IAP Episode 3 Volume 2: Aaron Leventhal, sitecues

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Aaron Leventhal from AI Squared joins us on the IAP for a great discussion about the assistive technology that is place right on the website - sitecues. Discover the innovation that went into this revolutionary approach.

Show Notes & Links

Announcer: Welcome to the IAP, the Interactive Accessibility Podcast bringing you the people technology and ideas helping to make your world accessible to everyone.  

Mark: Hey, welcome to the AP I'm your host Mark Miller thanking you for helping us keep it accessible. Do so favor if you're enjoying the IAP share it tell someone about it... hey even link to it from your accessible website. Well we've got a great show for you today. I have a guest in from ai squared. Its Aaron Leventhal. How are you doing Aaron?  

Aaron: Great it's a pleasure to be on.  

Mark: Yeah, thank you. How they do with your last name? That was a cold read of your last name, did I make it?  

Aaron: Absolutely perfect.  Alright, great. So, I'm glad to have you on, because you guys have some exciting things go over there at AI Squared specifically around sitecues and one of the big announcement you made, I think it was last week, is that you're now delivering this through a software-as-a-service model or a SaaS model. Can you talk to me a little bit about what that means for you guys and how that's gonna change the way that the services affects the consumer?  

Aaron: Absolutely, just to put a little context, AI Squared has been around for a while making Zoom Text a screen magnification software that it's the, really, the dominant screen magnifier on the market. It's got about an eighty percent market share worldwide and I always admired the product when a used to work on braille software I worked on mega dots and I am helped to make Firefox accessible. I work at IBM. We developed Aria, which is the standard for making web applications accessible. And, I was admiring it from afar but David Wu contact me. He is the CEO of AI Squared, and he said, "We have a problem with the way the industry is doing accessibility in, sort of, a single-minded way." Right now it turns out that, even though there are - according to Forrester and other research out there as late 2011 - there about 22 million Americans that have, you know, severe low vision where they have difficulty reading print even with glasses or contact lenses. And, yet it is only a total of about 500,000 users a of screen readers in screen magnifiers in the US. So, there's a huge discrepancy there. So, that's leaving at about 21 million people and, you know, his thought was, well for one thing the wrong folks are bearing the cost. For the user it's expensive and, I agree with that and I think that the cost, though, is more than the price. I think it was the difficulty learning some the assistive technologies out there and then there's a cost in admitting to yourself that you have a disability. So, a lot of people who are maybe 50 or older, they don't admit that to themselves and then you are throwing in people with learning disabilities, that are most likely not diagnosed, people with literacy challenges etc.  

Mark: So, these are... you're literally talking about a group of people that may have challenges, but they don't necessarily have on the software, the tools to overcome those challenges like other people with, you know, like somebody who's completely blind that may have gone out and purchase JAWS or something to that effect. These people kinda fall somewhere in the middle.  

Aaron: Yeah, we identified a lot of different reasons why people fall through the cracks and don't have their own tools but the way to accessibility's done today is, you know, we're... we're kinda, you know, building are applications or our web content assuming that the person with the disability is aware, has their own tools, etc. And, unfortunately that's generally not the case.  

Mark: ...not the case... for a variety of reasons I'm sure. So, you guys develop Zoom Text to, sort of, deal with this... this issue, or to address this gap. And, correct me if I'm wrong, but ZoomText actually sits on the website verses locally on the user's computer. Is that correct? Almost, so I would say to change that to sitecues. So, ZoomText is the product that has been around since the 90's that you install on your desktop so, where a user, you know, they find out that they, you know, really have problems reading, you know, reading print and they want to get on their computer and use things and so they admit to themselves they have a disability, they go to the research you know they get funding somehow. And, they pay about six hundred dollars for ZoomText and Screen Readers are even more expensive, and then they can access their desktop but where we're coming from with sitecues - it’s a new effort - is that the website may wanna reach a lot of users, may want to have truly equal access, and we're saying, you know, right now when you do accessibility there is very little pay off for you. You’re getting, you know, 500,000 new users in the US. What about, know, when you add up all the other folks that could benefit from zoom and speech, it comes out to about 100 million So, sitecues is - you put it on your website as a tool - and then you can provide usability and, you know, better serve more users and provide truly equal access.  

Mark: So, no matter who you are when you show up to a website that has am implemented sitecues it is their and it's ready for you use.  

Aaron: Right, so yeah, it's there, it invites you... I wouldn't say, "no matter who you are." If you, really, have severe, severe, severe low vision, you know, what to the point where you need 7 - 8x magnification or you're blind. I mean, you probably didn't make it to the website in the first place. So, sitecues is really... those users really needed to admit to themselves at some point, you know, that they need an assistive technology and then go get the heavy, heavy tools but sitecues is really targeted at the folks that, they're struggling on the website every web page is different and has its search box or login box somewhere else and pages are constantly reorganizing themselves. So, to make your way around the web when when you need to hold a magnifying glass up to it or bend over and put your face up against a screen. It is pretty difficult. These folks, they struggle, they don't make it through your shopping cart etc. and so sitecues is, kind of... we put the best features of ZoomText in a bottle, shook it, made it really simple and then put it on your page.  

Mark: That's a great way to put it. So talk to me a little bit about the SaaS model. So, sitecues has been around for a little bit, but now you've decided to deliver... decided to deliver it through this software-as-a-service model. So, talk about how that's going to change.. change things for people.  

Aaron: Well so, there are a lot of benefits to doing it a SASE. So, for one thing as a website all you have to do is put in a script snippet and the sitecues badge image, which attracts the user - that batch image has been designed so that users up to 4x magnification can see it and with the SaaS model you don't have to deal with constant software updates. The user that comes to your page gets, you know, the latest psych using the latest compatibility and the latest features. Although, we are making sure not to add, you know, an overwhelming number features. We're keeping the interface is very simple for the user so they don't get intimidated mean to remember where... a lot of the users will be seniors, people who are not as technically proficient and so we keep thing simple. But, by making its SaaS there are a lot of things out that we can do. So the automatic updates are one and another thing is that we can provide text to speech in a web page which is pretty cool. So, the page can actually talk to the user, which it's something that browsers don't typically have built in these days.  

Mark: So, do you think it down having a SaaS model is going to affect adoption of the product as well? I know the things that I saw in the early days have of software-as-a-service coming about, was that all a sudden people who we're looking at their capital budget to purchase something we're now looking at their, you know, at their monthly budgets to purchase something.   Have you guys played around with the economics of it for people to make a little easier to adopt. Or is that something coming in the future.  

Aaron: Right, well we're still in the in the early stages. We have sitecues.com up where people can go and play with the tool and you can see for yourself how it works, how it's discoverable. But, as far as the pricing goes, you know, so far week we had very little pushback. I guess the thing about the pricing is it's based on your traffic. So, if your small organization you wanna, you know, just better serve your... your users, you know, we can work with you on that and if you're, you know, a multinational bank you're going to get a different price of course   because on our side is going to be a lot more cost we're going in give you a different level of service. We have to make sure that that speech is up no matter what and you know it's all scalable. So, for those organizations, what we hear is you know... put it this way, you know, instead of talking to just accessibility team, right, at the organization also talk to the head of digital. you know, the folks that are looking at, you know, the numbers.   And, looking at how can attract more users to their site. And, when they see what sitecues would cost and we're telling them, you know, the cost for an engineer, you know, per year you put sitecues on your site - that for the very largest organizations - you can reach all these new users they, you know, they get really excited that we have not had a problem on getting organizations excited about sitecues at all.  

Mark: That's good... well, and it sounds like you guys worked those, sort of, economic barriers in the beginning and there's no reason for them to not adopt sitecues especially if you're... you know you've got a compelling argument for that additional traffic in the metrics that you mentioned earlier in the show or just unbelievable. I think it's its, it's great. So, you guys must be excited about how all this is going to operate now that it's SaaS. I think that the ability to do real time updates and to have every user on the latest version is fantastic because things obviously run a lot better that way. As technology changes one of the difficult things people have this kind of keeping up with those changes. So not having to worry about that's going to be big for you guys. Where do you see this, kinda, leading you in the future in terms of changing the model and we have in store with sitecues?  

Aaron: I think sitecues will educate on a lot of people about accessibility. Right now, accessibility is sort of invisible thing, right? If the CE0 goes on his website he doesn't know if they're is accessibility or not 'cause it's hidden in the markup. You know, you put sitecues on their really raise the awareness, not just for, you know, the folks in the business but also for users out there to learn, hey, you know I do benefit from zoom and speech. It does make it easier when the page read it to me. So, you know, 20 percent of the folks out there, you know, have first or second grade reading level. You definitely wanna reach all these people. So, I guess, you know, where I sit leading us is, you know... there are so many directions with we're excited to go. This tool has so much potential and we have a really great engineering team. We have people who have been involved in, you know, very high-level security on software-as-a-service so they know how to make sure that, you know, banks can trust the Sitecue service. We have people that are amazing friend and architects that can really build, you know, eek every last bit of power at the browser So, we have a lot of creativity in our team so, basically, we have a lot of things in store for the future, you know, which I can't really necessarily say right now. Stay tuned.  

Mark: ...and we will. Well, this is a bit rhetorical but also kinda strikes me that by having your product sort of sitting out there on the... on the sites in people who, like you said, fall in that gap running across it. I wonder if it's kinda going both ways, where now sitecues is out there may be enlightening people about accessibility in general. So that there's a little, you know... maybe people who weren't aware before are now aware and other aspects of accessibility are being done just just because of what sitecues is showing people can happen. When you think about accessibility and assistive technologies in all that kinda stuff. So and that's the charge that we're always trying to lead, is that accessibility still not household word when it comes to digital products and I think it will be someday, but I'd like to think sitecues is gonna be a big player in helping make that happen.  

Aaron: I would just like to interject about that. That reminds me to really bring the point, you know, we're clear about what we are and what we aren't. You know, we don't think we have to lie to sell sitecues and, you know, we don't make your website compliant or accessible for the users who are using assistive technologies already. You still need to make your website markup, you know, accessible for those users. So, what sitecues is, its bringing you a whole lot more benefit from that work that you do. You know, there are organizations that said, you know, we'd like to get sitecues on there sooner rather than later, just to raise the level of awareness in our organization but, you know, we are telling them let's not forget accessibility. We've spoken with the NFB, CNIB everyone's behind us on, you know, this honest message.  

Mark: Sure.  

Aaron: And they think that there's a very big value and a place for sitecues in the market. So, Aaron tell me a little bit about the functionality of sitecues what does it do for the user? Wright, so sitecues does, basically, what a screen magnification, you know, assistive technology would you on your desktop. Except for just for the web page that you're in. So, it will zoom the page; it will make a mouse larger; it will enhanced focus so that, if you're in a form or on links, you can tell where your keyboard input is going to go. It does some things like that and it's got speech features and got this are really special feature called one touch read and it is contextual reading.  

Mark: Hum... tell me a little bit about that.  

Aaron: Yeah, well so probably I should walk you through the interface a little bit so I can explain how you get there in the first place. Because, everything is designed to be discoverable and features in the sitecues world aren't useful unless the user can figure it out. Without being told about them or reading the manual. So, it starts out with the badge that goes at the top of the page. And, that just shows the two controls zoom slider, which is recognizable as a fun size control. And the speech button next to it. And users up to 4x magnification can see that, and as the mouse over it gets large. Then as they move the slider up the whole... the entire page zooms. And, as the page zooms we turn on certain features automatically. So, the mouse gets larger, we turn the focus enhancement on, we turn on this highlighting. And, the other thing that happens is that if you get a 1.6x that's where we kind of determined that the user is maybe really needing a screen magnifier. They're not just making things... their eyes aren't just tired. They actually have a real nee. So, at that point, we'd provide the verbal hint. And the verbal hint says... it will say, "to move... to read an area that page or zoom in on it a specific area of the page, move your mouse to the area and press the space-bar key to read it." And, so when users hear that, they're able to, on their own, basically move around the page. They see the highlight, which also helps to see where you are. They hit the space-bar and it just goes, "shuuu," and expands just that area that you're in and the benefit is really, hey, you know, I want to still see the layout and the web is doing such a good job of showing me where headings are. There's boxes, there's lines, there's images that help guide my eye. And, I can kinda tell what I want to read, so it's better than zooming in so much that it's like looking at the world through binoculars and I can't tell where I am. By basically having this contextual reading I can zoom in just a bit, move the paragraph that I can't read... it highlights... I press the space bar it expands, and it puts it in a nice box. Everything else outside at box gets dimed out so you can still see where you are. But, the thing really pops out and users get excited when they see that. And, if you turn the speech on it will also, read that text out loud in a very friendly voice.  

Mark: Well it's very good work that you guys do. We've got to wrap up the show. Is there anything else you wanna add before we... we close out here?  

Aaron: Absolutely, if you're interested check out sitecues.com and it is spelled sitecues.com and also you can email sitecues@aisquared.com  

Mark: Beautiful. Well Aaron, really appreciate you coming on. It's an exciting product. One of the benefits of doing this podcast is I get to see all these different, sort of, angles that people approach accessibility from. And, I think what you guys are doing is great. Thanks so much for being on. I appreciate it.  

Aaron: Thank you so much for having me we're really excited.  

Mark: You're you're very welcome! Well this is Mark Miller thanking Aaron Leventhal and reminding you to keep it accessible

Announcer: The IAP - Interactive Accessibility Podcast brought to you by Interactive Accessibility, the accessibility experts. You can find their Access Matters Blog at Interactiveaccessibility.com/blog

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