant access to functions. Some people feel very strongly, “Why are you putting Zoom in your widget? I already have Zoom in the browser. I have Zoom in the operating system, and I’ve even bought Zoom text. I’ve got Zoom everywhere. Why are you putting it in one more place?”
And again, we flagged it. You can now say, “I am opposed to overly redundant access to functions.” if you choose to be.
But you can maybe honor the fact that there’s never enough access to functions, because my mother can’t remember where things are.
By the way, it’s a stereotype saying my mother or my grandmother. I literally mean my mother, who’s 97 years old.
Jonathan: Right, right.
Lionel: She’s one of these people who says, “I use Google.”
She loves Siri.
By the way, she named her iPhone Ruth, because Ruth said, “Wherever thou goest, I shall follow.”
Lionel: So again, I would stress to the community who might be listening, let’s figure out what we don’t agree on, and let’s be precise.
Let’s not try to kill my whole company just because we’re doing one thing you object to. Let’s be specific, and let’s figure out how to give transparency and labeling so that you feel comfortable.
I think that that’s, in the end, the solution to these things, Jonathan, where you have labeling.
Like cars, we’ve talked about cars. I see the highway out the window in the Information Superhighway.
Cars today, when you buy them, it says how many miles per gallon they get. And you’ve decided you want a certain number, or you’ve decided you want electric. The cars are labeled.
I support accessibility labeling. But it can’t just be Userway, as to say, “We’re doing our manual remediations, we’re doing automated.” I want all the competitors to do that.
Like you said, powered by who? Can we get transparency into our industry?
I support transparency. It’s how we make a world with billions of people with perhaps, differing moods and motivations.
Jonathan: Again, the whole purpose of this discussion that we’ve had is just seeking some sort of assurance that this technology actually really works.
And it sounds like, as we get ready to wrap, one thing that listeners can do, and help make up their own minds, is to go to userway.org and there is a list there. I’ve checked that list out of some companies where Userway technology is deployed. And I guess, try it out.
I suppose what still confuses me a bit is that I’m not necessarily going to be able to tell whether the remediation that you’re offering on that site is specifically for low vision users, whether there’s anything that automation is working on that might’ve changed the semantic structure, the heading levels, the way the document is structured.
But I do think it might be a very useful thing for that extension I mentioned earlier to have a toggle switch, ’cause I’m very interested in just being able to flick it off, see what the website’s like.
Lionel: Well Matt, if you’re listening, … [laughs]
Jonathan: Oh, I’ve already talked to him about this.
Lionel: Yes, and please put a setting. Turn it off for Userway everywhere. I would love that setting.
Lionel: I hope that you yourself and listeners who have enough of an open mind have heard that we don’t have a single mission to bludgeon the world into accepting what we do.
We listen, I listen, I am really deeply interested in making this world a success for everybody. That’s what I’m about.
Another theme that comes up sometimes (and again, I believe this is from our competitors, we had nothing to do with it) but there was this feeling of “Well, I’m not going to test it for them for free.”, and we’re not asking that at all.
But if you do go to a site that has Userway and something doesn’t work, tell us, ’cause we are listening and we will fix it.
Jonathan: But that’s the thing, you see. Unless we go to your website, and then go to that site from your website, we may not necessarily know who to tell. That comes back to mind.
Lionel: I know. That’s a different challenge, and we’re really taxing your listeners. I could go on forever here.
I just want to mention at W3C, we are, we being myself as one of the main drivers in the Accessibility Platform Architectures Working Group to do something called the Reporting API.
So there’ll be a standard method to report “I’m having an issue with accessibility.”
Wouldn’t that be great?
And then companies can say, “We support the Reporting API.” And then you don’t have to dig around, contact us, and companies really try to hide that, Jonathan, ’cause you can understand that they have thousands of customers, they get overwhelmed very quickly, and it’s like, there’s nobody to contact.
We would love one consistent way to report, “I was using a screen reader. I got to the end of this form, and I couldn’t hit submit.”
That was something in an Empathy Lab we did for a major pharmaceutical.
The journey was that he received a coupon on a WhatsApp group.
He went to the website to try to cash in the coupon. He filled out the whole form, he clicked enter, and then the screen visually said submitted, and it said nothing.
And Jonathan, it was a virtual meeting. There were a lot of people. And there was an audible gasp.
They literally went, [gasps]. They had no idea.
And that’s the goal of a Userway Empathy Lab. That was a lesson they’ll never forget.
They weren’t feeling sorry for the blind tester. They were horrified at their failure.
They felt it. And when you feel something, you remember it. And they fixed that since then.
Jonathan: Look, Lionel, it’s been an absolute pleasure to talk to you.
Lionel: For me, too.
Thank you so much for hosting me. Thank you for inviting people to dialogue on this, and that’s what we need.
My name is Lionel Wolberger. I’m firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please remember, again, I’m very limited on my time, but I love these dialogues. I welcome more of it.
Reach out to me on LinkedIn if you wish.
And if I get a last plug, userway.org.
If you’re on Jonathan’s side of the divided house, then please use our audits. We have the finest audits in the business. You will be astonished at the clarity and quality.
Oh, PDFs we didn’t mention. We have Userway for Microsoft Office.
Jonathan: Right, you’re remediating PDF.
And I just want to emphasize again, I don’t really perceive myself to be on a particular side. I perceive myself to be open-minded.
Jonathan: I think Curtis and I are in absolute alignment (and I was having a nice long chat to Curtis the other day) that this technology isn’t going away. We have to obviously make sure that it works.
Jonathan: But we’re certainly not going to benefit at all from simply blacklisting dialogue and cutting them off. And that’s why I’m sitting here talking to you, right?
Lionel: Well, thank you.
And Curtis also has had a real open-door policy.
Lionel: And we think he’s one reason why NFB has welcomed us to run our sessions. We called it We’re Here to Listen, and Ask Me Anything. We just got to PDFs.
But again, if you’re going to do what some people in this community are doing, which is trying to tar our entire company, check out our PDF solutions. They are mind-blowing.
We have determined that most PDFs are born from Microsoft Office, which has 1.2 billion users. And when you do export to PDF, that is not an accessible PDF.
Userway for Office solves that problem with a ribbon in Microsoft Office. There are algorithms in there to assist the process, but it is mostly just providing what Microsoft Office lacks, and our product is head and shoulders above anyone else ’cause we are an R&D company.
I recommend people check out PDFs on userway.org.
Jonathan: How much does it cost to use that?
Lionel: I don’t have the pricing sheet in front of me.
We have individual licenses and organization licenses. And when you get a site-wide license, it includes organization policy, so you can then promote these are the fonts that are more readable across the entire organization.
Jonathan: Alright. Well, look. I think a lot of people are more open-minded than you may realize about this technology. As you rightly say, as end users, we just want to be able to go about our days, and surf the web, and go to the internet, and do things that we need to do.
Lionel: Right. That’s normal.
Jonathan: Yeah, yeah, so I have no doubt the dialogue will continue.
But thank you very much for being here.
Lionel: Thank you, Jonathan. Thank you, everyone who listens.
And listen more to Jonathan. His podcasts are wonderful.
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Jonathan: And as always, we welcome your comments on this, and any other episode of the podcast.
If you’d like to be in touch with an audio clip or just write it down, send it into opinion@LivingBlindfully.com.
You can also call our listener line in the United States. That’s 864-60-Mosen, 864-606-6736.
If you have opposed the idea of this sort of technology in the past, are you a little bit more open to it now, or are you more entrenched in your views?
Do you perhaps believe that those who have blown the whistle or raised some noise about this technology are overcooking the problem?
Do share your thoughts. We’ll play a selection of them next week.
In the meantime, it is high time for me to be out of here.
Thank you so much for listening.
Remember. When you’re out there with your guide dog, you’ve harnessed success. And with your cane, you’re able.
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If you’d like to submit a comment for possible inclusion in future episodes, be in touch via email,. Write it down, or send an audio attachment: opinion@LivingBlindfully.com. Or phone us. The number in the United States is 864-60-Mosen. That’s 864-606-6736.