Website Makers Tinker With Tools to Serve Blind Users

Many websites are created with the average user in mind, not necessarily someone with a disability. More businesses are offering tools to fix that problem.

Wix.com Ltd.

, an Israel-based software company that provides cloud-based web-development services, is one of the latest entrants in this field. Wix last month introduced a free feature called the Accessibility Wizard, which scans a website to find potential issues for people with disabilities and impairments, such as individuals who are blind and use screen-reader technology, as well as those who are colorblind.

The Accessibility Wizard surfaces potential issues in several steps. It first scans a website to automatically detect common mistakes like images that lack alternative text, an attribute that describes a photo and is necessary for screen readers.

The program then asks users to manually check for other problems that it can’t detect, such as including a visual indicator that conveys meaning for colorblind users. The suggestions the wizard makes are based on the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines from the World Wide Web Consortium, an organization that develops guidelines and protocols for the web.

Other companies offer similar tools.

International Business Machines Corp.

and Webflow Inc. released accessibility checkers last year.

Webflow wants to add more tools like these for designers to use, said Vlad Magdalin, co-founder and chief executive of the San Francisco-based website-building company. “So then it seeps into all the experiences that they build so that each of them doesn’t have to figure out how to learn all this accessibility technology from scratch,” he said.

Making websites that are accessible isn’t just a feel-good exercise. Companies can face lawsuits related to the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Guillermo Robles, who is blind, sued Domino’s Pizza LLC in 2016 for being unable to order from the pizza chain’s website using screen-reading technology. He won the case.

More than 3,500 ADA-related lawsuits over web, app and video accessibility were filed last year, a rise of 23% from 2019, according to UsableNet Inc., a New York-based technology company focused on digital inclusion and accessibility.

A recent study evaluated the home pages of the world’s top one million websites and found that 97% had an accessibility issue, according to WebAIM, a nonprofit affiliated with Utah State University.

“People with disabilities still very frequently run into many barriers on websites including mobile applications that are critical for them to carry out the things they need to do,” said Judy Brewer, director of the Web Accessibility Initiative at the World Wide Web Consortium.

Startups in the field have drawn the attention of venture capitalists. Evinced Inc., a company that uses artificial intelligence to scan how accessible a website is, said in February that it raised $17 million in Series A funding.

Wix’s Accessibility Wizard became available to all users in April and was used to resolve 30,000 accessibility issues a week that month, the company said.

Some of the fixes being implemented are improvements and features that help everyone on the internet, not just people with disabilities, said Nir Horesh, head of accessibility at Wix.

Tools like the Accessibility Wizard help raise awareness about accessibility, but they aren’t a comprehensive fix, industry experts say.

Individuals and small businesses can take a step further by including an accessibility statement on their websites and allowing people to provide feedback, said Gina Bhawalkar, a principal analyst at Forrester Research Inc., a research firm. This can help website creators become aware of mistakes they may not realize they are making and improve the site, she said.

“They probably don’t have development teams, they probably don’t have the resources to hire people with disabilities to create their website, but what they certainly can do is have a clear path for people with disabilities to provide feedback,” Ms. Bhawalkar said.

Providing basic education to the public about why website accessibility is important is another solution companies should consider, said Cat Noone, chief executive and co-founder of Stark Lab Inc., a company that offers tools for designing and building accessible software products.

“So many people struggle to understand what it is they’re doing and why they’re doing this,” Ms. Noone said.

Write to Ann-Marie Alcántara at [email protected]

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