This Week in Accessibility: Level Access Buys UserWay, and CES 2024
Friend of the show Harshid Trivedi got to spend a lot of time on the CES floor virtually. We’ll share some of our favorite products from this year’s event.
Plus we look at Level Access acquiring UserWay and what it means for the accessibility industry.
Download Links + Transcript
Des: Today on the show, Level Access buys it user way. What does that mean for the accessibility industry in 2024 and beyond? Plus, we’re looking at some of the coolest products from the Consumer Electronics Show. It’s the first episode of the year of This Week in Accessibility.
Des: Welcome to the show. I’m Dez Delgadillo. And Louis Do isn’t here this week, so let’s just jump on into the news and try and soldier on without him.
Tell me if you had this one on your 2023 accessibility bingo card. On December 31st, 2023, Level Access, a leader in today’s accessibility industry, announced an agreement to buy Userway for $98 million. Userway is most prominently associated as a company that specializes in accessibility overlays. So this acquisition shows that Level Access really wants a piece of the pie that is automated remediation.
So I’m not going to spend the whole segment reading LinkedIn to you, but the comments in Timothy Springer’s LinkedIn post, very interesting and I highly recommend. Springer writes, quote, “If we’re thoughtful and deliberate in their use, implementing overlays in an ethical fashion, we will drastically accelerate the timeline for the creation of an accessible digital world.” In that same post, Springer mentions Alchemy, a program that, quote, “we developed to provide automated remediation in 2020 and 2021. We couldn’t get it to work effectively in our stack and had to narrow our focus during the pandemic.”
So not only does Level Access want a piece of the pie, they’ve wanted it since 2020. And with AI popularity skyrocketing over the last year, that pie is starting to look really tasty.
Over on Mastodon, accessibility expert Steve Faulkner called accessibility overlays the NFTs of the accessibility industry. That’s because the way these overlays are marketed can often feel like a total grift. Many sell themselves as, quote, one line code solutions that will eliminate accessibility errors automagically. In reality, they miss many errors and oftentimes create more usability issues than they solve. That’s the type of reputation Level Access is bringing into its house.
There was a lot of commentary about the acquisition over the last week or so, but the most measured response came from the great Sheri Byrne Haber.
Over on LinkedIn, she wrote, quote, rather than coming out negatively on this one, I’m taking a, quote, wait and see approach. This is an inflection point in Level Access 20 plus year history. Level Access slash use way could make some very good decisions or they can make some very bad decisions. And how user ways technology is integrated into the level access tooling and marketing strategies. These decisions will drive their reputation going forward.
And I think I fall into Sherry’s camp here. I’ve been a lot more hyperbolic about AI and its potential benefits for accessibility in the next decade or so. But those same tools have been bundled into overlays in the past. And it’s just hard to imagine that same thing not happening again, where Level Access tries to bring in more low hanging fruit clientele with this automated overlay solution, which is, of course, going to be cheaper and is going to be more enticing to people who have a small business. So we’ll just have to wait and see on this one and see how gracefully Level Access is or is not able to build that new technology into their workflow.
Speaking of overlay companies doing shady things, AudioEye’s lawsuit against Adrian Roselli has been dropped as of last week. The company sued the renowned accessibility consultant last year after Roselli published a blog post titled hashtag AudioEye will get you sued. Roselli has been really transparent with sharing a lot of the documentation that’s been part of the lawsuit. You can find links to that information in the show notes. Terms of the settlement were not disclosed, but in the blog post announcing the settlement, Roselli has a message that really resonates. He wrote, quote, Unfortunately, the lawsuit’s objective was partially successful. People were afraid to talk about AudioEye for fear of getting sued by AudioEye. That disclaimer you hear at the end of the show? Yeah, that’s why.
Since 2021, people who live in the U.S. have qualified for a $30 discount on their broadband Internet thanks to the Affordable Connectivity Program. Now that program is running out of money and the FCC is calling on Congress to appropriate more funds for the program. The ACP allocated $14 billion toward providing broadband Internet to qualifying low-income individuals and households in the form of a discount on their monthly Internet bill. In theory, every ISP in the U.S. is required to tell customers about the ACP. In practice, not many do, or they do on their website without much fanfare. But now the program will be out of money by the end of April 2024. The Bipartisan Affordable Connectivity Program Extension Act of 2024 made its way into Congress this week and seeks to allocate another $7 billion to the ACP. According to the proposal, more than 22.5 million households have used ACP discounts monthly since its introduction in 2021.
Last but certainly not least, Google released its quarterly accessibility newsletter and I wanted to take a minute to share a few of those highlights with you. Google Pixel introduced Magnifier, an app enhancing visual details like small text, and updated its Guided Frame feature to assist blind and low-vision users in capturing diverse images like selfies. Google Maps now features screen reader capabilities with Lens, offering auditory feedback about surroundings, and has introduced accessible walking routes and a new attribute for identifying disabled-owned businesses. Android has enhanced personalization for assistant routines and introduced navigation options, using facial gestures for users with speech and motor impairments. Finally, Chrome and Chrome OS have rolled out Reading Mode and PDF-OCR capabilities.
I didn’t include this in the initial rundown, so I almost forgot, but Apple announced that the Vision Pro will start shipping on February 2nd. Just a few more weeks until we can start enjoying some Vision Pro demo goodness.
Alright, let’s take a quick break and when we come back, we’re going to talk all about the fun stuff from this year’s Consumer Electronics Show, CES.
Carrie: Hi, this is Carrie from Carry On Accessibility. I deep dive on accessibility tools, settings, apps, and review products to test how accessible they really are. From headphones and clocks, to the explosion of AI tools like Be My AI, to what’s new with iOS or Android, or the up-and-coming Vision Pro, everything is open for discussion. Come and check it out on the Carry On Accessibility YouTube channel.
Des: Okay, so in terms of tech news, this has really been the first big week of the year, and that’s because CES just finished up in Vegas. That’s the Consumer Electronics Show, and that’s when a whole bunch of tech companies, both old and new, get together and show off things like wearables, smart toilets, and TVs. So many TVs. This year was no exception. There were so many amazing products that were announced, things that were demoed, and I thought I would bring on a good friend of mine to kind of highlight some of the cooler products from an accessibility perspective. So my friend Hershey, that’s Harshad Trivedi, from the Office Hours podcast, is joining me on the show to talk about some of the cool things that we saw from CES. And if you want to learn more about what Hershey’s up to, you can visit officehours.global to learn more.
Des: All right, so I feel quite honestly like we have become best friends this week.
Harshid: I agree. I mean, you know, it’s like I dropped a link. I don’t know where I dropped them. I was sprinkling them around.
Des: Okay, so I’m just posting this year about CES and getting news about it. And no, this dude on the podcast with me right now, Hershey, does not show up with a link to a Zoom call where there is literally two cameras on a cart rolling around CES. It was like I was actually there, dude.
Harshid: Man, I didn’t even realize that was going on the day I posted the link. And I’m like, yes, my boots on the ground, my family, my friends, my, you know, counterparts. And, you know, what’s cool about it is I’m vision impaired. I have low vision. And so a while back, I joined officehours.global if anybody’s interested to come by. If you go under their schedule, there’s a link there called After Hours. And that’s basically a Zoom room. And so what Des is speaking about is I was like, hey, if anybody’s interested, please drop on by and come into the Zoom room. And he’s right. So there were two cameras. It was a Sony 360, not Sony, excuse me, Insta360 and a IVI camera system with microphone. We had a Shure X2U interface with a Sennheiser 46 microphone and two people running the cart. So thank you, Guy Cochran, for taking the time for walking all around Las Vegas, man. I’m sure he’s tired with all the walking, but I’m so happy that you enjoyed it. Any experiences that you want to share with me that are feedback that, you know, any other things you want to share with me?
Des: So unfortunately, the day that I actually saw the link, I had a lot of work to do, so I could only watch it for a little bit. And the time that I got to watch it, it was the hallmark of the Consumer Electronics Show, the smart toilet, $10,000 toilet.
Harshid: If you got that 10K, you got a very, very smart, expensive toilet. But before we take this down the toilet, this wasn’t a toilet type experience. This is really a fun experience and a positive one. You know, the first link that I really threw out there as a catch all was eSight. They surprised the heck out of me. Locally here, I live out in Florida, right? So there’s a Blind and Beyond radio show, and they usually have the folks from eSight come on there. So they said, hey, look out for us at CES. So I was definitely stoked to know the pricing. They have a new product called the eSight Go, and it’s more streamlined, smaller form factor and what have you. Unfortunately, we didn’t have the cart go over there to go look or if it did, I missed it. But aside from that, not completely sure on the pricing. You know, I’m sure it’s out there in online world. There was another company called Visionary or Vision X or something like that, which you could control how far or near the distances through like auto focus kind of product or process rather. So as far as low vision, folks, you know, those are two products that definitely stood out. There was also techs. There was a lot of tech that I heard about, like a robot at CES that you could record your voice and you could let the little robot be a company to your puppy, right? Or maybe a big puppy, if that’s the case. And what was so cool about it is there were a few robots, not as many this year, right? There were a couple here and there that I saw when we were leaving with the cart. One of the reps there made the robot say thank you to us. So I don’t know if they just pushed a button to make it talk or what the case was. But, you know, it was just some fun stuff. And then we have some people that are really high partial functioning folks out there. And for those people, there was one really, really, really, really cool TV. It was all wireless. And the website would be displace.tv, D-I-S place, P-L-A-C-E dot TV. And what was cool about that product was it just hung on the wall. Guess what? No wires, no wires. So I was like, huh, OK, is it worth it? Is it something I would buy? And so the versionings were two. I think they had a flex version, which is a 55 inch. They had another version that was a 55 inch and a 27 inch.
Des: OK, dumb question.
Des: How do you plug it in? Literally no wires?
Harshid: Literally no wires. You could plug it in, but only plugging in that you’re going to do is to charge it. So you have I think it was four batteries, two externals and two internals. And I’m trying to recall the exact hours, but you could have it on the wall for like a whole month and nothing happens. It just sticks on the wall, flat surface. It could almost even go on a brick wall if you needed to. And what was incredible to think about it is imagine you’re at a pool party or you’re near, you know, you have a family barbecue. Well, forget about the wires, you know, just bring that out, bring a couple of nice speakers and you got a set. And what was cool is it had legs so it wouldn’t fall over. It had like the engineers are so incredible to think about these processes like, hey, the battery died. Boom, it falls over. Oh, my God, my old TV is broken. And what was cool is that they had a function where it had legs that would just kind of prevent it from falling and not get damaged. So definitely a cool product. I mean, of course, you know, it was kind of price. I mean, let’s call it around two grand to five grand for now. I mean, for the technology is not bad.
Des: Sure. These things go down very quickly.
Harshid: Absolutely. Another one that really really stuck out for me, speaking as creators, we’re creating this podcast, and thank you so much for inviting me, is HoHum. They’re a Latvian company. And what was cool about it is you could have your phone put in like our S20. I have S22 Ultra. And you can pretty much put your phone in there, make it OK sign. So an OK sign is your thumb and your middle finger. And you make a ring and then your three fingers stay up. Right. So that starts recording. And then if you want to stop it, just put the five fingers up, you know. And it was just a cool little device. And talking about accessibility, I was really trying to get in, you know, get a hang of what are these companies offering and how is it going to help me? Because I’m a sight loss person, right? I have sight loss. So how is it going to help me? And I asked him if it had audible tones, if I was to make the OK sign or to stop sign and all that or, you know, to make it stop. And it actually made beeps. So there was audible functionality. So even if you’re low vision or no vision, you at least have an amazing little gimbal, a.k.a. phone holder for fancier terms. And what was fun about that is price point. $119 for lightning, $109 for USB-C. You go get a gimbal these days from a DJI or whomever. $100, $300, $250.
Des: Oh, wow.
Harshid: I don’t got that money, man.
Des: No. But $120 is doable. Right.
Des: Especially if you like after pay it or whatever you call it.
Harshid: Yeah. I mean, you know, if you split it apart with payments or however, you know, Amazon does incredible things. I’m sure you could find it on Amazon. And what’s cool about it is, you know, we as blind folks can be just as professional as any of our sighted counterparts. You know, that’s one thing I like to bring to equality is we always want to ensure these companies are aware of how they treat us and what accessibility features they give us. One company, a big company, I’m actually wearing the headphones is the Sony headphones. But not really talking about headphones here is Sony’s incredible process of bringing in accessibility to the forefront. If you guys are familiar with Be My Eyes as an app, you could actually have specialized help from the Sony section under the Be My Eyes app now. And what’s great about it is the Sony cameras, as I heard ages ago, maybe at CSUN or something. I try to find out if any of their people are there at CS, but I couldn’t see anybody. No, I can’t say I couldn’t find anybody. And the thing was, is they actually have a screen reader in their cameras nowadays. So someone like you or me that, you know, are we don’t have sight, we could at least still function and make professional content. So those are just a couple of different things that I remember from the Sony booth. They had a couple of vehicles there. And Torchlight is another product of theirs or another section of theirs. And what was cool about the Torchlight thing is, yes, it’s some of it is like for the sighted people, but you could have yourself in any place. By the fact of Unreal Engine and virtualization, you could have like you and a cane in, I don’t know, Africa or Canada or wherever across the world. And, you know, for filmmakers, I mean, I know that there are some blind filmmakers out there. Definitely something to look forward to. And of course, there’s other companies that were out there like Lexotica, which they own pretty much every glasses company out there. Feels like they I think they own like Oakley. They own I can’t remember the rest of them. All the sunglasses you could think of. If you’re low vision or if you do wear glasses, all lenses, that’s actually their product. That’s their company. And guess what? They own human wear. You didn’t know that, did you?
Des: Human wear, the company that makes the Braille note.
Harshid: Yeah. Do they make the Braille note? I think they do.
Des: I think they do. Pretty sure they do.
Harshid: I haven’t learned Braille. And you know what? This is incredible because this is the Braille literacy month. So, you know, yes, they do own it. So, think about it as Google, right? Google is owned by the parent company’s Alphabet. And they had this interesting thing. So, for my DeafBlind friends, you could wear these glasses and you could kind of, I guess it’s like pointing at, you know, if you’re sitting across the table with your significant other, you could hear what they’re saying through the bone conduction or however the tech was. Again, I didn’t get to see it in full fledged because me and Des, we were just sitting on our couches, man. We were sitting back and listening to this.
Des: We were chilling.
Harshid: Yes, sir. So, what’s cool about it is you could at least hear a conversation better. So, it’s basically like you point your head to what you’re trying to listen to and you could hear it. So, that’s what Luxottica, I heard, showed off. That’s amazing. Any other things that you, you know, any other ones?
Des: Oh, dude. Okay. So, I got a list of some cool things that I wanted to talk to you about. Okay. So, this one is The WIM. And I didn’t see this with you, but I did a lot of…
Harshid (singing): HOh, sorry. My bad. My bad, bro. I interrupted you. What is this Wim?
Des: Yeah, this is The Wim. This is from Sean Hollister of The Verge. This is what he wrote about it. He says, quote, “
“not even a little embarrassed a robot helped me walk around CES 2024. I kind of want to do it more!
The WiRobotics WIM is a $2,500-ish belt pack with fold-out roboarms that gently lift your legs up and down as you walk. It made me feel lighter, and only weighs a few pounds itself.”
Harshid: Hey, Dez, do you know who Christina Applegate is?
Des: I do. I do, actually. She’s from that show Dead to Me.
Harshid: And Married with Children and stuff, right?
Des: That’s right.
Harshid: So, what’s interesting, I mean, I suffer from MS as well, you know, blindness, MS. They’re all fun stuff. Yeah. Why not? But, you know, as you mentioned that I’m thinking about her because she has MS as well. And if it’s lightly, gently lifting people’s legs, I mean, again, we have all kinds of disabilities that we always, you know, blindness is not the only thing we all suffer from. Sometimes it could be anxiety. As we mentioned with the pup, you know, you might have a robot for your puppy to just take care of your puppy or to give it company. So, yeah, I mean, do you think robotics is the way to go or do you think it’s faded out by now?
Des: I mean, I think the future is still very, very wide open for robotics. I think they’re only going to get stronger and smarter. So, I mean, I really want to know what you think as somebody who suffers from MS.
Harshid: I mean, that whole fact of lifting my legs gently, I mean, I’m just thinking of the nuances. I mean, my body, touch wood. Sorry about that. But I’m fine for right now, you know, but who knows what life has to give you, you know, it’s just, to me, it’s like, I’m just blessed by God’s graces that I get to do a podcast or, you know, I get to learn from all these people that are around us, especially folks from like the CES that we had so many companies out there and just that learning aspect, you know, just the ability to learn, I think is the most important.
Des: Yeah, I really do appreciate you sharing your perspective on that because, yeah, you don’t always think about it in different terms, you know, you only think about it in one certain worldview. Another cool product I wanted to talk to you about was the Rabbit R1. So, this one is, so think of it like a smartphone, but it’s not actually a smartphone. It uses AI and it performs actions for you without you having to do much intervention whatsoever. So, it does have a screen, so it’s not like the humane pen where it’s completely audio. So, it has a small screen on it, but you’re mainly supposed to use it with your voice. My thing is, and this is really interesting to me, a little frustrating as well, there’s like no information available about it with respect to accessibility. And I know the product is new, but you’re presenting this product at CES where another big highlight of CES is an Accessibility and Innovation Award. So, you know, I feel like it’s fair to expect there to be some accessibility information available at this point. If you’re going to CES, you can’t have it both ways if you’re CES, you know what I mean?
Harshid: Definitely. What do you think about the R1 though? Would you try and use it?
Harshid: No, thank you. Sorry.
Harshid: I’m trying to be blunt about it. We’re trying some interesting things, right? I mean, as you mentioned about the pen, that’s another product that’s out there in the wild, being that it’s audio only. The fact is, is also for me, to be honest, is privacy. I mean, I know that everybody’s subconscious about that lately, but I’ve studied IT in my past life, I guess, and cybersecurity stuff. You are a product at the end of the day as human beings, right? Because nothing is free in this world. We know that. And yeah, I mean, AI is definitely cool. There are a lot of companies out there implementing AI within their products themselves. I think there’s a company called Lifetap. I’m trying to remember some of these things. There’s so many vendors we drove by in the two, three days, hour after hour. Yeah, AI is cool. It sounds interesting. But we also need to still remember to be humans and think and critically think rather than relying on AI and figuring that AI is going to do everything properly for us. It’s not to say that it’s not helpful, right? I mean, Be My Eyes and other applications are implementing some cool things barred from Google with the Google Lookout images and things. These are the things we use every single day. So to have like 15 devices in my pocket and a charger and all this, no thanks, man.
Harshid: Yeah, the Jetsons, you know, it’s kind of coming along, right? Is this Rosie the robot that’s going to project stuff for us? It almost feels like that, right? And I think that’s not a bad idea with what Samsung is trying to get accomplished. We do have to move forward with everyday life tasks. So for the fact that you could have that in your kitchen, projecting, you know, something while you’re cooking or a recipe, or maybe you’re watching a YouTube channel, or maybe you’re listening to this podcast. So I think that’s a great idea to be frank.
Des: All right, let’s rapid fire a few more here before we run out of time. You’ve got Nimble. It’s a robot as well. Lots of robots this year that can perform manicures at home. So you just put your hand inside of this machine. This sounds not terrifying at all.
Harshid: I think, I think, you know, for the significant other, man, I think, yeah, you’re going in the right direction, brother.
Des: Yeah. Okay. We’ll see. I don’t know. What if it eats my hand? That’s kind of terrifying.
Harshid: Huh. I’m sure there’s a safety mechanism. I’m sure. Maybe there’s AI.
Des: Last one here is Klix. I don’t know if you heard about this one. It’s an attachment that you can put on your phone case, and it brings back the BlackBerry style keyboard.
Harshid: I heard about this. I’m trying to remember where I heard about it. But yes, yes, please. I had my first couple phones. There’s a BlackBerry Tour and the BlackBerry something or other, the Bold. And man, I miss my BlackBerry. Touch screens are cool. But yeah, man, click, click, click. You know, you’re in class, you’re listening to your professor, you’re typing a note, boom, boom, boom, you’re done. So yeah, man, definitely a great, great retro. I would love to try it out. I’d love to try it out. Lots more from CES that you can check out over on the website, DelgadioAccess.com.
Des: Hershey, thanks so much for coming on, man.
Harshid: Absolutely, brother. We’ll hope to do this another time. Let me know if you need anything. And thank you guys so much for listening to me.
Des: That’s the show for this week. Thanks so much for listening. And remember, you can go to DelgadilloAccess.com for show notes, links of everything we’ve talked about on the podcast, and other blogs that you might find interesting with an accessibility perspective. Thanks for listening, and I’ll talk to you next week.
Links Discussed on the Show:
Millions could lose affordable access to internet service with FCC program set to run out of funds