Why I blocked #AccessiBe

Update: There is a browser extension that blocks all overlays

Original content.

Even though I find social media to be extremely draining and toxic, I do keep up with it because people share interesting articles and such from time to time. I’m not a fan of the way people use social media as a weapon against people, but, I figured I still needed a Twitter account to keep up with stuff.

Recently, AccessiBe popped up in my timeline again. Apparently, they’ve hired Michael Hingson to be the Chief Vision Officer. If that name sounds familiar, well, just read his book Thunder Dog.

I mean, quite honestly, I’m not a fan of AccessiBe at all. Partly because I’m involved with so many legal cases involving their product as an expert witness it’s starting to make my hair Grey.

Here’s how it usually happens. Companies get a demand letter saying their website is inaccessible. I do a thorough accessibility audit when my lawyer brings me in to be an expert witness, which is often. I give my honest opinion. An expert witness is a third party in cases. After I say the complaint is valid or invalid, I get paid, and move on my fabulous way, unless I’m called in to testify in court, then I’m flown down to different states and give my testimony in court after a night in a swank hotel. The rough part is the opposing attorney grilling you for hours. Still, it’s worth it.

I wanted to see what the big fuss about AccessiBe was now. It made me chuckle when I soon discovered that visually impaired people are blocking AccessiBe completely.

Today, I took the plunge and blocked it on my IOS device using this app because sites were becoming unusable with it. By unusable, I really do mean, unusable. VoiceOver, Apple’s built-in screen reader, was being interrupted every time I tried to read a blog post they’ve written or something similar with their toolbar installed. this may not be obvious to some folks, but if you interrupt a screen reader from reading things, that prevents visually impaired people from using your site. I haven’t blocked it on my desktop yet because I have to still do these cases, and I have to test with the toolbar, and without, if a website has an accessibility overlay. Even so, though, I’d like to tell you a bit about my first encounter with them not through one of my expert witness gigs.

Fun story before we begin. An AccessiBe representative appeared on one demonstration call with us with the prosecutor and failed to even understand VoiceOver keyboard commands. While I can’t say the client, my lawyer, the defense attorney, eventually had to shut up the AccessiBe representative before he ruined the case for my lawyer.

The AccessiBe representative clearly didn’t know how VoiceOver worked on the Mac. The plaintiff kept trying to do things with AccessiBe on their Mac with guidance from the AccessiBe representative. Everything failed. In short, my screen reader skills saved the day for my lawyer, but that stuck in my mind.

I can tell you that doing these cases has really shown me how AccessiBe operates. It’s ironic, actually. In a lot of cases, if the defendant hadn’t enabled AccessiBe on their website, they would have had a greater chance of winning their case. There have also been a few times, though, when AccessiBe helped. AccessiBe helping in a situation was the rare occurrence, though.

Outside of my expert witness work, the folks at AccessiBe just seem extremely oblivious to basic things like, well, for example, the difference between a WordPress.com website and a WordPress.org website. They also seem to be oblivious regarding how interfering with an expert witness could make their clients lose cases because there’s a certain thing called, conflict of interest.

I had tweeted out one thing about them at the start of January. Immediately, they wanted to have a private conversation with me. I wasn’t shy about me being an expert witness. They didn’t seem to understand what that was, but the wacky part was when they asked me to install their toolbar and try it out.

I tried explaining, repeatedly, that my website wasn’t a self-hosted website. They would have known this if they looked in the address bar. WordPress.com disables a lot of code because it’s not secure. This includes JavaScript. I couldn’t have run it even if I wanted to, but they were just not getting it.

This really makes me wish I could block them forever, but I can’t. I’ll still be an expert witness after this post goes live. I have to honestly test websites. You can be assured, though, that I’ve blocked it on my portable browsers and especially my mobile device.

Here’s a word to the wise for other accessibility developers. If the visually impaired community is blocking your script on mass, you’ve got a problem. I’m of the opinion that inclusive design is better anyway. Sure, websites may not be accessible now, but education is better than dealing with JavaScript that just slaps accessibility on everything as an expensive afterthought.

It’s funny. If AccessiBe made a website builder that was inclusively designed to make a pleasant experience for Disabled creators, ensuring that everything a casual user was creating was outwardly accessible, I’d be their biggest champion. But I have a really hard time believing AccessiBe wants the web to be accessible.

Maybe, someday, they will get it. I doubt it, though. I’m also eagerly awaiting more of these overlays to be blocked for good. That happy day can’t come fast enough.