A two-minute video sketch (below) in which Siri visits Couples Therapy star Dr. Orna Guralnik is the basis of an ad for web accessibility company Userway. It’s the second time that Siri voice actor Susan Bennet has starred in an ad for the company …

Userway says that although the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires websites to be accessible to all, only 2% of the top million websites meet the requirements.

The campaign aims to spread awareness about global web accessibility and bring to light the importance of digital inclusivity. With more than one billion people with disabilities and impairments across the globe, and the world becoming increasingly digital, the need for web accessibility and inclusion is more urgent than ever.

“Digital accessibility is fundamentally part of our everyday lives, even if we don’t realize it,” said Allon Mason, CEO of UserWay. “It’s great to see accessibility awareness expanding, and we felt that highlighting the problem with both Susan and Orna creates a sort of familiarity and relatability everyone can appreciate. It’s our hope this will inspire all companies to take action to ensure their websites are inclusive, and accessible to people of all abilities or disabilities.” A

The UserWay campaign features therapy sessions between Dr. Orna Guralnik and Susan Bennett as Siri herself, as Siri explores what’s troubling her most —- she loves to help people, but she can’t make all the websites around the world accessible by herself. If everyone knew how simple it is to fix this problem with the UserWay widget, the web would be barrier-free for everyone.

“I feel honored to be included in such an important project,” said Dr. Orna Guralnik. “As a therapist, I have dedicated my life to helping people, and so I connect deeply with UserWay’s mission in helping empower those living with disabilities.”

Userway aims to automate the process of making an existing website accessible by detecting problems and automatically fixing them.

However, while both the Couples Therapy star and Siri voice say they are proud to bring attention to the issue, it’s worth noting that many disabled people are critical of such solutions, which rely on generating a partial overlay for disabled visitors, rather than actually fixing the underlying issues. This leads to many issues for disabled website visitors.

While it is true that a non-trivial array of accessibility problems can be repaired in this manner, the nature, extent, and accuracy of such repair are limited by a number of important factors:

  • Automated application of text alternatives for images is not reliable
  • Automated repair of field labels, error management, error handling, and focus control on forms is not reliable
  • Automated repair of keyboard access is not reliable
  • Modern, component-based user interfaces, such as those using ReactJS, Angular, or Vue may change the state of all or some of the underlying page independently of the overlay, rendering it unable to fix those JavaScript-driven changes to content.
  • Repairs to the page can either slow down page load times or cause unexpected page changes for assistive technology users.

In addition to the above, overlays do not repair content in Flash, Java, Silverlight, PDF, HTML5 Canvas, SVG, or media files.

Others argue that claims by Userway and other overlay companies that they make websites compliant with the ADA and Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) are not true.

UserWay is taking advantage of ongoing misunderstandings with what the ADA covers, what case law says it covers, and what people buying these products thinks it covers.

If we take ADA at face value, this is similar to saying UserWay makes your site FDA compliant. If we take ADA as interchangeable with WCAG, then a quick automated check will demonstrate otherwise.

Bennett said back in 2013 that she had no idea what the voice work was for, and the first time she learned she was the voice of Siri was when a friend emailed her to ask. She later revealed more about how the process worked – and how she only got the gig by accident.

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Ben Lovejoy

Ben Lovejoy is a British technology writer and EU Editor for 9to5Mac. He’s known for his op-eds and diary pieces, exploring his experience of Apple products over time, for a more rounded review. He also writes fiction, with two technothriller novels, a couple of SF shorts and a rom-com!

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