Episodes
Profile photo of Adrian Roselli in black and white. He's smiling looking directly at the camera, wearing a white shirt.
13 Letters
Apr 1, 2021

Adrian and the Overlays

Accessibility expert Adrian Roselli comes on the show to share his story, and talk about the questionable implications of the now-popular “accessibility overlay.”

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Episode Transcript

Will Butler:

Cordelia.

Cordelia McGee Tubb:

Hey, Will.

Will Butler:

Hi. How are you? How is Cordelia?

Cordelia McGee Tubb:

I'm pandemic fine. How are you, Will?

Will Butler:

Yeah. I'm pandemic fine. I got my first dose of the vaccine, so there's a little bit of light at the end of the tunnel.

Cordelia McGee Tubb:

Oh, congrats.

Will Butler:

Yeah. Thank you. It's exciting.

Cordelia McGee Tubb:

And you're going on vacation soon which sounds very well deserved.

Will Butler:

And I'm going on vacation. Yeah. I'm going to spend some time on the beaches of Northern California. What are you doing?

Cordelia McGee Tubb:

I'm going to take a week off, but I don't know what I'm going to do. I might just clean my apartment.

Will Butler:

Cordelia, you got to make a plan. You got to go… Does your partner not have the week off?

Cordelia McGee Tubb:

He does have the week off, so maybe we'll find a place to go, but we also are really excited about spring cleaning, because we're nerds and I don't know. Just spending so much time at home these days, I get a lot more satisfaction out of tidying this space. That is my everything.

Will Butler:

Wow. That's really admirable. I got to hand it to you.

Cordelia McGee Tubb:

I thought you were going to say, "That's really sad."

Will Butler:

It's an anti-consumerist vacation right there.

Cordelia McGee Tubb:

Yeah. But beaches sound nice as well. I hope you enjoy that, Will.

Will Butler:

Thank you. It's going to be mellow. We're getting away from the internet. It's going to be great.

Cordelia McGee Tubb:

That's awesome.

Will Butler:

Speaking of the internet, we've got a big episode today. It's an interview with our friend, Adrian Roselli.

Cordelia McGee Tubb:

Yes, and it's about a hot button issue, a spicy pepper of a topic.

Will Butler:

That's right. We love Adrian for many reasons, most of which stemming from his incredible web presence in the accessibility community, but he's been an outspoken opponent of these things called overlays, which purport to be a simple solution to all of your accessibility problems, and so we brought him in to talk. What did you think of the interview, Cordelia?

Cordelia McGee Tubb:

I really loved getting Adrian's perspective. Since then, there have been a lot more perspectives coming out. I think we interviewed him, maybe it was about a month or two ago.

Will Butler:

Yeah. I believe we interviewed him in February, and I think we sort of owe it to folks to give them more of an overview of what's gone on since then for the folks who are really interested in the inside baseball of the accessibility world, and if you're not, you can always skip ahead to where you hear Adrian's voice drop in. But I don't know, there's been quite a lot of back and forth, Cordelia. From your perspective, what has transpired?

Cordelia McGee Tubb:

Yeah. So, accessibility overlays have been around for a while, but they've been getting a lot more attention lately, because there's been a lot of marketing around them and the accessibility community by and large, it can't speak for everyone, but at least 300 of us, and I'll get to that in a second, are pretty adamantly against accessibility overlays, because they're often marketed as a solution to inaccessibility. It's something, that's a one-line thing that you can just add to your website and it will magically be accessible, but as we'll dig into on this episode, it isn't that wonderful magic one line fix all solution.

Cordelia McGee Tubb:

It can actually present its own accessibility issues and at a more kind of fundamental level, it's kind of putting… I like to say it's like putting a kind of small dirty Band-Aid on a very large wound. It doesn't-

Will Butler:

Oh, your metaphor has evolved. It used to be a Hello Kitty Band-Aid.

Cordelia McGee Tubb:

You know now what? It used to be a Hello Kitty Band-Aid, because I used to think of accessibility overlays as this really shiny thing that seemed really cool, but wasn't or that didn't address the root problem and from really learning from other folks in the accessibility field, from learning from users, I've since learned that a lot of these overlays can actually present additional accessibility barriers. Actually unintentionally disabling certain features that users rely on in order to understand content.

Cordelia McGee Tubb:

So, now I'm thinking of it more like a dirty Band-Aid that may introduce its own issues and ultimately isn't the fundamental thing that you need for a wound, which is maybe stitches. You need to actually repair the root thing and not just slap something on top of it and call it a day.

Will Butler:

Right. So, it's a dirty Band-Aid and that it cannot only does it not fix the problem, but it could cause more problem. It could cause a whole new infection, right?

Cordelia McGee Tubb:

It could, but then the problem is that these Band-Aids are heavily marketed to a lot of website creators or not even-

Will Butler:

Fortune 500 companies-

Cordelia McGee Tubb:

What?

Will Butler:

Fortune 500 companies and small businesses alike.

Cordelia McGee Tubb:

Yeah, and so for people who are potentially scared of lawsuits, for people who want to do the right thing, but don't know how. It's very enticing to be like, "Wow. That is a shiny little Band-Aid. Let's see if that will solve our problems."

Will Butler:

[crosstalk 00:06:13]. Yeah. Before we go any further, we should say for anyone who's listening who is a small business or even a medium-sized business or a large business, and you got served with a claim on your website not being accessible from a blind user, and accessibility came to the rescue and offered you a $1000 solution, we're not here to rain on your parade.

Will Butler:

We understand that you didn't have a pot of money set aside for accessibility. We understand you don't have thousands of dollars to hire a crack team of accessibility experts to come in and redo your whole website, but we are here to warn you that the seemingly simple solution may not be as simple as it seems.

Cordelia McGee Tubb:

And are-

Will Butler:

Fair to say?

Cordelia McGee Tubb:

Yeah. That's fair to say, and our wonderful guest, Adrian, in this episode he's going to walk through a few tips on alternatives to using overlays. How you can start to have the conversation about fixing those root issues rather than pursuing one of these overlay solutions?

Will Butler:

Yeah.

Cordelia McGee Tubb:

Yeah.

Will Butler:

So, before we dive into the interview with Adrian, which is great, and everyone should stick around and listen to it, because he really is the expert here. I'm not the expert. I don't know if you are.

Cordelia McGee Tubb:

I'm not.

Will Butler:

But the first I should say why we're not, we should explain why we're not having accessiBe on the podcast to defend themselves, and I think that's from my perspective in large part because we don't want to do redundant work and we don't really believe in them as a company at this point, and so we don't feel the need to give them the air time, but if they had not had a chance to do so, we may have thought differently, but just this past week, Jonathan Mosen published a 70-minute interview with accessiBe where he asks some of the most pointed direct questions about what is going on right now and gives them plenty of time to say their piece.

Will Butler:

And so I would definitely, definitely recommend checking out Jonathan Mosen's episode in the Mosen at Large Podcast about accessiBe. Cordelia, anything to add in this sort of realm of why we're not inviting accessiBe onto our podcast to interview them?

Cordelia McGee Tubb:

No. I think you said it really well, Will. There's another podcast that dives really deeply into that, so we'd encourage you all to check that out.

Will Butler:

Yeah. I mean I have to say the journalist in me felt a little like I had an obligation to bring accessiBe on, give them their time to respond, but at the end of the day, this is our podcast and we're going to make the decisions that we want to make that we believe are going to further the cause of inclusive design and accessibility, and so we don't have to have anyone onto our podcast.

Cordelia McGee Tubb:

Exactly.

Will Butler:

I don't want to sound harsh, but I would urge folks to listen to the interview with Adrian and if you're really, really interested in these topics, check out Jonathan Mosen's interview next, because he interviews Sam Evans from the IAAP. He interviews Chancey Fleet. You really do get a clear sense that it's a lot more than just the accessibility industry mad at being disrupted. It's there are real serious issues here that are going to break the internet if they go unchecked.

Will Butler:

So, it's not to say that accessiBe can't change their ways and I think everyone in our community has been more than generous with trying to be constructive in their feedback and offer a path to better accessibility and ideas for how accessibility could improve, its practices, but there doesn't seem to be a lot of interest from their end.

Cordelia McGee Tubb:

And I should mention too that we've been talking a lot about accessiBe, they're not the only overlay out there. There are many of them, but they're perhaps the most well-known, especially because of their rigorous marketing campaigns, so keep in mind as you're listening that these things also apply to potentially other overlay companies as well.

Will Butler:

And then there was an article in Vice, right?

Cordelia McGee Tubb:

Yeah. Which is a big deal because that's a very mainstream publication. So, there was an article in Vice that interviewed a number of stakeholders and disability advocates.

Will Butler:

Todd Feathers. Thank you, Todd Feathers, and that was just this past week, March 17th.

Cordelia McGee Tubb:

There was the overlay fact sheet, which has been published at overlayfactsheet.com, which is an open letter from a bunch of people in the accessibility and disability sphere. There are over 300 of us who have signed it, basically advocating against people using overlays and really understanding the facts about what it means to use an overlay and the challenges that it doesn't solve, the challenges that it creates, so that's another big thing that's gotten over 300 signatures in the past few weeks.

Will Butler:

And then to cap it all off Jonathan Mosen with this really lengthy interview with Michael Hinkson, the new chief vision officer from accessiBe, where they really sort of belabor this tension. Despite all this, Cordelia, I have still been on meetings in the past week with people who use accessiBe and I can send them all the information that we've discussed and they can look at it with a clear conscience and say, "I think our tool said we were 100% compliant, so we should be good." Something is not connecting here.

Cordelia McGee Tubb:

Yeah, and I hope our transcript writer captures the sigh that I just did. The big sigh. There's so much work to do here still.

Will Butler:

Yeah.

Cordelia McGee Tubb:

Yeah.

Will Butler:

But we should let Adrian's interview speak for itself and that overlay fact sheet is a good resource for folks, right?

Cordelia McGee Tubb:

Absolutely, and it links out to a bunch of different writings, some by Adrian, some by Lainey Feingold, Steve Faulkner. A lot of people's opinions and facts about overlay. So, definitely worth checking out.

Will Butler:

Yeah. I don't think people realize that we don't have we… I mean you and I don't really have a dog in this race. If accessiBe came along was fixing the internet for people with disabilities and raised $30 million in venture capital to do, we would be cheering them on from the stands.

Cordelia McGee Tubb:

Yeah. Shouting from the rooftops. Yeah.

Will Butler:

Yeah. I mean that would be a huge win for all of us. So, we're just trying to help you all not get sued.

Cordelia McGee Tubb:

And ultimately, help your users have the best experience possible.

Will Butler:

Yeah. Which is how you keep from getting sued.

Cordelia McGee Tubb:

Yeah.

Will Butler:

Sort of a win-win.

Cordelia McGee Tubb:

Absolutely. All right. So, on that note, should we jump into our interview with Adrian?

Will Butler:

Absolutely. Here it is. Our extended interview. It's not quite 70 minutes, but maybe somewhere in the ballpark with accessibility expert and web developer and-

Cordelia McGee Tubb:

Dungeon master.

Will Butler:

… dungeon master extraordinaire. Level seven mage.

Cordelia McGee Tubb:

Really?

Will Butler:

Is that even a good level?

Cordelia McGee Tubb:

I don't know.

Will Butler:

Adrian Roselli. We've never met I don't believe, Adrian, but you've met… Cordelia, you guys have met?

Cordelia McGee Tubb:

Yeah.

Adrian Roselli:

Yeah.

Cordelia McGee Tubb:

I was telling Will right before you jumped on, Adrian, that you were actually I think the first person in the larger accessibility community who I interacted with in real life, because I went to CSUN for my first year there and you came up to me, and you were like, "Are you Cordelia who tweets?" I was like, "Yeah." And I was just like so flabbergasted to have someone recognize me from the internet. And then I was like, "Oh, my gosh. It's Adrian from Twitter." Yeah. You were the first person to kind of welcome me into CSUN and into the larger accessibility space, so I always remember that moment.

Adrian Roselli:

And I appreciate that because I remember you saying that you knew me by saying, "Oh, yes. You tweet a lot." Which was a veiled warning and I recognized that.

Cordelia McGee Tubb:

It was a compliment.

Adrian Roselli:

Thank you I think. But I also recall that I wasn't greeting you on behalf of the community. I was just happy to meet you because we had some Twitter interactions. Now, I'd like to point out my first CSUN, my first interaction with Steve Faulkner, for example, was he walked up to me, flipped me off twice, and then walked away.

Cordelia McGee Tubb:

Wow.

Adrian Roselli:

So, I just want you to know that any greeting in this community is a greeting.

Will Butler:

Who is Steve Faulkner?

Adrian Roselli:

Steve Faulkner, he's one of the guys who's been around for years and years and years working on accessibility. He was one of the editors of the HTML5 specification for quite a long time. He participates in all sorts of WCAG stuff. He's working on the HTML accessibility model and ARIA in HTML document. If you have heard of the first rule of ARIA, plus the other four then that's Steve Faulkner's work. So, he's got a long tale of history and contributions to the space.

Will Butler:

Was it a friendly flipping off or was it like I'll meet you out back later type of situation?

Adrian Roselli:

I'm going to go with a variation on friendly. We had had enough interactions on Twitter and probably email conversations and that I think he had a good sense of me and knowing that I wouldn't be fazed by that at all.

Will Butler:

So you've been picking fights since the very beginning, huh, Adrian?

Adrian Roselli:

There is a phrase that I have used, unfortunately, which is every hill is a hill to die on and that tends to follow through more often than I would like it to.

Will Butler:

Well, you've got more than nine lives then because there's a lot of hills out there in the accessibility world.

Adrian Roselli:

Yeah. I just don't have time to fight them all.

Will Butler:

Well, we're going to get into some of this. We brought you on Adrian because your blog, your website is really well read. You're really respected as a consultant and all the work you've contributed to web accessibility standards is formidable, but also we don't have a lot of critical voices in the accessibility community, at least, not openly critical. Most of the critique I hear is sort of mumbled over bar stools or whatever, but you don't mind sitting down and writing it down, and so we're excited to hear it in your actual voice.

Adrian Roselli:

Okay. I look forward to having it in my actual voice. Partly because I suspect that I come off as far grumpier than I actually am, but I guess I will leave your listeners to judge.

Will Butler:

I think we had the same experience with Sheri Byrne-Haber, if you know Sheri. Lovely person, and I think she says, "She's earned somewhat of a reputation for being a Grinch because of her blog." But I think that tone gets lost oftentimes when you're writing stuff down, right?

Adrian Roselli:

Indeed.

Cordelia McGee Tubb:

And I think all of us who are critical of accessibility are coming from a good place of we want to make it better, right? It's not just complaining on the internet. It's like this is a problem that affects real people, and this could be better in these ways. So, I think it's healthy constructive criticism.

Adrian Roselli:

I tend to agree with that. I have to note that, so I've had a blog, I've been writing stuff on the inner tube since '99, and there are absolutely periods in my blogging chaos where all I'm doing is whining and venting really, and what I try to do now or at least I've made it a goal of mine for the last decade or so, is not to just vent, but to try to offer solutions and workarounds and tactics, because you're right.

Adrian Roselli:

It's too easy to fall into the trap of I'm just going to complain, but if I'm not going to offer anything, any alternatives, any way to make it better, any way to improve, then I'm not helping. I'm just venting for my own benefit. In which case, why are you here? Why are you on my site? Go do something more useful.

Will Butler:

Yeah. Giving people simple solutions is harder than it seems.

Adrian Roselli:

Yes. That is an understatement.

Will Butler:

It's like when people are realizing that their website is inaccessible, they genuinely want to fix it. It's just often they get I think scared away by the enormity of the task sometimes.

Adrian Roselli:

Yeah. I think it's a fear of cost. It's a fear of complexity. It's a fear of getting it wrong, and then at some level, there are, of course, people who just don't care and they consider web accessibility to be a really niche thing that they don't see any benefit from, and I have worked with people over the years who said, "You know what? We don't have blind users in our audience. We don't have deaf or hard of hearing users in our audience."

Adrian Roselli:

When you say that, of course, it's true, because you've taken steps to exclude them, but what they're really saying is they don't care, and those have always been the most difficult projects and clients, but at the same time have been the most rewarding when I have eventually won them over, and conveniently it's never involved doing things like harming them, so they get to feel a disability. It's really appealing to their empathy, and for those cases where they don't have empathy being able to build a business case to justify what would really be an ideal scenario and minimal expense and effort.

Cordelia McGee Tubb:

Just jumping off of that. You've given a few talks, Adrian, on this concept of selfish accessibility, which I think kind of plays into motivating people to care. Could you talk with us about what is selfish accessibility?

Adrian Roselli:

It's funny, because I used to see people talk about accessibility and get things wrong and technically, but they would also all open up with the same Tim Berners-Lee quote, and they'd all make some sad argument about SEO or something else, and it never moved the needle. If you were in the room listening to it, you already bought into it, so you're preaching to the choir.

Adrian Roselli:

I had had to work with clients for years who wouldn't buy into this concept, so I had to find a way to sort of create and/or enforce empathy. If you can't get somebody to understand how accessibility is good for your users, maybe you can get them to understand how it would benefit them as a user. So, with selfish accessibility, it was always… It was tongue-in-cheek although I was terrified it was going to offend people when I first presented it, but the general idea was, "I don't care about you users. You shouldn't care about your users. You should only care about yourself, and here are the tactics that you can employ to make the web better for you, you terrible selfish person."

Adrian Roselli:

I would outline tactics. It's easier to read if you do this. It's easier to operate if you do that, and personas that I came up with were tactics I'd used in real life where we didn't create one disabled persona, we took traits of disability and folded them into existing personas and the personas that corresponded to decision makers, we folded in some trait. One that I used pretty successfully for a while was being on a plane, because when you're on a plane, you have mobility issues, you have vision issues, you have audio issues, and those all fold into those personas, and those are all things where the stakeholders can say, "Oh, I get that. That makes sense. Yes." "Now, that you say it that way, I really would like captions."

Will Butler:

That's so interesting.

Adrian Roselli:

And so these tactics worked out reasonably well.

Will Butler:

So you were creating personas that more closely resembled how your clients thought of themselves?

Adrian Roselli:

Yes. So, again, if I can't enforce empathy, at least, I can trick them into having it.

Will Butler:

I love that.

Cordelia McGee Tubb:

That's brilliant.

Will Butler:

That is brilliant. Before we get into, I think we really do want to give the listeners today a lot of real concrete strategies like that about how you win over the people who don't care, but I want to know, how did you get into this, Adrian? Let's start here. Where are you from?

Adrian Roselli:

The depths of… So, you mean, where do I live?

Will Butler:

Yeah. Where are you from originally? Where were you born?

Adrian Roselli:

Oh, so I'm from Buffalo, New York, and I still live in Buffalo, New York. So, if you're in the US, you know where it is. If you're outside of the US, it's on the far left side of New York State, which puts me about an eight-hour drive from New York City for example.

Will Butler:

Okay.

Cordelia McGee Tubb:

Which is wild. I feel like people don't realize how big of a state New York is. Buffalo is not in New York City. They're pretty far.

Adrian Roselli:

They are. Yeah.

Cordelia McGee Tubb:

I used to live in Alfred, New York, which is slightly outside of Rochester.

Adrian Roselli:

Yeah. Familiar with it. It's funny because on the one hand, I'm nowhere near New York City. On the other hand, I have been known to go to New York City for a lunch meeting, and then come home. I'm not exactly proud of that, but the proximity is there when you can fly in.

Will Butler:

How does a kid in Buffalo get into computers and that sort of thing? What were your interests growing up?

Adrian Roselli:

I'm going to try and keep this as abbreviated as possible. Generally, I got into computers because I couldn't afford to continue in the architecture program that I was in. I had kind of lost interest in it, but the web was happening while I was in college. So, I realized when I switched majors over to media study that the web was probably the cheapest way for me to do the work I wanted to do, because I couldn't afford all the computer equipment, I couldn't afford the video rigs and so on.

Adrian Roselli:

And as I got more and more familiar with it, at the same time, I was organizing concerts on campus, and some people had approached me, The Independence, which is a local chapter of a disability organization on campus. They came to me and said, "Hey, you're doing this big festival outdoors, but those of us in wheelchairs or with crutches or canes can't get to it." So, my first experience there was I just went and put plywood down to create paths to the stage and make it safe when it was muddy there, and those conversations I had with them started to sort of continue when I started to get the sense of, "Oh, yeah, right. Why shouldn't they enjoy this concert? Why shouldn't they be able to participate?"

Adrian Roselli:

In time, I left school early. Went to work as a webmaster for a research institute and started to get more exposure to those scenarios, and then shortly after that, at the ripe old age of 23 years old, I started a software development company with two partners, and we grew it over the course of 18 years, 100 plus employees, a dozen spin-off companies, et cetera.

Adrian Roselli:

So, I'll set that aside, because I'm only saying that to give a sense of the scale. One of the things that I had identified early on, thanks to my time helping run evolt.org and interacting with people there, was web folks and software folks did not really understand a lot about accessibility, but I kept working with government agencies and we saw their needs, and then we watched Section 508 happening. All these things were starting to come together and I recognized that there was a business opportunity there.

Adrian Roselli:

I was in a position to set my company apart from other companies by saying, "Listen, not only can we build you this software and web stuff, we can build it to you, we can build it for you so that it is accessible. It meets guidelines. It works for all your users et cetera." So that was our market differentiator and I championed that. So, I rolled into it having some experience and connections to it, but I looked at it as a business opportunity first and foremost.

Will Butler:

It's so interesting that you got it, that your entrée into accessibility was through this physical accessibility of a concert.

Adrian Roselli:

That's when I started thinking about it that way. Growing up, my grandfather had one leg, for example, and I have some other people in my life, but I never considered them different or needing special accommodations because, generally, they just did what they did. So, it wasn't in the forefront of my mind. It took other people approaching me and saying, "Hey, could you maybe think about us?" For me to actually start to think about them.

Will Butler:

What did you like about architecture?

Adrian Roselli:

I liked the blend of technical and creative. I liked the idea that I could both design and specify and building in a structure, and then as I got more into it, I recognized that you're all building cinder block huts, so get over yourself.

Cordelia McGee Tubb:

Are we all building cinder block huts online too?

Adrian Roselli:

So I, unfortunately, this morning looked at the state of JavaScript 2020 survey this morning and my assertion there is we are building mud huts online, not even cinder block. So, yeah, kind of.

Will Butler:

Well, everyone listening, you're part of that force moving us from mud to cinder block and maybe one day we'll be building something that'll last.

Adrian Roselli:

I hope so.

Will Butler:

So, you built this business and then how did you kind of move into your current consultancy role and how do you see yourself now as opposed to when you were starting out using accessibility as a competitive market differentiator?

Adrian Roselli:

When I started out it was a market differentiator, it was a neat thing to offer, and I was an idiot. I made a lot of terrible assumptions. I did poor testing. I didn't have all the tools I needed, and it was a heck of a journey to find out how wrong I was after I really spent more time with it. So, a little backtracking. At the end of 2015 or so, I exited my company. I had my partners buy me out.

Adrian Roselli:

We pivoted to a product model. I wasn't really on board with it, so I spun down the consulting side of the business, and then I exited to do the accessibility consulting full-time and within a few weeks of being out of there, I had a full plate of work and I was consulting for the Paciello Group among others. So, I was able to learn from top-notch people, the Steve Faulkners, the Ian Pouncy's, Leonie Watsons, and so on of the world.

Adrian Roselli:

I mean I could name drop top people in the industry who were there at the time. I still have the pleasure of working with them and interacting with them in all sorts of different ways, but they helped me really level up my skills, coupled with writing. We talked about my blog briefly, but the writing has also been my way of doing sort of a peer review. It's sort of my learning in the open.

Adrian Roselli:

Sometimes it's writing stuff so I don't have to remember it, because of the client interaction and sometimes it's me just trying to figure out how to do a thing and the research necessary behind it forces me to become reasonably good at it, and then all the comments, make me recognize where maybe I drop the ball. So, it works out well in that regard.

Cordelia McGee Tubb:

Yeah. One thing I was going to say about your blog is it has a really rich and lively comment section and I really, I always learn a lot from reading the conversations that you have back and forth with the commenters. There's just so much, there's such a huge concentration of accessibility knowledge between your posts and the comments, it's great.

Adrian Roselli:

Yeah. I'm a huge fan. Whenever anybody rolls in to slap me down, when they are right, it's humbling, but it's also awesome because it means that people are paying attention and it's educational for me to know what I got wrong, but also to recognize what I may have done wrong in the process, but there are some absolutely brilliant comments on my blog that are smarter than the posts that spawn them.

Will Butler:

How many blog posts you think you've written, Adrian?

Adrian Roselli:

I think I'm north of 600 now.

Will Butler:

Wow.

Adrian Roselli:

But that's over, what is it, 2021? I started in '99, so, yeah, that's over 20 years.

Will Butler:

That's pretty incredible. Not very many people keep a blog going for 22 years.

Adrian Roselli:

I assure you it was driven from laziness. I don't want to remember these things.

Will Butler:

It's the demons you have to get out of your head, huh?

Adrian Roselli:

It really is. It really is. There have been times where a client has said, "Hey, we want to build a toast. Can you tell us some of the risks that we have with building a toast?" I just go to my blog post about all the WCAG risks with toast and can copy and paste it into an email. I already wrote it. I already researched it. It's already been vetted in some regard. I don't need to rewrite that every time.

Will Butler:

You're also quite prolific on Twitter though. Is that sort of a piece of this in the accessibility community?

Adrian Roselli:

I'm not sure I understand the question. I can't agree that, yes, I am prolific on Twitter and I apologize.

Will Butler:

Well, I guess as a question, has Twitter been important for you in developing… I mean it's only been around for 12 years or 15 years, but has it been an important tool in furthering your understanding knowledge about accessibility in any way?

Adrian Roselli:

Absolutely. When I discovered the A11y hashtag, and I started discovering people who knew their stuff. Again, the Steves, the Leonies, the Scott O'Haras, et cetera, when I started discovering these people, I was like, "Oh, not only am I wrong, but I should probably be listening to them." And so those interactions, those back and forth, the questions, the fact that they were very willing to give me feedback was incredibly helpful.

Adrian Roselli:

And those incidentally, I can point to those interactions on Twitter as how I got to where I am today, good or bad, but certainly they increased my skill and my ability to gather feedback that I wouldn't have had otherwise.

Will Butler:

I remember meeting a journalist when I was in journalism several years ago, you just could discover so many people that you've never heard of before on Twitter talking about the things that you're interested in. It's really pretty exciting.

Adrian Roselli:

It is. That's back in the day when the platform used to impress the hell out of me, and now I've sort of shrunk in who I interact with to a point where I don't have to deal with most of the nonsense that people struggle with on a day-to-day basis. It's risky, because you don't want to be in an echo chamber and certainly in the accessibility world, you don't want to be in an echo chamber, but you also don't want to waste all your time doom scrolling when you really just jump down there to rant about some other plug-in.

Will Butler:

Well, speaking of which, let's talk a little bit about overlays.

Adrian Roselli:

Let's do. That sounds fun.

Cordelia McGee Tubb:

It does. So, Adrian, I think among accessibility specialists, you're probably the most outspoken about accessibility overlays and before we dive into your particular thoughts and opinions, can you just describe for our audience who may not be familiar like what is an accessibility overlay?

Adrian Roselli:

So, they've had names, different names over the years. I think back in 2015, I was referring to them as add-on accessibility, but it's generally when you use some third-party tool that you just add with one line of script or minimal configuration to your existing site, and that tool plug-in, overlay, add-on promises to make your site accessible, either WCAG compliant or just more broadly accessible in another way through no effort of your own at a low cost, and you won't have to worry about a thing.

Will Butler:

So, for someone who is considering… I want to frame this, because I want people to understand how prevalent of an issue this is, because these companies that are promising a plug-in that will fix all of your problems are selling to companies large and small, right?

Adrian Roselli:

Yeah.

Will Butler:

Everyone from massive corporate, conglomerates to mom and pops who are scared about lawsuits and they're VC funded and seeking quite a significant market penetration, right?

Adrian Roselli:

Yeah.

Will Butler:

And so if someone is just thinking about accessibility for the first time and weighing the options of how do I go about making my website inclusive? And they start googling around, this is going to be one of the first things they run into, is that correct?

Adrian Roselli:

Yeah. I think that's absolutely correct. If you don't know the platform or the technology, if your business model is selling cupcakes or selling cars, you're not necessarily going to know anything about web accessibility, and that makes sense. At the same time, you're not going to know anything about security. So, if you start googling around for security, there's that same risk scenario where if you just go after the first paid listing, you're not necessarily going to get what you want, you're going to get somebody who paid for you to see that option.

Will Butler:

I just wanted to kind of frame this, because I want people to understand that there is a lot of money behind these purveyors of simple accessibility. Okay. So, let's dive in a little bit here. You wrote a blog post called I want to get the name right. Cordelia, do you remember [crosstalk 00:35:53]-

Cordelia McGee Tubb:

I think there were a few, but the one that stands out to me is hashtag accessiBe will get you sued.

Will Butler:

Oh, yeah, that one. I remember that.

Cordelia McGee Tubb:

Yeah. I think you updated it a few days ago.

Will Butler:

Yeah.

Adrian Roselli:

Indeed I did. Yes.

Cordelia McGee Tubb:

Yes. It is quite a spicy article and I love it. Can you… For our listeners, we'll link to it in the podcast notes, but for our listeners, can you give us a little overview of what that article is about?

Adrian Roselli:

Yeah. I should probably contextualize it a bit, because generally the accessibility overlays plugins, whatever, that I've seen are all terrible. In generally the same way, but they each have a little bit of their nuance about how they're more terrible in one way or another.

Adrian Roselli:

The reason that I ended up, and I've written about them before, but the reason that I ended up writing specifically about accessiBe is because one day they got $12 million in funding.

Cordelia McGee Tubb:

Wow.

Adrian Roselli:

For a tool that doesn't actually work and when they got that funding they pretty aggressively went after SEO positioning, ad placement, assorted marketing campaigns to try to really put themselves out there, and they became really, really visible. Now, for a while, I just lump them in with all of the others and whenever I'd update that one blog post about accessibility overlays, I would mention them as well, but there was sort of a triggering moment where I saw that they were out there making promises that their own materials didn't actually honor. That I just I got upset.

Adrian Roselli:

It's basically the idealized hypocrisy taking advantage of people who are afraid, while you're ultimately punishing people who most need these things to work properly, and that's just to me a maelstrom of awful. So, to me, it's sort of a moral fight. It's not just that you're funded to build something terrible, you're funded to build something terrible that harms people. That's not good.

Adrian Roselli:

So, in this blog post what I did is I walked through the specific ways that accessiBe, in particular, has issues. I called out how they are basically paying for praise. They pay for marketers, Twitter marketers, SEO marketers, et cetera to say good things about them. When they would put out blog posts, if any comments were critical, they would delete them, how they were spoofing automated checkers. There was evidence and I haven't… I'd love to spend more time, but it's not my day job.

Adrian Roselli:

There's a lot of evidence that they were changing the page when they sensed that WebAIM's checker was coming to look at it.

Cordelia McGee Tubb:

Wow.

Adrian Roselli:

In their technical articles, they were misrepresenting what ADA meant. Their own articles demonstrated they don't understand WCAG. They really don't fundamentally understand what it is. So, in time, in doing some of this research, not only did I find that the accessiBe tool is inaccessible, but then the remediation that they claim to do is also inaccessible.

Adrian Roselli:

So, I put this together, and then other people started pointing me to other things. I found that if the script fails or gets blocked, the entire site falls apart. I saw that they spun up a Twitter account and started pushing out some Ableist memes on Twitter, which were really unfortunate.

Cordelia McGee Tubb:

Are you kidding me? Oh, my gosh.

Adrian Roselli:

No. No. It's true. Yeah.

Cordelia McGee Tubb:

Okay.

Adrian Roselli:

I had people coming to me saying, "Listen, they've been spamming my web development company. Offering us these deals to resell their service, even when they were active on, when they first started on Twitter, they weren't making their tweets accessible sort of a side thing."

Adrian Roselli:

Somebody on Reddit pointed to them using black hat content marketing, and there's some decent amount of evidence to suggest that. Karl Groves pointed out that their terms of service makes their guarantees into lies, because their terms of service explicitly say, "No. We won't make you accessible." But then, of course, the most laughable part of this is now there are three lawsuits out there that name accessiBe tools specifically for blocking disabled users.

Adrian Roselli:

So, when I wrote the title of the post, accessiBe will get you sued with the hashtag, it's because I was hoping it would get shared. At the time, accessiBe did not have a Twitter presence. It relied on third parties hammering the accessiBe hashtag for all its good promotion, and I thought, "I might not have $12 million, but I have some grumpy followers, so maybe this will work."

Will Butler:

And there are now three companies that you're aware of, what are these three companies that got sued with accessiBe installed?

Adrian Roselli:

So, the most recent one is an eyeglass or an eyewear company where they used accessiBe to ostensibly make their site accessible, but the reason I'm calling this one out is not only is it the most recent, but the case also has four YouTube videos where you can yourself experience how accessiBe is blocking this user from getting into the site, from participating in the promotional materials, from being able to even navigate the page.

Adrian Roselli:

It's obvious. It's painfully obvious, and for anybody to say otherwise means they're genuinely actively ignoring the evidence.

Cordelia McGee Tubb:

What's particularly shocking about that is there's a problem of your average inaccessible website just not being very friendly to people with disabilities, but then if you put an accessibility overlay on it and actually makes it even worse than it was before, that's terrible.

Adrian Roselli:

It is. There's one example I have in here of a company that used the accessiBe overlay, use the ability to customize the colors and chose colors that were all too low contrast to see. So, now the site is more inaccessible than it was, and I have screenshots in my post showing that as well. So, it doesn't improve things, it really only increase your risk, singular, maybe plural.

Will Butler:

Now, accessiBe, of course, isn't here to defend themselves nor we're hoping to have some of these folks who are making the overlays on to talk about what their goals are in the long-term, and I want to ask you about that as well, but before… It boggles my mind a little bit, because these companies have investors, right? If someone gives a company $12 million, they do what's called due diligence.

Adrian Roselli:

Ideally, yes.

Will Butler:

Which ideally means good googling, really, and looking at your P&L, and your financials and all this stuff and how do the investors miss all of these seemingly glaring issues that you're talking about?

Adrian Roselli:

There's a simple answer to that, which is they don't look at whether or not the product necessarily does what's advertised. They look at the revenue stream. What's your year over year, month over month? What's your growth? How are your numbers looking? That's what they care about.

Adrian Roselli:

So, if you're looking at accessiBe, which is out there aggressively selling its tool to put on sites, and those are recurring, predictable, repeatable revenue. You know people are going to pay each month as long as it's on their site and they don't have to think about it again. Yeah. That's for me as an investor, if I don't actually care about the quality of the product, the numbers are there. Makes sense.

Cordelia McGee Tubb:

And what's wild too is like I'm assuming, maybe this is a wrong assumption here. That companies are paying for this, because they're like, "Well, we don't really know how to do accessibility, so we'll just have this thing do it for us and that'll be cheaper." But in the long run it seems like it would be much cheaper to actually put in that investment at the beginning to just overhaul your website to be accessible by default, rather than continuously paying for this subscription service.

Adrian Roselli:

Yeah. Certainly if I'm looking at this from a risk mitigation perspective, and I do a little bit of my own due diligence on that angle, I'm going to see them better off dumping the tool and just building things correctly, especially when you, again, read the terms of service that accessiBe provides that doesn't make the guarantees that their marketing materials say.

Adrian Roselli:

Now, one thing I want to touch on, I'm sorry. You had mentioned that accessiBe doesn't have the opportunity to defend itself here and that's absolutely right, and they should have the opportunity to defend themselves, but one thing I'd like to note on that blog post that I wrote, the one we've referenced. They recorded a two and a half hour YouTube video response to my blog post, which I embedded on the blog post, so anybody could go watch it and see their responses to at least the version of my blog post as it existed in early August, because I've added things since then.

Will Butler:

That's great. Yeah. I'm really hesitant to cast anybody as evil. We're not trying to tear down an accessibility company that has the potential to be successful and improve people's lives.

Adrian Roselli:

Agree.

Will Butler:

Just trying to sort of provide some criticism that's constructive, right?

Adrian Roselli:

Well, I think that's the challenge here is if they are doing something and genuinely just misunderstanding it, that's one thing. If after all of this information has been pointed out and if after seeing tons of feedback from users, they still continue down this path and continue to make these assertions, now you have to wonder, are they really an accessibility company or are they just a startup model, revenue model and this just happens to be the particular product that they think they can profit off of and flip before they move on to the next thing? So, neither of those makes them inherently evil, but if you don't understand the impact it can have on people, you're not a good person.

Will Butler:

Well, let's talk about the seduction here. Why are so many websites and companies opting to use these overlays?

Adrian Roselli:

Again, I think it's cost. I think it's a combination of they have heard about some of those drive by accessibility to lawsuits and they're worried, and this is an easy low-cost solution. They won't have to think about it again. Some of them have it added to their hosting plans by their web development providers, because of partnerships they've entered into with accessiBe. So those web dev shops get to say, "Hey, and we make your site accessible." So, the client might not even understand that that's happening.

Adrian Roselli:

Then, there's just the straight up marketing where the third-party marketers that accessiBe has hired or others have hired will convince somebody, lean on their empathy and say, "Isn't this a good thing to do?" And people will say, "Yeah. I want to do a good thing." So they'll pay for it, because they genuinely think they are helping. But again, without having that experience, that one-to-one experience or doing some research, they're just not going to know.

Will Butler:

It’s crazy. In 2020, I had three close personal friends or family members reach out to me asking me what to do, because they were served with a threat of legal action, and you have to respond within 72 hours in some cases in order to even have a shot at not being sued. So, I think what some of these companies are banking on is that people are pressured into making a quick decision and-

Adrian Roselli:

Extortion essentially. Yeah.

Will Butler:

… and some of these companies offer like a seven day free trial, right? They say if it doesn't work, then you don't have to pay for it, and so the people who are being threatened with legal action, they think, "Okay. Well, I have nothing to lose by installing this free trial." Then, they can go back to the attorneys and say within 72 hours saying, "We installed this service that's going to make our site accessible," and prove that they've taken action, and that might actually work to get that initial case dismissed, and so they think it's working and they keep the service. At least that's my understanding of it.

Adrian Roselli:

That's certainly one of the scenarios. So, the drive-by lawsuits, if you get one and you don't know that it's essentially a scam, and if your attorney isn't in a good spot to be able to counsel you on this. Yeah. This looks like an easy out. The conspiracy-minded side of me wants to dig in to see how many of those are in cahoots with the overlay vendors.

Adrian Roselli:

I don't think that's really the case. I think it's just opportunism, but a good legal counsel should be able to say, "If they're just asking for monetary damages, then this is probably not what it seems to be. This is just extortion."

Will Butler:

Yeah, and in many cases I think there's legitimate accessibility issues and maybe legitimate users trying to use the service. I struggled because I didn't know what to tell these people, cousins and people who are like, "What do I… I can't afford $25,000 or even $10,000 for right at this moment. How do I make my site accessible?" Most of them ended up reaching for the overlay.

Adrian Roselli:

Yeah. It's the easy solution and they get to claim some plausible deniability. Obviously, if they do some searching that goes away, but it's an approach, and I had a conversation with somebody on Twitter. "Hey, what is my sub-thousand dollar web accessibility solution? What can I do to make my site accessible?" Which I've heard these different price points so many times that I realize that these price points are being floated by the marketing teams of these overlay vendors, because that's really their only value proposition is their price point.

Adrian Roselli:

When in reality, with a little bit of good planning, you can still get to that price point and not have to worry about the lawsuits, and that's a consultative approach that one of these overlay vendors isn't going to offer you.

Cordelia McGee Tubb:

How would you recommend for these companies, these website owners who don't have accessibility knowledge, don't really have technical knowledge, and they know enough that an overlay is not the way to go, and they might be looking for consulting or something. How do they find that? It's harder to just google for that than for the overlay.

Adrian Roselli:

Yeah. Absolutely. It is definitely tougher. It's not like there is a person that you would know to go to unless you're in this space. As it is, most web shops that I've encountered, the smaller ones that work with smaller businesses don't have the experience, don't know where to look. They're more interested in specific technologies and platforms than they are in the accessibility, but if they can get to the right person, which is a bit trickier. If they can get to them before they built a site, the costs don't really increase.

Adrian Roselli:

You can write accessibility into your contracts, you can vet the technologies to make sure that they have accessibility guarantees, even if you're building on WordPress, they have over a hundred free accessibility ready themes, which means they meet some baseline of WCAG compliance. Obviously, you can break that, but there are tons of free online resources that help you not break it when you write your own content, and you can even write your own accessibility statement. W3C offers a free tool for you to assemble one.

Adrian Roselli:

So, that's easy. That doesn't need to increase your cost. It's trickier when you've already got the site. Thankfully, there are a lot of tools that can help you get around that, but in the end, your best protection is identify where your failings are, document your failings, and put together a plan for how you're going to address them. If you can only afford a thousand dollars a year to address them, if that's part of your plan, you're generally protected.

Adrian Roselli:

Somebody who threatens to sue you can't change the fact that you don't have more money and adding an overlay isn't going to fix anything, but having a documented plan and a strategy to address it, that's what's going to fix stuff. So, you can still achieve accessibility at whatever price point no matter where you are in your development cycle, whether you've built it or not. Again, it's that first step, how do we get this high level knowledge out in front of enough organizations that they don't end up on Google where they search accessibility and the first umpteen paid listings are accessiBe and UserWay and User1st and so on.

Will Butler:

How many of these companies do you think there are now, these overlay quick fix?

Adrian Roselli:

There are at least half a dozen, but I just can't keep track and some of them I think are reselling other people's technologies white labeled, but again, I just haven't been able to keep track of them.

Cordelia McGee Tubb:

Yeah. It sounds like a full-time job keeping track of all the goings on in this particular area of the industry.

Adrian Roselli:

It absolutely would be, and this is just an angry hobby on top of all of my other angry hobbies like building accessible components and making dinner.

Will Butler:

Well, I don't want to beat it to death, but I wonder if we could think of a metaphor for people to understand what the user experience is like for a keyboard only user, like someone who's blind or someone with a motor related disability? What is it like to land on one of these sites with a plug-in, with a simple quick fix, one line of code, plug-in installed?

Adrian Roselli:

So the keyboard thing was generally easy, because every now and then I go up to one of my employees and take their mouse away and say, "Good. Now use the software you wrote." Which made them angry. It's not quite the same in this case though, the only thing I could think of is, "Cool. I've taken your mouse away, but here's now a little card that you can keep next to your computer that tells you what bizarre key combinations you could press."

Adrian Roselli:

It doesn't actually help or change anything, it just makes it more complex than it should have been if you built it right from the start. That's probably not a very good metaphor, but I didn't put my metaphor head on this morning, so.

Will Butler:

That's all right. We could workshop it. I think the idea is that we've heard a Band-Aid on a gaping gunshot wound or something, right? But the idea is that these little toolbars, do all of them generate a little graphical toolbar where the user is expected to adjust the font size and the contrast and all that stuff?

Adrian Roselli:

They usually have a little icon that when clicked or activated somehow, it shows a series of toolbars or buttons or controls, but usually even just changing the text size, you have to go one or two layers deep into their interface. It's there, just somewhere.

Will Butler:

What's the issue with that, with adding another toolbar for accessibility?

Adrian Roselli:

Well, text size is a great example. If I need larger text, I'm just going to set my text to be larger in my browser or my operating system, but if every time I go to your site, I have to click three layers deep or navigate through all these menus just to scale up the text, that's a problem. It also doesn't help me on the next site. I've already set up my preferences, just under my preferences, I don't want to have to learn your bizarre nonsensical interface, and then another one on another site, and then yet another one on another site. Just follow some standard way of doing it already. Incidentally, WCAG, that's kind of a standard way of doing it.

Cordelia McGee Tubb:

Yeah. So, you've written a lot about these overlays. I've seen lots of other… I've been curating a list of blog posts about overlays, so there are many. Yours being one of the most prominent. Has there been any shift in how these companies, given the massive constructive criticism, has there been any shift in how the overlay companies are approaching their work? Are they changing it at all? Do you get a sense that they're taking note and trying to be better?

Adrian Roselli:

Generally, no, and I think that's a function of I am not their audience and the people I talk to are not their audience. If an organization already knows me, then it's not worth them pursuing that organization, and same thing with other accessibility professionals. It's not worth it. You want to go after the uninformed market, and that's part of why you see their marketing campaigns coalesce around costs and doing these bizarre empathy workshops and sponsoring events that have nothing to do with this.

Adrian Roselli:

I mean if they were genuinely serious about any of this, they would be involved with the W3C, they would be presenting at CSUN. They would be presenting at other accessibility conferences. They would be part of the accessibility community that's already there that's written these standards, that's moved the needle on accessibility across web browsers, software makers, vendors and so on, but they're not.

Adrian Roselli:

So, I think that is your indication that, no. They genuinely don't care what I say. Maybe it's a little bit of a bad press here and there on Twitter, but for the most part, they don't worry about it. There's little overlap.

Will Butler:

What about this notion though that they're evolving to become smarter and that right now, yeah, they're only catching… I'm putting my overlay hat on now. So, like, "Well, right now we're only catching 30% of things. That's standard. Any plug-in only catches 30%." But using advanced techniques and AI and this and that, eventually our tools are going to be the best accessibility product on the market. They paint a rosy vision of the future.

Adrian Roselli:

They do. They do and accessiBe has promised to make the web accessible by 2025. I don't see that happening for a variety of reasons like they don't own Twitter and they certainly struggled with getting alt text and images on Twitter. So, their tool won't be deployed everywhere, but on top of that, AI is not what they're using. They're using some third-party image tools, which have already been image evaluation tools to try to describe them, which have already been shown in every other test like at Facebook, elsewhere, to be incapable of conveying author intent.

Adrian Roselli:

Why did somebody choose this image? Not only that, WCAG by its definition is really only going to allow about 30% of things to be automatically detected. You're never going to get that other 70% detected. Of that 30% you get, you can't remediate all of it automatically. So, even if you can get most of that, let's say 25% of stuff can be automatically remediated, that's still not an accessible web. That's still not WCAG.

Adrian Roselli:

I mean there's a reason that accessiBe explicitly excludes captions from its guarantees, explicitly. We don't do captions. We don't do PDFs. We don't do Word documents they say. They're very clear about that. So, AI on its own can't fix it because they'll never know author intent. They can't detect everything, let alone remediate everything, but on top of that, WCAG 3 is coming out, and WCAG 3 kind of blows up what WCAG 1 and 2 were. It's got a whole new way of evaluating sites and technologies and platforms, and unless they are participating in the standards making process, they aren't.

Adrian Roselli:

Then, I don't see how they're going to be able to pivot their tool when version 3 comes out. As it is when I wrote my post, that was on a previous version of their tool. I've tested the new tool since that post was written and it is no better. So, they're not actually improving the accessibility of sites, what they're doing is they're working on improving the interface that they expose to users, and even that hasn't become more accessible. It's still for them about appearance. That was a lot of words. I'm sorry.

Will Butler:

Have you met anyone from accessiBe?

Adrian Roselli:

No. I have not.

Will Butler:

I'm just imagining what that meeting would be like.

Adrian Roselli:

Well, I mean the video, one of the guys speaks to me directly, and they've sent me a couple emails, but in each case those emails I've said very clearly, I'm not going to talk to you in anything other than an open forum. So, LinkedIn requests things like that. I'm not going to do it, because I don't want there ever to be any perception that they are swaying my opinion through some below the table deal or otherwise. Everything I'm saying is out in the open. It's there for them and everyone else to criticize, excoriate, or potentially agree with.

Will Butler:

Is this the first time this has happened in the accessibility world?

Adrian Roselli:

No. There have been other overlays with varying levels of quality and support. BrowseAloud was something I want to say like 10 plus, 15 years. I don't know. It's too far back. But that was a tool that would, and I think it still exists, would speak the webpage to you, and there have been third-party widgets that do text resizing and theme switching. These have existed before. This is just an era where we're seeing over the last five years where we're seeing one tool try to do everything.

Cordelia McGee Tubb:

It is kind of interesting around this idea of like user customization, because I think to your point, Adrian, things like text resizing, that's something that the user should just be able to set for everything, so they don't have to go into these three different layers, but I do think overlays aside, something that I'm… This is a bit of tangent, but I'm going to go on it. I hope you all will join me on it.

Cordelia McGee Tubb:

Something that I find interesting is so many websites right now have their own light mode and dark mode, and I wonder if that could just be why so many websites are implementing that from scratch versus having that be a setting that like… I don't know. Never mind. This is the tangent that we shouldn't go down because I just realized that it's kind of contextual based on what you want in the moment, so it might not be system level, but-

Adrian Roselli:

I think though that you're touching on something though that is worth at least acknowledging. There is a system setting that you can make for a lighter or darker experience and websites can choose to honor that or not, and by honor, I mean they can offer you a way to have a dark or light experience or they cannot offer that, and that's their decision, and you can use other techniques to override that if necessary.

Adrian Roselli:

So, it's not exactly analogous, but it's still this concept of at least that has a standards track behind it that developers can choose to support or not. One thing I think about with the text resizing widgets, and this is an experience I had when New York Times implemented one and broke in hilarious ways. I had a conversation about somebody along the lines of, "Listen, when I get in my car and I adjust my mirrors and I adjust my seat and my lumbar support and put my weird beads on things and hang all of my gadgets from the mirror, et cetera. Once I've gotten my car so it's comfortable, every time I get on a new highway or drive into a different store's parking lot, I shouldn't have to figure out how to reset my mirrors and my seat and my lumbar support and everything else all over again."

Adrian Roselli:

The car is my mobility agent, just like the browser is my user agent. That's how I get around and go to stores and go shopping and go visit family. I shouldn't have to reconfigure it through somebody else's weird ass interface every time I want to go for a drive. I think it's similar to the web browser. It's the user's agent. I configure it. I want those settings to be honored as I travel around the web, not have to learn somebody's weird, weird interface to try to make the text big enough or contrasty enough for me to read.

Will Butler:

So, what is the answer, Adrian, for those who listening right now because they got served and they're scared and they want to do the right thing and they don't have very much money, and they've got a website that's got some profound accessibility issues? What should their next step be?

Adrian Roselli:

So this is a very broad statement because every scenario is going to be different depending on relationships and so on. But the first step would be to talk to their website vendor and say, "Listen, I got served this letter. This is on your platform. Can you help me out? What can you do? And by the way, I want to see your accessibility statement. I want to see what guarantees you give me, because I'm paying you to be the expert to put this together for me. I as a small business and not an expert in this, so what guarantees do you make me?"

Adrian Roselli:

And if none are made or if they can't help you, get a new vendor. Any web company who can't do accessibility should not be doing web stuff period. I stand very strongly by that. There are absolutely skills that are easy to learn that you can use today. It's that simple.

Will Butler:

So where are the Squarespaces and Shopifys and Wickes and all those platforms, where are they at with accessibility?

Adrian Roselli:

They are not as good as I would like. I know it's tough because I've had interactions with many of them over the years. Wickes, for example, put on a conference last year at which I spoke. It was very nice because I used some of their stuff as an example of awful brokenness, but they also recognized that they had an issue and they hired a consultant to help them make their stuff better, still not all the way there, but they're moving in the right direction.

Adrian Roselli:

I think that's what's important is you need to find those vendors who are moving in that direction who can speak to it, and again, then you need to write it into your contracts with them as in, "Hey, you talk about accessibility, do you guarantee WCAG 2.1 AA compliance? Even if you don't know the terms, do you guarantee accessibility compliance?" And ask them what that level is. So, I would expect to ask that of Wickes just as much as I expect to ask Joe Lobster's website shack down at the corner.

Will Butler:

Okay. So, step one, check with your platform.

Adrian Roselli:

Yeah.

Will Butler:

Then what?

Adrian Roselli:

Well, ideally the platform would know where to turn next, because they're part of an industry that has a vibrant and vocal accessibility aspect to it. If they do not, again, fire them, and find someone who does. But otherwise, quick consult with your attorney just to say, "Hey, are they just trying to get money out of me? Is this extortion or is this a genuine concern?" That can be a very quick call to identify how much you need to stress about it.

Will Butler:

And then if the attorney says, "No. This is legit." And you don't have support from your platform for whatever reason, then what?

Adrian Roselli:

Then, you start to put together your plan. You work to identify what you have to do in order to make the site accessible, you document it, you put together timelines, you identify the budget restrictions and so on, and that is in essence some level of your defense. Now, I need to qualify, I am not an attorney, even though I sometimes like to shout at people like I am, but also this is a very US specific thing. Different countries have different rules.

Adrian Roselli:

Like in Norway, for example, you're not supposed to have anything out there period unless it's accessible, so they tend to catch you earlier in the process versus here in the states. My read of that law is probably a little bit off, but the gist is the locality is going to impact some level of what you do to get out from under one of those threats.

Cordelia McGee Tubb:

I'm going to do a plug for another one of Adrian's blog posts which is a recent one, sub $1000 web accessibility solution, which has a bunch of links to different resources that people can use to get a sense of the accessibility of their products, generate an accessibility statement, et cetera. I am your spokes, your marketing person for your blog.

Adrian Roselli:

Thank you.

Cordelia McGee Tubb:

But, yeah, a lot of good resources there, so check it out, listeners.

Will Butler:

Yeah. It's a great post. I mean before we go though, Adrian, what else is rattling around in your head these days? We've certainly given enough air time to this issue of the overlays, but what are the other trends you're seeing in digital accessibility? Anything that comes to mind?

Adrian Roselli:

Yeah. Probably the other trend that occupies way too much of my jelly mold in my head is the notion of libraries, widgets, frameworks, et cetera, all claiming accessibility, but when you go and actually test them, you find that they're a broken mess. So, there's this challenge where something like AG Grid, for example, will say, "Yes. We're accessible."

Adrian Roselli:

Then, you will go test it with a screen reader and you'll find the whole thing falls down and catches fire or [inaudible 01:06:01] JS Datepicker says, "Yes. We're accessible." Then, we put it in front of users and they fall down and catch fire. So, at some level there needs to be some recognition that just because an organization claims their thing is accessible, doesn't mean it is, and this is why I keep going back to saying, "Listen, before you pick up one of these tools, before you sign on the dotted line, before you integrate it into your entire stack and can never get it out again, look for guarantees, look for some kind of compliance statement."

Adrian Roselli:

Make sure that you have some sort of clawback clause if they are unable to or unwilling to meet the legal requirements that you have to honor. Just because they say they are accessible doesn't necessarily mean they are, and so you want it in writing. You don't need to be an expert on it, but you want it in writing so that later on you can go back and say, "Hey, you told me this grid calendar thinger widget was fine and it's not."

Cordelia McGee Tubb:

Yeah. That's reminding me of… I was recently using one of those supposedly accessible react reusable components, and there was one it accidentally set ARIA hidden on everything, so everything was hidden from a screen reader, and I finally found the documentation around like, "For accessibility, you need to do this, that and the other thing." So, it can be an accessible component, but that was a little bit buried, and so I think a lot of people, a lot of other developers who aren't necessarily thinking about accessibility see like, "Oh, this component is accessible. I'm just going to go ahead and plop it into my website," without realizing that it has the power to be accessible, but it's one of those things that can't just magically be accessible. You need to do a little bit of leg work on your end.

Adrian Roselli:

I have had the conversation where a client has said, "Oh, we'll just add some ARIA to make this thing accessible." What ARIA? Well, we'll just use ARIA. Do you understand ARIA is just another markup language and you need to get it right? I mean you can't just sprinkle ARIA. I think, so to your point, some developer probably said, "Well, we put some ARIA in there, so it's all fine now." That's just never enough and it's worse when somebody pulls it out and says, "I see ARIA. That means it's accessible. Let's use this one."

Cordelia McGee Tubb:

Which brings us back to I think this very start of our conversation when you were talking about Steve Faulkner and the incredible first rule of ARIA, which is don't use ARIA unless you really have to. Yeah.

Adrian Roselli:

I am a huge fan of the rules of ARIA partly because this three rules of ARIA, there are actually five rules of ARIA, and so the unintentional Monty Python reference is always fun for me, "Three? No. Five? Anyone? Okay."

Will Butler:

Is that from Holy Grail?

Adrian Roselli:

They're holding hand grenade [crosstalk 01:08:35] blow up the rabbit.

Will Butler:

Oh, yeah.

Adrian Roselli:

One, two-

Will Butler:

Five.

Adrian Roselli:

One, two, five. No. Three, sir, because one of the characters can't actually count to three. It was originally the three rules of ARIA and it's expanded to five, and I always enjoy that unintentional reference. That's all. I'm the only one who's amused by this.

Will Butler:

That is a deep funny fact [inaudible 01:08:54]

Adrian Roselli:

You have to have some weird level of Monty Python and ARIA nerdery to notice or give a rat's ass about that, so, yeah.

Cordelia McGee Tubb:

We got to keep this in so that listeners will just be like nodding at home and maybe tweeting at you later, Adrian. Yeah. That's my favorite thing about ARIA too.

Will Butler:

We got it, Adrian. Don't worry. I think the whole of Monty Python and the Holy Grail could be rewritten as an accessibility text probably.

Adrian Roselli:

Oh, I'm sure that's possible.

Cordelia McGee Tubb:

Side project for another time.

Adrian Roselli:

Yeah. I'm too busy making accessible memes to worry about Monty Python right now.

Will Butler:

Oh, man, accessible memes. What is an accessible meme?

Adrian Roselli:

I have a few out there. It's basically instead of having a picture with terrible alt text, what I do is I have a code pen that has much better, richer alternative text that describes the meme as well, and then I link that and tweet the image so that you get the best of both worlds.

Cordelia McGee Tubb:

Nice.

Will Butler:

Oh, amazing.

Adrian Roselli:

I put two more out yesterday if you look at my Twitter timeline in between the angry political stuff.

Will Butler:

How do you pick the memes? What are your favorite types of memes?

Adrian Roselli:

They're usually the ones that I see starting to get traction with the people I interact with and sometimes they're ones that are getting traction that are clearly leaving disabled users out. So, I just did the Drake meme, the better version of it was LeVar Burton. The Willy Wonka was my first one, not my first one, that was one of my most favorite, but my first one was those motorcycle guys having their fight were the guys who built the motorcycle since the father and son duo and they're smashing furniture and yelling at each other and I made that into an accessible meme about making accessible memes. It was a little meta, but whatever.

Will Butler:

The great thing about memes that I've found is that they're basically jokes, right? They're basically like visual jokes. So, they're really actually pretty effective to describe. Every meme sort of has a punch line, sort of like an AB or an ABC format to it. So, I'm very pro accessible memes. That's amazing [crosstalk 01:10:47]

Cordelia McGee Tubb:

They're like comics.

Adrian Roselli:

Well, at the very least… They are like comics. Yeah. Thank you. My American chopper accessible meme is probably the most meta of my memes, so I can share that with you later, because I think it sort of sets the tone for where my head is out on these things.

Will Butler:

Well, you're done a handful. Only 600 million to go, right?

Adrian Roselli:

Yeah. I think that's about right. Yeah.

Will Butler:

Adrian, thank you so much for coming in and really sort of rolling up your sleeves and talking with us about some of the issues and some of the sort of fake accessibility if you will. It's very, very relevant for our day-to-day work. We really hope to continue to have this conversation and continue to evolve it, and hopefully even hear from some of these companies who are trying to innovate and find new ways of providing accessibility and I hope you'll come back and join us again sometime in the future.

Adrian Roselli:

Yeah. Happy to come back. Happy to hear you continue this conversation with whomever you're able to have it, because I think it's important. It's worth having and it's clearly one where the landscape is changing at enough of a pace that somebody needs to pay attention to it who is not just me.

Cordelia McGee Tubb:

Yeah. Well, thank you so much, Adrian, and guess we'll see you on Twitter.

Adrian Roselli:

Yeah. Sorry about that.

Will Butler:

All right, folks, check out Adrian's website, adrianroselli.com. That's two Ls, right Adrian?

Adrian Roselli:

Yeah. Two Ls.

Cordelia McGee Tubb:

Is it pronounced Roselli or Rozel? I always forget.

Adrian Roselli:

Roselli with a zed.

Cordelia McGee Tubb:

Awesome.

Will Butler:

And it's Adrian with an A, two As, with two As.

Adrian Roselli:

Yes.

Cordelia McGee Tubb:

Is there another kind of Adrian? Oh, the second A could be an E.

Adrian Roselli:

Yeah. That's generally the not boy spelling, but whatever.

Will Butler:

Adrian.

Adrian Roselli:

I answer to a lot of things, so it's cool. My website answers to adrianroselli.com though.

Will Butler:

Check it out, folks. It's a great resource.

Adrian Roselli:

Thank you.

Will Butler:

If you have an idea for an episode of 13 Letters, shoot us an email to 13letters. That's 13letters@bemyeyes.com, and we will get back to you. Thank you so much for listening and we'll see you in two weeks.