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031 – Non-profit accessibility with Ilan Fisher from accessiBe

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Audio recording

If your organization is not thinking about accessibility on all fronts, especially when thinking about your website, then you really need to reevaluate how your approach.

A big chunk of people have disabilities that give them a hard time when browsing through the web. If your site isn’t accessible, then you’re missing an opportunity to bring your message to that demographic as well.

In this episode, we bring Ilan Fisher, who’s the non-profit partnerships team leader in accessiBe, and he’ll guide us through why accessibility is important, and how accessiBe approaches making everything more accessible.

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Episode Transcription

David: Welcome to the Non-profit Digital Success Podcast, I’m your host, David. And today I have Ilan Fisher on the show, allow me to introduce him. Ilan is the nonprofit partnerships team leader at accessiBe, and also co-host of the interview series, the Spotlight Sessions, his day-to-day work revolves around fostering relationships with disability-focused nonprofits, and change-makers. Prior to accessiBe. Ilan worked in studied in Tel Aviv, London and New York City in the fields of journalism and marketing. Ilan, thank you so much for being on the show with me today.

Ilan: Thank you for having me, David.

David: How’s it going?

Ilan: Yeah, it’s epic. I’m really excited to be having this conversation.

David: It’s it’ll be interesting. We were just, we were just talking right before this, that, you know, you’re usually in my seat. Right. So welcome to the guest spot. Right. Awesome. So if you’re ready, let’s jump in and, and we’ll start chatting. Excellent. So let’s talk about accessiBe, where did it come from? Why did, why was it born and created?

Ilan: So accessiBe, was born from kind of really two elements. There’s the societal aspect. And then there’s the business aspect. On the societal front is really the fact that you have a 1 in 4, 1 in 5 people who have a disability globally. And this is a disability that either hinders your internet use all renders are practically impossible, and these sort of disabilities can mean people with epilepsy, people with visual impairments, people with motor impairments, people who are blind, who use a screen reader. So really our goal is to make web accessibility as accessible as possible. But the real way that we started and founded was our founders at the time in 2016 were agency owners, marketers kind of like yourself and their clients came to them and said, “Hey, we know that there’s this sort of compliance and law coming in. We need to make our websites accessible.”

“We didn’t know that we need to make our websites accessible. And it’s something that’s really important to do. How do we do that?” And then our founders kind of came together and decided we need to build something that’s going to be accessible to the majority of businesses. Meaning if you are a small to medium business that doesn’t necessarily have the bandwidth or ability to kind of build in native accessibility, you can do that. Or if you’re a larger organization, how can we also make our websites successful? So that’s really the idea of where accessiBe started. And today it’s developed into a really fast growing company and I’m really proud to kind of be leading our community relations team as well.

David: The, the accessiBe product is a really great product. We use it on our site, we’re partners with, with you, we’ve got it on a number of our client’s sites as well. And it’s, it’s really goes beyond the accessibility guidelines, right? Like it really adds a complete different layer to it. That goes way beyond like AODA compliance. If you’re in Canada or I guess Ontario or WCG AA compliance on, on that side. So it, it adds a lot more value and opens up a lot more doors for people. And I’ve said before at Wow Digital, we deal with nonprofits and community organizations, NGOs, that type of thing, and they serve the community. And if your site isn’t accessible, then you’re not serving your community properly.

Ilan: And that’s really, really, really well said, David, and that’s one of the reasons why my team entirely was founded because at the end of the day, it’s those vulnerable communities that need accessibility the most that sometimes don’t have the resources or the access to get accessibility. And also to piggyback off something that you said earlier, it’s not just the guidelines, it’s the ability that a user can go in, use the accessibility interface, access widget, and really tailor their browsing experience. So if you have a certain color contrast that works for you, or you want to do a font to look a certain way, or if you want even everything to be scaled by 100 or 200%, that’s something that’s possible. So that’s really, when we talk about, about going above and beyond those guidelines, it’s really providing that tailored end user experience

David: And accessiBe has automated functionality and, and pieces like that. But you know, what are some of accessiBe’s automated solutions and the advantages to them?

Ilan: So accessiBe’s automated solution is access widget. It’s what you’ll mainly see as the accessibility icon on the website, that’s really divided into two components. You have what we call 30% of what we bring to the table, which is those UI design and cognitive related adjustments. The ability to change the fonts, the colors, the sizes, the texts, everything that’s really visible on the page, but really where we excel and what some of the most challenging parts of coding for accessibility are, is happening on the backend. And that’s where our AI really kicks in, where we’ll scan your website, understand its functionality, the menus, the dropdowns buttons, and that’s using machine learning and AI technology. So what we will do is will then really make your website even more useful to a user who is motor-impaired or user who’s blind, who’s using a screen reader to navigate.

So that’s from the automated side. And as we have more data sets, and more clients, and more people, and more partners, and more feedback, we’re really making sure that we excel in what we’re providing to the end-user. So that’s really about automation fronters. Then on the other side, we also have, I wouldn’t even say the other side and really in terms of complimentary services, we have, if you’re a larger enterprise who wants to kind of get accessibility right also on the code level, we also have those solutions in place. So it’s really whichever size or accessibility part of your journey you’re at. You have the ability with accessiBe to get that.

David: That’s amazing. There’s so many organizations that, you know, they don’t have the, or they don’t have the education, or the training, or the coding capabilities, or the staffing to be able to implement coding changes to their templates, to be able to everybody, not everybody, but a lot of people are running sites using a content management system. And, you know, one of the advantages for- that accessiBe has, is being able to just drop a couple of lines of code into the template, and then it’s just added to the site. So it really is a quick fix that really helps a lot. When, when I talk about accessiBe with our clients, we talk about, you know, how the website should really be accessible to begin with and then use accessiBe to really push it way beyond the guidelines. So do everything that you can in the templates and the style and the coding and, and all that to really make it have the right tags for the screen readers. There’s, there’s a lot of debate online about, you know, whether these overlay systems really work or whether the, you know, what the benefit of them is when you can just code it properly. But a lot of the organizations we work with don’t have the time or capability to do that. So this really kind of fills in that gap.

Ilan: And, and, and I really like what you said about kind of saying that, yes, you do have to code for accessibility from the beginning, but also recognizing that a lot of people may not have the capabilities to do that, but that doesn’t want to, or the other like accessiBe, isn’t going to fix a bad decoded website, for example. So really what we’re here to do is to, as you said, with education, is to get the word out there, make a website accessible, join us on the accessibility journey. And it doesn’t need to be something that you install. And then five minutes later, you don’t think about accessibility. You should always be thinking about accessibility. You should always be thinking, “how can I better the end-user experience for a person of any ability.” So again, whether you’re going to use an automated solution or a different type of solution, the bottom line is yes, you should make your website accessible and accessiBe is one of those companies, that’s providing those opportunities for website builders, for organizations, for developers to, to do so.

David: Yeah, I think, I think it’s really important. You know, the last number of years more people have been moving to mobile devices and there’s this whole big movement over the last five years, mobile-first, right? It’s finally time that people start thinking accessible first, right. And making it happen and work that way because there’s so many people, as you said, you know, 20, 25% of the population struggles with, with proper use of internet and, you know, not everything can be made fully accessible and fully compliant, but these organizations really need to be pushing and trying to, to get there as best as they can. And a lot of governments are enforcing laws and fines like in Canada, there’s the CRTC and they’re, they’re bringing fines down on, on businesses. I would like to think that they’re not going to fine non-profits because, you know, we’re, we’re here to help. Nonprofits are here to help communities, right? Not really like bringing, bringing like big dollars and stuff, but so they really should be focused on it more, I think, than what they currently are.

Ilan: And, and, and also with accessiBe’s automated solution access widget, you do have the ability to get yourself to an accessible, inclusive and compliant point to really comply with those legislations. But we should always be doing what we should always be thinking, well, you should always be asking really. And the, and this is one of the action items that I give to a lot of people who I speak to would say, “how can I make more accessible contents? How can I make my website more accessible?” I just say, “ask your users, say, does this work for you? Like, does this work in a logical order? Does this color contrast makes sense?” Really ask your users and get that user feedback and then be able to move forward with how you develop your website.

David: So why is this technology so crucial and important for nonprofits?

Ilan: I’m going to take a little step back from that question and say, why is technology, or why is web accessibility so important? It’s the fact that in the U S there have been studies, which have basically said that out of a hundred, out of 350 million websites is only 7 million active websites that are actually accessible. So it isn’t a question of, of what method you’re going to make a website accessible, or whether it’s going to be this solution or that solution, this company, or that company. The important thing is you have to make your website accessible because people rely on your goods, your services, your data, your information, your knowledge, and your content every single day, but don’t have access to it. And there aren’t enough accessible websites to start with. That’s like the starting point, but for non-profits specifically, if you are going to be catering to a vulnerable community.

And I always think back to the idea, are you familiar with the, with the idea of designing for crisis? So it’s, it’s basically saying that you should always think about your, your end user and where they might find a website. So if you are giving away essential services or essential information, and that person might be in a crisis, you have to make sure that everything is going to be as accessible as possible. So if you’re saying your accessibility journey is making your content as straightforward and clear as possible, making sure that everything has a clear outline and even more with accessiBe, it’s giving that user the ability to make changes to your website, it’s really going to aid their experience on your website. So that’s why I think the technology is so crucial because it really does have that effect on the end user.

David: One of the things that I really love about accessiBe, not, not that I’m here to really promote accessiBe, but one of the things I really love about accessiBe is the ability to remove images from a website. I was just on, on a site the other day, and they had the accessiBe widget and their website was just really hard to look at because they had white text on images and it was, you couldn’t really read it. And I just went, boom, done, hide images. I can read everything really clearly and straightforward. So it really, and I don’t think of myself as somebody that has a disability, but when, when you’re putting images on top of an, with text on top of it, you really need to make sure that it’s legible, right, for everybody, not just for anybody specifically with, with a visual impairment or disabilities. So it’s important to make sure that you’re thinking holistically in a 360-degree approach to it.

Ilan: And when I think of that, and that’s a great example you bring up, I often bring up the hide images because you never know what relationship a person is going to have with images, or colors, or texts, anything that sticks out so giving the ability to the user is really, really crucial and important.

David: Absolutely. And just further to that, from your perspective, why is it crucial for people with disabilities to have accessible websites?

Ilan: It’s, it’s, it’s very clear people with disabilities rely on accessible websites to kind of do that everyday tasks to go to the bank, pay your insurance, good services. Really, really, absolutely everything. If you’re a website, if you’re a blind user and the website doesn’t work with your screen reader, and it doesn’t have the right tags, or text, or, or, or labels, then you can, you can get lost. And it’s really, it’s a very frustrating experience and I’ve seen it firsthand from my colleagues. So that’s really when, when I think of the why it’s so crucial for people with disabilities have testable websites, it’s because it’s obviously the right thing to do. And in a situation where websites aren’t accessible, you can see the frustrations and, and businesses also at the end of the day, lose out because people with disabilities have money and they want to spend it, and they want to contribute to the economy. But if you don’t make your website open to that, then you’re losing out on 20 to 25% of the population.

David: Yeah. You know, like if you just imagine somebody sitting at home, let’s say they travel around in a wheelchair and they’re looking for some kind of physio treatment, right. They’ll go, they’ll hit up Google they’ll search for whatever kind of treatment or, or rehabilitation plan or anything like that, that they might be looking for the land on a website, maybe of a hospital or of a physio clinic. And if they can’t read the content, if they, if, if they have other impairments from an accident or injury or from birth, right, they won’t be able to access your services and they’ll go somewhere else and they’ll take their services elsewhere. I know a lot of nonprofits operate with KPIs that are tied to services offered, and they get government funding based on the number of people that come in. So I think it’s important to obviously to make sure your sites are accessible. So one, you can help serve the community, which is what I mentioned earlier. But to that, it’ll help you in the long run, stay in business and stay getting the grants and the funding that you already have

Ilan: For sure. And you also, you’re, you’re opening up the opportunity to really have loyal customers and loyal people coming to your services, because if a person knows that their website works for them and they find value in it, they’ll come back.

David: Exactly. And you know, like an accessiBe is a great product, but I want everybody to get to know you as well. A lot of the listeners here, this is the Nonprofit Digital Success Podcast. We’ve got a lot of nonprofit communications, marketing tech, people that listen to this. Let’s, let’s talk about you for a little bit here. So what is your day-to-day look like as, you know, working with nonprofits and partnering with them?

Ilan: So I, I have a really fulfilling day to day. I work with a pretty small team so far we’re growing very rapidly. And our job is really to foster relationships with disability folks, nonprofits, and nonprofits that work towards inclusion. So one of the things that we work with them on is website accessibility say, you know, we recognize the need for your website to be accessible. You also recognize the need to be accessible. And for all the reasons that we outlined earlier, we’re here and we’re able to provide you and waive the licensing fee for web accessibility. That’s number one, but even more that, and what I think is really most important is, as I mentioned, 2% of websites are actually accessible in the U.S so really what we’re doing is we’re working very hard on education efforts. So we’ll partner up with various different disability for X nonprofits and be like, “how can the world know more about your community?”

So one of the things is similar to this podcast. I host an interview series called the spotlight sessions, where I give the stage and ask questions to people about what their day-to-day looks like, what, how they serve their communities of people with disabilities. So it’s really about getting the word out there about accessibility in as many ways as possible, working with the creative team to really get those campaigns. We’ve had campaigns kind of on national television. And this morning we had a rap music video that we took part in as well, like really trying to try to pop in to as many creative areas. So more people can talk about accessibility and about web accessibility, because at the end of the day, I think the biggest barrier towards an accessible internet is that people don’t know how many people have disabilities. People don’t know how a person with a screen reader uses a website, or how a person who is most impaired might use a website. So it really starts off with the education. Once you can get education up and running for more people and more people know about it, and then it becomes less of convincing. Do you need to make your website accessible more like, “okay, how can I now make those steps? And how can I take that first step as well?”

David: Exactly. And we’ve mentioned it a couple of times, screen readers for anybody who’s listening that doesn’t know what a screen reader is, do you want to explain that to them?

Ilan: Oh yeah, for sure. It’s a screen reader. Sorry, I didn’t articulate that, but a screen reader, that’s something that’s installed on the operating system and it essentially reads aloud the content on the screen. So this is an assistive technology that is installed by a person who’s generally going to be blind or low vision, and it’ll integrate with your website. So I’ll read out everything that’s happening on your website. So you can have Jaws is one of the most common screen readers. Then you can have NVDA, which is also very commonly known, cause it’s free as well as you’ll have screen readers that also work on mobile. So it’s really essential technology that a user who’s blind would be using almost every single day browsing the internet.

David: Yeah. And there’s, there’s some other ones there’s Browse Aloud is a popular one as well. That as a web professional, you can get a license to, and you install it on your site instead of it going into somebody’s computer. Like Jaws, I think is a licensed program. It’s, it’s fairly expensive. So in terms of making your site accessible, if anybody listening to this is interested in, you know, getting audio of their website and having it readout, you can look at, at, at some other products that will add that without adding a cost to the end end user, who’s browsing your site as well, so those are some options there. In terms of accessiBe, what are some, some of your ideal use cases for it?

Ilan: So, really we work with any inclusion or disability focused on profit, regardless of size, regardless of location. We have taken calls at every, every, every, every morning, every night, basically every hour, you know, like really just getting the word out there. So really proud to have partners in Australia, Germany, the UK, the US but it’s, it’s really meeting the organization where they’re at. So we’ll, we’ll meet it with an organization and we’ll see, like, what do you have going on? And what is important for you to highlight when it comes to accessibility and how can we help it’s really about providing value for those organizations. So it’s, it’s meeting as many organizations as possible and providing as much value and wherever we can do, we will.

David: Yeah. And you know, there there’s plugins for WordPress there’s modules for Drupal that add some kind of accessibility functionality, whether it’s, you know, increasing font or adjusting contrast or, or that type of thing, is there any proprietary platform that you need to be running to get accessiBe on your site?

Ilan: So really when it comes to access widget and the automated solution that is, as long as your website can take in JavaScript code, then it’ll work. So you don’t need to have that many prerequisites. The only thing I would say is really make sure that you are thinking accessibility first. So when you, when you do build your website out for the first time, make sure that you’re thinking about those principles. And there are so many free resources out there to learn about accessibility is it’s limitless in terms of courses that you can take free paid on YouTube podcasts, webinars. Otherwise, there’s really, there’s so many opportunities to learn about accessibility. So I, I really, my hope is that like, when, when you take your computer science degree and you learn about coding, that accessibility is going to be in those courses or built-in

David: That’d be phenomenal. We really need to get to a point in society where we’re really trying to help everybody and fill in the gap and, and allow people to access information the way that everybody can access information and being able to open that up will open up so many doors, it’ll help society. It’ll help people who might be stuck at home, get out, or get services, come to them that they need. Anybody who’s starting off looking at accessibility, thinking of, you know, how do they check their website for accessibility? Do you have any tips or advice for people?

Ilan: So, so there’s kind of two different branches you can take care of, and they don’t have to be that, that complimentary branches as well. There’s one is you can take out an automated scan of your website. So we have a tool called aCe, ace.accessiBe.com. You can go and you can input your domain, get it scanned. And then it’ll give you just a real snapshot of where you stand from an accessibility and compliance standpoint. So if you’ve got alt tags that are missing, or if you have insufficient color contrast, or other kind of accessibility infringements, those will get flagged up. But another thing is really important is ask your users, again, always be testing your websites, make sure that everything works, make sure that you can, you know, get through everything, just using the tab key. So if so to mimic the user who wouldn’t be using a mouse, so there’s lots of different ways in which you can test that. And I can also send you some additional resources for people who are looking to test their websites as well.

David: That’s fantastic. Thank you so much for being on the show, Ilan, this is, this has been really great. I hope anybody listening has been able to pick up some really great tidbits to talk to their organizations or their coworkers, or if you’re an agency owner like me talk to your clients about, and you know, some really great pointers and advice from you today. If anybody wanted to get in touch with you, what do they need to do?

Ilan: So I’m pretty accessible. You can connect with me either on LinkedIn. I’m very active over there. My email address is [email protected] So feel free to reach out to myself on email and me and my team will definitely have the opportunity to chat to you. And then just continue the conversation. I guess the best way is, is that snowball effect. If you can tell one more person about accessibility and to make their website accessible and they tell another person and they tell another person we’re going to move at a much faster pace than we are now. And we need to move at a much faster pace than we are now.

David: I challenge everybody who’s listening to this to talk to two people this week and just mention accessibility and why it’s important that they need to be thinking accessibility first from that standpoint. On our show notes page, just head over to wowdigital.com/podcast. Look up this episode, we’ll have links to everything that Ilan and I have mentioned. We’ll have the transcription for this. We transcribe all of our episodes as well. So that’ll be on there, you know, making it accessible, feel free to grab this episode, share it all you like. And hopefully let’s start changing the, the planet of the internet to make it more accessible for everybody. So thanks again for joining in Ilan. It’s been great having you on the Non-profit Digital Success podcast until next time, keep staying successful.

Ilan: David. Thank you. Thank you so much for having me on. I appreciate it. I appreciate the time and the opportunity.

David: Amazing. Thank you so much.

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