IAccessible gives all technology users a seat at the table
Image Credit: Adobe Stock/klyaksun
While many businesses value an inclusive culture and a commitment to offering accessible products and services, the reality is less than ideal. Despite best intentions, few companies and engineers have genuine insight into how people living with disability use their products, making it difficult to build products that are truly accessible.
That’s where IAccessible comes in. Launched in 2022, IAccessible is a disability-owned social enterprise that helps some of the world’s most influential companies build more inclusive technologies by getting people living with disabilities to co-design and test products in collaboration with their internal teams.
As importantly, IAccessible helps its clients educate their employees on the nuances between different disabilities. For example, it recently conducted a study for a large tech company that included four different disabilities: full blindness, low-vision, dyslexia, and motor disabilities (like cerebral palsy). The study marked a turning point for the client, who has since redefined their inclusivity approach in line with the multi-faceted reality.
Removing barriers with Adobe Firefly
Generative AI is looking to become one of the most powerful tools in IAccessible’s marketing and content creation arsenal, specifically Adobe Firefly and Adobe’s family of creative generative AI models. Generative AI has made using technology more accessible than ever, be it through typed prompts, voice commands, or visual inputs. As for Adobe Firefly, it has helped IAccessible create content like never before and remove barriers to amplify its brand with stand-out images and personalized text styles.
Before working with Firefly, being blind made it difficult for IAccessible cofounder Manish Agrawal to translate his creative vision, or offer input while content was being created. With Adobe Firefly and its accessible features, he can generate imagery from his imagination using simple verbal prompts. He can also bounce ideas back and forth with his team, to ideate on the best possible visual representation of the company and brand.
“The ability to describe, share, and ingest content in different formats is incredibly valuable. Adobe Firefly doesn’t just transform my words into visual concept. It enables everyone to describe their imagination in words so they can paint the picture of what’s in their mind.”
IAccessible is now using Adobe Firefly to develop logos and promotional assets in support of its marketing efforts at national conferences. For instance, with plans to set up a booth at this year’s M-enabling Summit in Washington DC, Agrawal and his team used Adobe Firefly to create banners, brochures, and other IAccessible swag to get their company’s message out.
Nothing about us, without us
Agrawal has been leading accessibility programs and teams at major technology companies for more than 20 years. In that time, he observed a common flaw across many auditing and testing programs – virtually every solution was being tested for accessibility by people who were not living with disabilities.
Manish Agrawal, Cofounder, IAccessible, image source: IAccessible.
“In the past, we were seeing that testing and expected outcomes were more focused on basic conformance rather than delivering the best possible solutions for the largest number of people. Testers could never fully understand or anticipate the challenges faced by people with disabilities because they didn’t represent that community” says Agrawal.
By contrast, IAccessible’s mantra is “nothing about us, without us.” The phrase has its roots in politics and refers to the idea that no policy should be adopted without the participation of the people it will affect.
“That’s especially true when working with large companies whose technologies are virtually ubiquitous,” adds Agrawal. “The solutions we work on together stand to improve the lives of millions of people.”
Shaping the future of technology with an insider’s perspective
As a blind software developer and technology manager himself, Agrawal is not only committed to accessibility, Universal Design, and mainstream access to technology, he also has an insider’s perspective on the ways people with disabilities use these solutions. The same goes for IAccessible’s employees.
“I may have to train our employees on software testing, but I never have to show them how to recognize what constitutes an important problem for a blind person when running the tests themselves. They understand that intuitively, in a way even the most experienced testers never could.”
Artwork by Manish Agrawal. Image generated with Adobe Firefly.
In true IAccessible fashion, the company is helping its clients to embrace and make their AI technologies as inclusive as possible. For instance, IAccessible is working with Adobe to co-design the content and personalization tools in Adobe Experience Manager.
“Generative AI gives people a richer way to connect and if we take the time to build these technologies the right way, we can really make a difference in people’s lives,” says Agrawal. “On top of making popular technologies more accessible, co-designing makes the people building those technologies more informed, which results in more inclusive approaches to innovation.”
The three pillars of responsible innovation
Speaking of innovation, Agrawal expects generative AI to have long-lasting effect on people’s productivity. The technology has already transformed fields like software development, allowing developers to write code faster than ever while making their output richer and more complex. “AI hasn’t and could never replace human coders. From what I’ve seen, it has made people more productive and unlocked new possibilities in what we are able to achieve,” he says.
Naturally, Agrawal is conscious of the dangers and biases surrounding artificial intelligence, and generative AI in particular. On that note, he lays out three pillars for the responsible development of AI solutions moving forward:
- First, algorithms should be informed by representative data. AI-driven technologies can only benefit all of us if they are trained with data on all of us, not just a select slice of society.
- Second, AI technologies must be tested rigorously. Drawing inspiration from cybersecurity testing, some companies are putting their AI solutions through rigorous challenges to uncover potential faults and harmful bias.
- Finally, technology companies need to reach out and listen to diverse voices for feedback on their generative AI solutions, especially in the early days for this technology. Only by listening can we learn, refine, and improve these technologies for the good of everyone.
Making accessibility the norm
IAccessible is a beacon in the quest for more inclusive technology development. What started as a company of ten people in 2022 has since been embraced by major players across the IT industry, and Agrawal expects his team to have more than doubled in size by the end of 2023.
“Our hope is that in a few years, IAccessible won’t be such a niche shop anymore,” says Agrawal. “We want to bring as many voices as we can to the table so that designing with and testing for people with disabilities becomes the norm, rather than the exception.”
For more on IAccessible and latest projects, check out https://IAccessible.net.