This Week in Accessibility: 2023 Year Recap with Carrie on Accessibility
Accessibility consultant and Youtube influencer Carrie Morales joins the show to look back at all of 2023’s advances in assistive tech and accessibility policy. From version 2.2 of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines to the explosion of AI, there’s no shortage of topics to tackle in this chat.
Just a note that there will be no show next week, but we’ll return the first week of January to preview the 2024 Consumer Electronics Show.
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Des (VO): The views and opinions expressed on this podcast are personal and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of our employers, partners, or other associated third-party entities.
Des: Today on the show, we’re joined by the tour de force behind the Carrie On Accessibility YouTube channel. We’re talking about all of the top trends and technology from the year 2023. It’s a 2023 retrospective on This Week in Accessibility.
Des: Welcome to the show. I’m Des Delgadillo.
Louis: And I’m Louis Do. It is the last show of the year, and that is because there’s not a whole lot going on in the world of accessibility. People are going home to their families. All the devs are not wanting to, well, dev at the moment. And so we’re going to wrap this year up and take a break next week and come back strong in January when we’re going to talk about CES. But I wanted to end the year with a bit of a bang. So I thought I’d bring on somebody who we’ve been following for quite a long time. We’re joined this week by Keri Morales for the whole show. Keri is an accessibility consultant and tester like us, but she also manages a great YouTube channel where she reviews assistive technology and interviews some of the innovators in that space. Carrie, it’s so good to have you on the show.
Carrie: Hey, Des. Hey, Louis. Thanks for asking me to join you guys.
Des: Yeah. I mean, you’re probably the one person I know that has more tech right now than we do. I mean, I’ve been tracking your YouTube videos for the year, and you’ve gotten to review a Pixel Fold. You’ve gotten to review a Pixel Tablet and so many other Google things that I can’t even keep track of. Magnifiers. So if you want to get the update on the newest and greatest assistive tech stuff, you definitely got to check out Carrie’sYouTube channel.
Louis: Carrie has so much tech that I routinely get texts about her getting tech, and I feel very mocked for it.
Carrie: Okay. A lot of this tech, I do have to return. So I want you guys to remember that. It’s not like I have a huge library or a tech armory or something.
Louis: I’m not worried about your caveats.
Des: You still get to play with it. You get to play with the fun toys.
Carrie: Yeah. That’s the funnest part. That’s the best part.
Des: And then when they’re not shiny anymore, you get to send it back.
Louis: She operates, Carrie with tech operates on the way I operate with children. I’d love to give them back at the end of the day after you hang out or whatever. I’d love to give back little kids. So I babysit for five hours, like Carrie plays with tech for five hours and she gives it back.
Carrie: Sometimes it’s painful to give stuff back. Sometimes certain things are like, no, do I really have to give it back to you? Really? Do I have to?
Des: Was there something this year that it physically hurt you to send it back?
Carrie: Actually, probably not this year, but when I got a VR low vision magnifier, where you put it on your head, it’s just so much fun to play with.
Des: That sounds awesome.
Carrie: I wanted to keep it, but I had to return it. So that’s disappointing.
Des: Wow. Well, maybe next year, or maybe Santa Claus will put a magnifier in your stocking. Will it fit?
Carrie: Probably not.
Des: I don’t think it’ll fit.
Carrie: I don’t think so.
Des: It’d have to be a Sasquatch stocking. Well, this year we are looking back on the year that was in 2023. And so I made a list. I checked it twice. Here are some of the big accessibility topics that dominated the year. And I thought we would just all kind of talk a little bit about them since they affect us every single day, both in our jobs and when we’re just trying to do things online. We’re going to start with some of the more technical things that affect our jobs every day. So this is probably better if you’re a developer or you’re involved in creating accessible content every day. But if you want to hear us talk more about cool tech products, you could join us over in the next segment for lots of that. So let’s start off and play a little game, guys. TPGI released their list of the top accessibility errors in 2023. And can either of you guess what number one is? What about you, Louis? Let’s start with you.
Louis: I cannot.
Des: What about you, Carrie? You have a guess?
Carrie: Can I phone a friend?
Des: Ooh, who would you phone?
Carrie: Uh, Des?
Des: Well, Carrie, it turns out that I in fact have the answers right in front of me. The number one error in accessibility this year, as identified by TPGI, is no link text. So that I think we run into that all the time. If you are listening and you’re a sighted person, imagine going on your favorite website and looking at all of the social media links that are at the bottom of the page and not being able to tell which one is going to Twitter, which one is going to Mastodon, which one is going to TikTok. There’s so many social media that everyone wants to list it, but nobody bothers to actually put that label. Some people think that the logo is enough, but I promise you, there’s a lot of folks who are either blind or use voice control technology, right, that are not able to just use the link text. So I think that’s a great number one. I think we run into that error quite a bit in our jobs, Louis.
Louis: It’s the easiest thing to fix.
Des: Yeah, literally the easiest. Quick aside, yesterday I was playing around with some of the AI podcast tools. Oh my gosh, I just got such FOMO because you log into these tools and they’re telling you how easy it’s going to let you change the sound of your podcast or do editing on the fly. And it seems like it’s going to be so great and convenient. But as soon as you open up any web app, it’s a sea, an ocean of unlabeled buttons and links. So terrible. And like you said, the easiest thing to fix. So let’s get on that, Devs. Some of the other things that were on this list, the errors, number two was non-active elements in the tab order. Number three was missing link alt text. Number four was nested lists not listed correctly, easy for me to say. And there’s a whole 10 on there if you want to go check it out and learn how you can fix them in your own projects.
But moving on, WCAG, that’s the Web Content. What does WCAG stand for, Louis?
Louis: Web Content Accessibility Guidelines.
Des: The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. I’m an accessibility professional, I promise.
Louis: Go to the back of the class.
Des: Yeah, I will. I’ll sit down after this. They released their 2.2 update this year. And that was back in October. Some of the new criteria that they put in there this year include consistent help, redundant entry, and focus not obscured. These guidelines are, I think, being introduced more as preparation for the future. I think a lot of the guidance that’s being issued is for people to not completely focus on meeting these guidelines now. But I think if you’re building new stuff, I think these are the things that you need to keep in mind, right?
Louis: Yeah. And with every iteration of WCAG, it becomes more comprehensive. It adds more layers. For example, there’s criteria about mobile now for 2.2. And it’s going to become, as I said, more comprehensive. But the only use for guidelines is if they’re actually being used. Because it’s not legislation, right? Legislation is you need to do this or else. Guidelines is just a very strong suggestion. So guidelines only become effective if devs developed with them.
Des: Has WCAG 2.2 been affecting you, Carrie? Is that something that you’ve started advising your clients on using? Or is this something that you’re sitting on and just kind of waiting for the questions?
Carrie: I’m mostly just waiting on the questions and seeing how things unfold, really.
Des: Our next story, the Department of Justice, the DOJ, issued a notice of proposed rulemaking. This was back in July of this year that would, for the first time, explicitly establish web accessibility regulations into the ADA. So previously, the ADA’s accessibility regulations have basically defaulted back to WCAG 2.0, which by now is quite old. Tell me how you feel about this, Louis, because I think we can talk about this for hours. This could go either way because we have, for the first time, somebody in the government actually determining what accessibility looks like. But it could be a completely different vision of what accessibility looks like to us, right?
Louis: I would agree on that. And the thing about the government is that it moves glacially slow. So as much as I may welcome legislation, specific legislation that explicitly talks about accessibility on the web, I think we’re kind of missing the boat a little bit here. As much as web technologies can be very important to us, mobile now is a big thing, right? Like everybody walks around with their iPhone. Everybody has an app, you know, things like that, right? And we need access to those things too. And it just feels like when legislation comes along, we miss the boom of things, right? We miss the cutting edge.
Carrie: Also, we have to wait. It’s just proposed right now. Is it going to be passed? We have no idea.
Des: Right. I think we have until April 2024 is when they are going to announce. I guess people are commenting up through October of this year, and now they’re currently reviewing it. And it’s apparently going to take six months to do that. So we’ll see what we hear when that gets done. But I’m very excited to see that at least the government is taking an interest in it. And you’re right. There is like a long delay in regulation and technology to the point where by the time the regulation is passed, we’re already on to the next thing. So I want to give a shout out to the European Union, who has already and to a shorter, a smaller extent, I guess, our own US who have also put out a sort of, I think it’s called an executive order. But the European Union is actively trying to already start to regulate AI. And you can have your own opinion on how much AI should be regulated. But I think it’s a really good sign that this technology is barely a year old, and we’re already starting to see people try and regulate it for good.
Louis: If you’re regulating AI, are you putting accessibility in there? That’s my question. It’s great. It’s great that there’s regulation. I agree. But has accessibility been specifically and explicitly mentioned with AI?
Des: Well, what does that look like to you? Accessibility and AI? Is it just like an accessible interface? Or are you talking about getting into the multimodal video creation and photo generation and stuff like that?
Louis: All of it.
Des: Yeah. I mean, when ChatGPT first came out, I think every button on that page was not labeled. I think quite a few of them still are not. So it’s still not a fully intuitive user experience. And that’s the flagship right now for AI. So I totally see where you’re coming from. We definitely got to bake accessibility into that from the beginning and make sure that regulations are an ally in doing that.
Louis: The biggest two words that I’ve heard in 2023 was, or I should say the three words that I heard in 23 were accessible, equal, and equitable. But I’m really not sure if people really understand what that actually means in terms of disability. Something may be equal. It may not be equitable. You know, accessibility, you may be able to log on. Like the URL is accessible to you because you’re able to log onto the page. But then the interface dies off because you get a bunch of unlabeled buttons.
Des: Right. Or they send you to a completely different website. We see people do that all the time. I hate comparing it to, you know, our country’s civil rights struggles. But it is a kind of feels that way a bit where you’re just sending a different type of person to a different place because of factors that they can’t control.
But anyway, let’s talk about some lighter stuff, guys. Some happy things happened this year as well. Something that I love to see is the Oscars for the first time provided ASL interpreting on the red carpet, as well as audio descriptions for the red carpet event and award show. Are either of you big movie fans?
Carrie: Yeah. What is the Oscars? No, I’m just kidding. I do know what that is.
Des: Well, a couple of different guys named Oscar come on the TV for like five hours and they just talk about movies. And that’s what the Oscars is.
Carrie: I’d be completely lost.
Louis: You would love it.
Des: They also did audio description this year for the Grammys, and that was also for the first time. So I just love the fact that these are like mainstream happenings, right? Everybody gathers around and watches these things, or at least in theory, that’s how it’s supposed to go. Streaming, I think, is cutting into that quite a bit. And so maybe there’s an ulterior motive as well for putting these accessibility features in now so that we have more people praising this instead of talking about all the Grammys. Nobody’s watching the Grammys this year, or people are just watching it on YouTube. So I’m looking at it both from like, I’m happy as a blind person that these things are happening, and I’m happy for viewers who are deaf that they’re finally getting equal access to this stuff. But I’m also looking at it kind of cynically like, maybe you were waiting for the right time to pull these things out. Netflix also stepped up its game this year, adding subtitles, that’s custom subtitles, to its players. There has been a longstanding complaint for people, even though that Netflix has had subtitles for years, who were never able to customize the fonts, the colors, the size of the text. And that stuff is really important for somebody who is low vision, or maybe even just for somebody who wants, who just wants bigger subtitles so they can focus in better. Carrie, have you gotten a chance to play with these subtitles at all on Netflix?
Carrie: I have not, no.
Louis: Netflix, if you want to give Carrie a subscription so she can test out this new feature, you know how to reach her.
Carrie: What I wonder is, there are caption controls on platforms. So for Android, within Android, you can change caption fonts and size and background. And I wonder if it will automatically adjust for Netflix, or you have to control that on Netflix itself.
Des: Yeah, that’s a good question. I watch a lot of Netflix, but I watch it directly on my Fire TV. So I’m going to have to get in there and play with it on Android, and I will let you know, we can talk more about it. We’re going to take a quick break. When we come back, we’re going to talk more about assistive technology products that stood out to us this year with the lady who knows all about them, Ms. Carrie Morales on the other side.
Des: Okay, in this part of the show, I wanted to talk about some of the coolest, the greatest, the most life-changing accessibility products, assistive tech products and services that have come out this year, or some have been out for a while, but have really taken it to a new level this year. I wanted to start off with talking about something I don’t really get to play with too much because it doesn’t benefit me as a total, but magnification products. Quite a few have come out this year. Carrie, I saw you do a review of one on your YouTube channel. Can you speak to what some of the best magnification products are this year for somebody who’s low vision?
Louis: None exist. (laughs)
Carrie: There hasn’t really been much. The ones that I reviewed suck, so I don’t know if you want me to say that they suck, because that’s pretty much what I said on my video.
Des: Why do they suck? What could make them better? Because I’m here thinking it’s 2023. These things should be perfect by now.
Carrie: A lot of them just don’t have very good screens. In the world of mobile technology where we have OLED screens and mini LEDs, these are from, I don’t know, 2010, where it’s TFT displays, which is incredibly disappointing for me, because it’s just when you look at a modern smartphone and you look at these magnifiers, there’s absolutely no comparison. And then they still have mini USB chargers. That is just unacceptable. It’s really disappointing. How outdated the technology is.
Louis: Did you say mini?
Carrie: Yes, I said mini.
Louis: Not micro?
Carrie: Not even micro.
Des: No, this is before micro. I’ll walk into Best Buy and ask for a mini USB charger and they will laugh at me.
Louis: I was trying to think if I even had one.
Des: I think printers in the 90s use mini USB, if I’m thinking correctly.
Carrie: There’s also, I’ve been searching for a CCTV for about two years now that I want to update my old one. Especially since my son is also visually impaired and we do homeschool. And I’ve bought about three, which were huge investments, and I’ve returned them all because they’re all just nothing like what I would expect from technology in 2023. So that’s really disappointing. But I will say that Google came out with the Pixel magnifier app. So that’s pretty cool. You can get it only on Pixels though. I wish they would just make one that’s universal for Android.
Des: Right. Yeah. Well, maybe now they’ll have to after that whole jury made them. I don’t know if that will be part of it, but who knows, right?
Carrie: And one more thing would be improvements to the iOS magnifier app. It’s actually had improvements that had nothing to do with magnification. One of my favorite features now is point and speak. And while it’s not perfect, it uses AI and you can point your iPhone at, like, for example, an appliance and you use your other hand and you point at the different buttons or labels and it’ll read it for you. It’s not perfect, but it really does work pretty well. And my microwave, especially because I’m really short and it’s really high up and it’s hard to see anything, even with like a magnifier.
Des: I’m putting the call out right now to anybody who’s still working on these magnification products. What are you doing? I mean, not only are these things severely marked up, right? Like you’re paying so much more for this. Why are we still putting antiquated technology into these things?
Louis: Well, that’s the thing of AT. And the argument has always been, at least the one that I’ve heard most common, oh, it’s a small incidence market. We just don’t have the resources to give people the latest and greatest.
Louis: I mean, they say it more politely than that. But at this point, with mainstream options, I’m very reluctant to give my money to an AT company.
Carrie: For example, a CCTV, the one that I was looking at, is $3,000. I find that probably even a mid-range tablet or phone would have better quality than some of these.
Des: And in one way, that’s very sad. And in another way, it’s very encouraging, right? Because we have these mid-range phones that are going to be surpassing these assistive tech. We may see where we’re going to drive these specialized companies out of business, right? Is that something that either of you could see happening, especially with Google and Apple putting, I guess, not all of the resources, but definitely more resources into making these experiences much more beneficial than these assistive tech companies?
Louis: There’s always going to be a place for the assistive technology industry. But what is going to separate the ones that make it from the ones that don’t comes out of one simple fact. Are you listening to your consumers? Are you interfacing better with the Googles and the Apples and the Amazons of the world to make your products more integrated with mainstream solutions? Are you offering people solutions that allow them to, I don’t know, do more? Do more than the basic things that we’ve all been offered by assistive technology, right? Are you offering them a better quality of life? Are you offering them a way to get employment? Because the pathway from a specialized device to independence, it’s really not clearly marked out, right? Like, oh, you should get this because it’s a magnifier or it’s a screen reader, but nobody really outlines how you use it to be successful. But with mainstream products, you actually see people using them in all kinds of creative and awesome ways. And you can see why you want in on that. So consumerism, right? Economics, it comes down to the fact of are you listening to your consumers? And are you offering us anything that we want? There’s always going to be certain features that mainstream companies aren’t going to implement in their products that people with disabilities may want. And that’s where AT comes in.
Carrie: The major problem that I have is, you know, these AT companies, most of them don’t see us as the target market.
Louis: It’s always agencies, at least in the US.
Carrie: Yes, agencies and government. And until that changes, I don’t think these products are even accessible as individuals.
Louis: It’s not along the same realm. So it’s not magnifiers. But as a totally blind person, I use screen readers. And a screen reader that I will not name only became innovative because Microsoft changed their development cycle, right? So perpetual development with Windows 10 and Windows 11. And then a certain major AT company was like, oh my gosh, we may be screwed, considering there’s an open source and free option out there. It’s galling that in 2023, we’re still not looked at as consumers by the AT industry as a whole.
Des: Very well put, Louis. Let’s talk about, actually, we just kind of talked about Apple. And Apple was definitely in the news this year. This was an article that Mark Gurman, who’s one of the leak gurus for Apple, he posted this earlier this week about what Apple’s 2024 is looking like. He writes, Apple plans to retain the iPhone 15’s design while increasing screen sizes on the Pro version. Lower end models will get the action button. And there will be a new dedicated button for taking video. But it will be the company’s wearables business, including the upcoming Vision Pro, AirPods, and Apple Watch that take center stage. So he’s talking about the roadmap for 2024. I’m specifically really interested in the Vision Pro. Carrie, I know you did some videos earlier this year, kind of digging into what the accessibility use would be of that. And then I think the Apple Developer Labs actually did some really cool workshops on some of the accessibility features that they were building in. What are your thoughts right now? We’re in December. Mark Gurman’s saying probably February 2024 release. I mean, I can’t imagine you not getting to play with one of these.
Carrie: I’m trying to work out something with a connection of mine. So hopefully I can get it in my hands. One thing for me is, yes, there are gestures you can do so you can control voiceover or Zoom. And there’s other accessibility features, which I’ve gone over in other videos. But for a blind person, why are we going to put on this big bulky headset? What can it possibly do or offer that we can’t do on our phone? What would make it easier? That’s my overarching question. Do you guys have any ideas?
Des: Well, my thought is kind of related to yours because I don’t see any sort of benefit on the surface. And I don’t think Apple does either. I think Apple is counting on the creativity of whoever they are pushing these kits out to, the developers that they trust. I think they’re counting on them to come up with some creative uses for people who are blind and visually impaired. I’m not so sure that Apple, although they are, of course, the kudos to them for building the accessibility into it and then those gestures and considerations from a pretty early stage. But I’m not sure if Apple is left to their own devices. I don’t think this is really going to be targeted at us.
Louis: I strongly disagree.
Des: Oh, let me know what’s going on.
Louis: I strongly disagree because I’m going to hearken us back to when the iPhone first came out. And what did every blind person say? Completely unusable. Oh my God. It’s all touchscreens. Can’t use it. No buttons. Oh my God. No buttons. No touchscreen. Oh my God. Oh my God. The world’s over. Where’s my Nokia N95? But look at us now. The iPhone changed so many lives in ways big and small. People who lose their vision in life can have tools on their devices that can help them gain a measure of independence. We’re going to cover some apps later on that are on both iPhone and Android. But iPhone and iOS embraced accessibility in such a way that developers have pathways to make their apps accessible. And many apps on iOS just become accidentally accessible because Apple planned things out so well and have such a strong foundation and commitment towards accessibility. So I think with the Vision Pro, it’s going to really disrupt things because it has to start somewhere. And it may be this big and bulky device now, but it’s not going to be this big and bulky device in five years. It has the potential. We were just talking about magnifiers and assistive technology companies not taking us seriously as consumers. Well, this is going to really disrupt it because if you’re wearing it and there’s cameras and sensors and all this stuff that’s built into it, you become hands-free, right? This device can look around for you. Developers can develop… Just imagine, we’ll be talking about this, but let’s imagine using Be My AI hands-free.
Des: Yeah, that’s a really good point. That would look really cool.
Louis: People who have motor impairments, what does that signify for them, right? So this has many… This is an industry disruptor and I’m very excited about it. I’m very excited for, frankly, I’m very excited in 2024 onwards where AT companies… One of the features that I would like to see is magnification on the Vision Pro.
Carrie: But my thing is, yes, there’s a lot of potential and it’s really going to be up to developers to figure that out. But there’s two approaches to wearable technology, right? There’s the one where you’re completely enclosed. Like the Vision Pro, you see just screens. And there’s another approach to it where it’s more like glasses where there may be a screen or there may be some way to project it. But most of the computing power isn’t directed to the screens and the visual experience. And you still have access to the real world. And I’m more excited about that technology than necessarily like more of a VR experience or a virtual reality experience.
Des: No, I’m super excited to see what they do with all that. I think, at least for me and Louis, I think we’re on very different sides of the spectrum. So I’m excited to see who wins out here when the Vision Pro comes out and we start to see what sorts of experiences these developers have put together. Because I watched the accessibility demo of them showing the voiceover gestures. And I think the game was like, popping artificial bubbles or something. And, you know, I’m not super interested in that. But if we can build something that’s more than that, then I mean, we will see. I’m not dropping $4,000 on it, but we will see what happens.
Louis: However, if you would like to donate Vision Pro’s to us….
Des: Oh, absolutely. Okay. Yeah, Carrie has a P.O. box and I’m sure she can donate to us. And I’m sure she can ship them on over to us when she’s done with them.
Louis: I’ll create a P.O. box if I have to.
Des: Another big thing I really wanted to get to, because how can you talk about 2023 without it, is AI, right? AI has permeated accessibility, not just for people like us who are blind, but for people who have motor disabilities, people who are deaf. I mean, AI is already completely changing the way people can interact with technology. And of course, that all started late last year when this little known app came online called ChatGPT. And since then, it has become the most, I think, popular app, I dare say, ever. And let’s just start by talking about how have you two used ChatGPT to really start diving into transforming the way that you work?
Louis: The integration of ChatGPT with other products made my head spin, right? So ChatGPT with Bing, ChatGPT with Be My AI, it made my head spin how fast that company just took over our collective consciousness.
Des: Then in, I think it was May, GPT-4 started working in conjunction with the people over at Be My Eyes. And they announced that they would be bringing out this product called, I think it was at first called like Visual Interpreter or something like that.
Carrie: Virtual Volunteer.
Des: There you go. And they later changed it to Be My AI because branding, but my gosh, I mean, if there is one app that I can point to that has boosted my productivity this year, it is that app. Not just from recognizing pictures of like cartoons and things like that, reading comic strips, but just getting the idea of looking at logos and understanding kind of the fundamentals of logo design and things like that. That’s what I’ve been using it for. What, as somebody who’s been creating content for many years, Carrie, how have you seen ChatGPT, BARD, these kinds of new experiences change the game for how you create content?
Carrie: Really for me, it’s a starting point. When I’m creating a blog or a video, I need, it’s hard to start. And that’s where this really comes in for me to give me ideas, give me an outline, give me just the direction to go in and then work from there because AI is not perfect and we can’t always use everything that it generates. I would definitely recommend not to at least. Right?
Louis: So use some common sense, please.
Carrie: Exactly. And so for me, that’s really where it’s at. Or also I would say summarizing things that you may not want to sit there and listen or watch an eight hour conference, but just give it some links and say, hey, what happened here? Tell me the highlights. And there you go. You saved how many hours?
Louis: I work on the opposite end of the spectrum from Carrie. It seems like with these two, whatever they agree, I’d like to agree with the opposite. For me, content generation is never really a problem. It’s content refinement because I call it word vomit. I will just vomit all over a Google Doc for like an hour or two. And then I can’t even read my own writing. Good lord, this is bad. And ChatGPT has really helped me refine that and really tighten up on my output and the sentences that I like to use or would like to use if my brain actually worked. I think it also, I’ve used it to check tonality. So if I write down an idea and I want it to make it more succinct and I want to make it sound a little more user-friendly and have a warmer tone, which I’m really not good at because if I had my way, I would be like, here’s a link, do something with it. But obviously you can’t get along in the world with that attitude. So ChatGPT really helps. I can literally write down, here’s the link, go do something with it. And then I go to ChatGPT and say, hey, ChatGPT, I’m saying this is what I wrote below. Here’s the link, do something with it. Can you make it sound a little nicer? And it does. And it’s great. And it makes me sound like somebody people want to get along with. It’s awesome.
Carrie: I always have the opposite problem when I tell it to, okay, start off an article about X, Y, or Z. I’m like, this is so dry. Can you add some personality into it? And then it just goes overboard. And I’m like, okay, let’s find something in the middle, please. It’s just so hard to make it warm and passionate, but professional. I don’t know how you’re doing that.
Louis: I also correct it a lot along the way. And I think you can write custom instructions right now, right? Like there’s an area where you can write instructions. I constantly monitor it. And I’m not nice about my criticism. If I actually gave the criticism I give ChatGPT to a real life human being, good lord. And that wouldn’t be fun for anybody. So that helps a lot, I think. It’s like if you’re on it consistently, and then you keep on telling it, fix it, fix it. You’re wrong. You’re bad. You’re wrong all the time. Sometimes it gets it right. Just don’t do that with a real human. Do that with AI.
Des: But aside from actually just manipulating text content, we’ve seen AI scale so rapidly. So not only did we have them build the BMI AI app, we also have people using AI to transcribe their content. We were talking earlier. People are using AI now to edit their podcasts.
Louis: Screen readers are having add-ons that leverage the power of AI.
Des: Let’s not forget about the smart glasses that are… I remember Envision, this company from, I believe, the Netherlands, in 2020 started selling these glasses saying, hey, they use AI, they do this. And it was basically just putting, in my opinion, seeing AI into a pair of glasses. But since then, they’ve really been… I think right now they’re using the GPT3.5. So they’re still not on the level of a BMI AI, for example. But just the fact that they’re baking these APIs into their products later, and that these APIs are so available. I mean, I think that’s amazing. Another glasses, smart glasses manufacturer that you spoke to recently, Carrie, on your latest podcast episode was Celeste. And can you just tell us a little bit about what this one is? Because I admittedly have not heard too much about Celeste until I learned about them on your show.
Carrie: Yeah, so they look very similar to regular glasses. Maybe a little thicker on the sides, where, what do you call that, on your temple? Yeah, the frames. So maybe they’re a little thicker, and then the frames. And in the middle, there’s a camera. And so you have the regular functionalities like seeing AI or Google Lookout. But now there’s also AI, and it has a smart assistant and a scene describer, very similar to BMI AI. And it uses GPT. I’m not sure if it’s 3.5 or 4. And you can ask it anything. And they’re planning to do more with it. So you can continuously take pictures and have it fulfill a prompt. So read all the stores. So for example, read all the stores as I pass by them. And it’s supposed to be able to do something like that. So I’m really excited for it, if it works, right? I don’t have access to it. I don’t know yet. And we’ll just have to see what the actual experience is going to be like.
Louis: It’s so funny to me that we’re seeing the Apple Vision Pro now. We’re seeing all these glasses. There’s the, what is that thing called? The human AI pin?
Louis: But 10, 11 years ago, when Google Glass first came out, everybody was freaking out. Oh, people were getting laughed at, too, because it looks so ridiculous. They even have the new Meta frames. And I just saw a video of it doing something similar to Be My AI and describing something. So I don’t know if you want to wear something that’s owned by Meta. But I mean, that’s also another option there. It’s not only AT companies. I refuse to give Zuckerberg my money, but that’s just my opinion.
Des: That’s what Zuck is counting on, because I’ve heard that Meta is really interested in pivoting more into the wearables market as well.
Louis: And they really showed their hand this year by calling themselves the Metaverse, right?
Des: Yeah. But I’m so glad that you did bring up Meta, Carrie, because I watched, or I guess I had AI in my head I watched, or I guess I had AI summarize for me a panel that somebody from Meta did over at Sight Tech Global. And he was really talking about some of the different uses for the AI glasses, especially the types that Meta is putting out. And he did share things about reading and image recognition, but also the ability to just start interfacing directly using your voice and completely eliminating the need for interacting with a computer, which if you have limited use of your hands or something like that, that’s an incredible game changer. So somebody over at a newsletter that we like to read quite a bit called Top Tech Tidbits did a good little summary of this talk. And they really brought up a great point that I wanted to read here on the air. This is from Aaron DeBlasi, the publisher over at Top Tech Tidbits. He writes, the question arises, if AI through devices like smart glasses can interpret web content for blind users, is there still a need for websites to be coded for compatibility with human operated screen reading software? And I thought that was a really good question because in the way I look at it is, it’s kind of like a yes, but not yet kind of thing. And tell me if you guys think I’m wrong about this because I’m imagining in 10, 15 years, I think the way everybody uses their computers is going to be vastly different from how we see it today.
Louis: Vastly different. But I’m really tired of this trend that I’m seeing throughout mainstream and accessibility slash assistive technology where they collide. And the trend that I’m seeing is kicking the buck down the road so someone or something else, in this case AI, has to deal with it. We’re not going away as people with disabilities.
Des: And so are you saying that we, I mean, obviously for the next 10, 15 years, right, until the paradigm shifts, we obviously need to keep these, like the WCAG updates that we talked about earlier or the new, the government’s NPRM, like just things like that are obviously going to be pivotal to keeping our accessibility. But I think in 10, 15 years, even the WCAG may look different, right? Just because we’re going to be looking differently at computers.
Louis: I agree. However, I’ll put it this way though, that when the world is completely ready to 100% depend on AI, then you can let AI deal with the accessibility. But let’s not kick the ball down, let’s not kick the can down the road just yet.
Carrie: Yeah, I agree with Louis on this one.
Des: Well, there you go. There’s a first time for everything, guys.
Louis: First time for everything, the sky’s falling.
Des: One more thing, Louis, that you added to the outline that I wanted you to kind of talk to us about was AccessiBe, which is one of the companies known for their accessibility overlays, which for the uninitiated is just an absolutely, usually counterproductive way to bake in accessibility after the fact. Usually it does not work the way intended and it’s just usually a way for people to spend ungodly amounts of money. AccessiBe actually put out an apology this year. Can you tell us a little bit about what the heck they were apologizing for?
Louis: So I guess let’s start the conversation by explaining to both what is an accessibility overlay?
Des: Yes, an accessibility overlay is generally a code-based solution. You can put a snippet of code anywhere on your website and what it purports to do is to then give people the ability to adjust their settings for accessibility. Some overlays will even go as far as to change settings to supposedly make them more accessible. Now, in a lot of people’s experiences, a majority, I would dare say, of people’s experiences have found that these overlays do the opposite and they’re in fact just adding more clutter to web pages and they’re adding features that don’t actually support people with disabilities or in some cases, make their usage of a website experience much more difficult than it would have been otherwise. One of the leading companies that markets an accessibility overlay service is AccessiBe. And over the last, I would say, two, three years, they have been under extraordinary fire, not just for their overlay and the fact that it’s not doing often what it’s supposed to do, but I think they are also, they were very reactive to the criticism in a very negative way, which definitely is not something that will endear you to the disabled community. Does that sound right?
Louis: Sounds correct.
Des: So somebody had a change of heart somewhere.–
Louis: Specifically the CEO of AccessiBe. –
Des: Specifically, yeah, their CEO. They published an apology letter earlier this year talking about how they understand where people with disabilities are coming from and trying to build some much needed empathy with the people who have been so critical. I do feel, though, after, I mean, it feels to me like it’s a little, too little, too late when it comes to a company like this. And I don’t know, what do you think about them kind of reversing course? –
Louis: So the biggest part that I find egregious about overlays is the snake oil salesman tactic that overlay companies use, right? Do I think that overlays potentially can have benefit? Absolutely. Do I think how they historically have been marketed and the people behind them? Do I agree or do I like those past practices? Absolutely not. Because as people with disabilities and as people who work in accessibility, we know that accessibility is a bigger issue than here’s this magical line of code. It’s going to fix everything, right? And frankly, we were never the consumers of this technology. They were selling it to companies. Oh, you know, you don’t want to be, you don’t want to be sued by those, you know, annoying, pesky disabled people. Buy our little overlay. It’ll fix all your problems. Meanwhile, there are actual accessibility developers, testers, specialists, consultants, analysts out there who are queuing up in lines to get a job, to add their voice to society, to improve user interfaces, to show people that disability is creative and beautiful and all those things that everybody else and all those adjectives that everybody else gets to use to describe themselves, right? But instead of marketing to us, instead of bringing us into the conversation and asking how can we all work together to make these overlays a viable solution and viable tools that will add positive value to the world, they actively ignored us. They actively gaslit us. They actively told us that we were whiny. We were complaining. They actively told us that we were wrong. And they actively told us that we were lying about our experiences. That’s why I have a problem with it. And I’ll be honest, that little apology letter, you know, it’s great that this dude is in his late 20s and he has a company and everything. And I’m sure he’s enjoying his millions as he’s profiting off the misery and the lack of access for people with disabilities. And it’s really nice that he like fired his whole management team, you know, his whole team there over there at AccessiBe. But who was the leader? It was you, bro. Fire yourself.
Des: We’ll see. I mean, we’ll see what they can do in the next year or so if they can redeem themselves. But I haven’t seen any more steps in that direction since that letter came out. And yeah, it’s just putting a Band-Aid on a situation. Really, really what they’re doing there.
Louis: And they really underestimated that people with disabilities have teeth because the next item in our show notes is a little Chrome extension called AccessiByeBye. And it’s a Chrome extension that will work on all browsers running Chromium. So Chrome, Edge, Brave. And it’s developed by a blindness company called Pneuma Solutions. And it blocks these overlays.
Des: That’s amazing, right? Like being able to, because those things get annoying really fast to just be able to get rid of them all with the click of a button.
Louis: I think it’s amazing. And it’s so funny. They probably didn’t even expect that we could do that for ourselves. You know? So it’s, in many ways, I’m really frustrated about it. But like, we’re going to have the last laugh because we always do.
Des: You know, I could have this conversation all day and talk about stuff like this. But we have to take a quick break. When we come back, we’re going to talk about the wins and the fails in accessibility for the whole year. We’ll be right back.
Des: All right. For the final time this year, we’re going to talk about our big wins and big fails in accessibility. But this time we’re turning it out for the whole year of 2023. Louis, why don’t you go first?
Louis: AI for me. Specifically be my AI and the iPhone 15 Pro. I came from the iPhone SE. So it was a massive upgrade for me. And it’s just incredible what be my AI can do and how much I’m doing with it. I was checking my thermostat earlier today and knew exactly, it knew exactly what temperature I was setting it to and things like that. And it’s been quite the game changer in how I interface with the visual world.
Des: Oh man, that’s amazing. Yeah, I love that. Mine is a little less serious than that. Mine is video games for 2023. I not only am super supportive of Forza and games like that, that have become fully accessible to blind players and games like Brock the Investigator, all sorts of things that we talked about on last week’s show. But the thing that I really, I really wanted to give kudos to was Hearthstone, the game from Activision Blizzard. It’s a very popular card collecting game and you battle each other similar to Magic the Gathering. And what is so remarkable about it is that Blizzard themselves are not doing anything right now to make the game accessible. The game is being made accessible by a group of unpaid coders who love Hearthstone and who want to make it accessible to people who are blind. And so once these people decide, oh, we don’t want to do this anymore, we have jobs now or anything like that, this game is gone. But they’ve been building this and maintaining it for the past year. Hearthstone has updates every two weeks or so. So it’s just an incredible amount of effort that these guys are putting in for absolutely no money to make a game like that accessible to people who are blind. So I would definitely recommend you check them out on Hearthstone Access. Just Google that and you’ll find the mod and ways to get involved and even ways to donate because they could sure use it, I’ll tell you that much.
Louis: A disclaimer that needs to be said here. It’s not OK to ask people with disabilities or people who work in the accessibility and disability-focused field to do work for free.
Des: Absolutely not.
Louis: Just making it very clear.
Des: Yeah, no. And that’s the whole, like, everyone is pushing because Blizzard has made their statements clear that they plan on building native accessibility into Hearthstone. They say it’s on the roadmap. Now, I personally don’t even know how much longer Hearthstone has in terms of popularity.
Louis: For every time somebody tells me that accessibility is on the roadmap, if I was given a penny for every time I’ve heard that, I would be a billionaire by now and I would solve all the accessibility problems in the world.
Carrie: I’m just wishing Nintendo would jump in with this accessibility. It’s a shame. It really is a shame.
Des: Yes, please.
Carrie: I recently got a Switch and I had to set it up all by myself and that was honestly a nightmare. And one thing that drives me crazy is the fact that there’s all these text-based games, like, OK, let’s just say Pokémon or Final Fantasy. This is text. These are text-based games. The story is all in text. There’s no excuse to not have that, an ability for a screen reader to read that in 2023.
Des: Yeah, I completely agree. And one thing that Victor Dima shared last week and we can hope for this in 2024 is the new Switch that is rumored to be coming out is going to be on more modern software. And so maybe they’ll be able to bake in some text-to-speech. I’m not holding my breath just based on it being Nintendo and them never really stepping up for accessibility. But I think if we put it up, we just need to vote with our dollars and put that pressure on them.
Carrie: Aren’t they based in Japan?
Des: They are.
Carrie: So that’s a shame because there’s a lot of accessibility in Japan. So I don’t know what’s going on.
Des: Yeah, that might be something to investigate too. I know they do have some really good accessibility features in Japan, but I also know that there could be some sort of cultural things, right, that might be pushing them in the other direction. Carrie, do you have… I think Nintendo may have been your big fail for the year in accessibility. Do you have anything to end positively?
Carrie: Well, Louis stole my win. Definitely AI should… I wish I went first.
Louis: Why are we agreeing twice on a show to prove me wrong? That’s also her win, by the way, but she can’t count that in the technology.
Des: The accessibility win for the year is Louis. There we go. Congratulations, Louis.
Louis: Oh my God. God help us all. If that’s true.
Des: Hey, we’re going to get out of here again. We got no show next week, but we’ll be coming back at the beginning of January to talk to you all about the Consumer Electronics Show and previewing it and maybe talking about some of the things from last year and what we would like to see from them in 2024. But in the meantime, don’t forget to follow Carrie on Accessibility on YouTube. I’ll have a link to her channel in the show notes. Lots of stuff for you to enjoy over the next week while you don’t have us in your ears.
Louis: By far, by far the best content.
Des: And so well edited, Carrie, I must say.
Carrie: Thank you. Thanks for having me.
Des: Thanks, guys. Talk to you next time.
Des: Time for the credits. Thank you so much to Kari Morales for joining the show. You can find her work over on Kari on Accessibility on YouTube. Our theme music was Rollin’ at Five, produced by Kevin MacLeod and available freely from Incompetech.com. The views and opinions expressed on this podcast are personal and do not necessarily reflect the policies of our employers, partners, or associated third party entities. Happy New Year!
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