Shir Ekerling has made it her business to make every website digitally accessible for people with disabilities. His company Accessibe recently raised $ 12 million and hopes to fix the web inaccessibility by 2025.
"People are not aware that people with disabilities can even use websites," says Ekerling. “When I started it all in 2016, I was shocked that blind people can use the Internet. How can they use the internet? You don't see the screen. How is that even possible? Or people who can't use their hands, how can they use a mouse or keyboard? How is that even possible? The more I got into it, the more shocked I was that they can. We want to show as many companies as possible that people with disabilities can do everything that non-disabled customers can do. "
According to Ekerling, Accessibe is using an AI-powered solution to help organizations be more inclusive and ensure they're compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) 1990 and the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). He spoke to Jessica Abo about growing his business and what other companies can do to become more inclusive.
Can you tell us a little bit about Accessibe and why you started this company?
Shir Ekerling: In 2016, Israel was one of the first countries in the world to speak openly about an Internet accessibility law. I had a software agency back then, my two co-founders were in it, and our corporate clients were the ones who led us to seek solutions to this upcoming regulation so that we could solve accessibility for them and our own applications that we built for them to have. We figured this was going to be a big problem, not just for businesses, but small businesses in particular.
Twenty percent of the population have a disability that affects their effectiveness in using websites. And the problem is even bigger when we think about what society is lacking. Not even for equality. When twenty percent – 1.5 billion people – are excluded or do not have the resources we have because – especially when I can talk about myself – I've learned everything online. I'm an engineer, front and back, doing API architecture. Everything I learned, I learned online. If they don't have access to it, they can't advance society like the rest of us.
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I work with a blind young programmer and he uses a screen reader, software that is installed on a blind user's operating system. It reads or outputs what you have just entered in Braille. He writes whole programs like that. And the screen reader reads the content that it enters while listening to music at 300 percent speed. And you have so many people like this, so motivated, so smart, but they don't have the opportunity.
Can you describe the process Accessibe goes through to make a website accessible?
It also understands user behavior. After this process, Accessibe uses WCAG, a 1000-page guide that explains how accessible websites look and work, and how to make inaccessible websites accessible. Accessibe uses WCAG techniques to improve website compliance.
What are some of the benefits of having an accessible website?
Ekerling: First of all, there is regulation. In the USA in particular, the ADA has stipulated accessible websites since the end of 2018. The Justice Department confirmed that websites are considered public accommodation places. You must adhere to the ADA.
Reason number two: open your website for additional sources of income. People with disabilities make up twenty percent of the population. That is enormous purchasing power. In essence, if you can target a larger audience, you can sell more. So that's the second reason.
Reason number three, corporate responsibility. Be on the good side, that's the reputation. And there are many other reasons. For example for SEO, for example for a higher ranking in Google.
I know you try to serve people with different skills around the world, but what does it cost a company? What are the monthly fees?
Ekerling: The cost of Accessibe is less than $ 500 per year. It's something that any business can afford for the first time.
Is there any piece of advice CEOs can take to heart starting today?
Ekerling: People need to educate themselves about the importance of including 20 percent of the population in modern times that is now excluded. This education and awareness is the most important thing that companies should strive for. And whatever I strive for, for my business and for raising awareness in general.
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