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Airtable Accessibility

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Jamie_Stantonia
4 - Data Explorer
4 - Data Explorer

I am about to embark on a large research project with the Royal National Institute of the Blind and one of the requirements is that the format we hand over our research should be fully accessible. Given there is going to be a lot of research findings I was hoping to use Airtable, but is it accessible?

Thank you
J

17 Replies 17

Funny you should ask - the University of Michigan’s Digital Library Accessibility Team dropped into this Community in September making broad and sweeping accusations that Airtable was “Inaccessible”.

I challenged their test methods and conclusions over a three-week timeframe all while testing their own library content against the WCAG standards.

Their own sites failed, of course, and while it was not in debate, Airtable had some issues. UofM must have been a bit embarrassed because it appears the entire thread - which included test results and a variety of comparisons to various WCAG standards - has been deleted from this community.

I’m interested in this question too, albeit in a less immediate way. What exactly does “accessibility” mean in this context? I found this article on accessibility at the W3C:

https://www.w3.org/standards/webdesign/accessibility

Are the recommendations there the sort of thing that we’re talking about? If so, I’m wondering how many database applications meet those standards.

William

Yes, that’s it. What “accessible” in this context means is that a person with a disability (typically, but not always, a user of “assistive technology”, such as a screen reader) has the opportunity to benefit equally from the web site, application, document, etc. In order for this to be true the website/application developers have to employ techniques to make it work with assistive technology and without a mouse. Color contrast needs to meet minimum standards. Audio transcripts must be provided. Video captioning and audio description must be provided. The current standard that is most widely used is WCAG 2.1 Level AA

Notwithstanding Bill.French’s comment above, whether or not a university’s own website is fully accessible has no bearing on their procurement processes that may require outside providers’ products to be accessible. When a website or product is not fully accessible, an organization SHOULD have an “Equally Effective Alternate Access Plan” developed to ensure that those with disabilities can enjoy equal benefit. Testing someone else’s website doesn’t tell you whether they have an alternate access plan but that plan SHOULD be mentioned on the affected website.

Airtable SHOULD have already tested their products and SHOULD report their accessibility status in a “conformance report”, informally known as a VPAT (Voluntary Product Accessibility Template). Some companies publish their VPATs publicly and some do not.

I was looking at Airtable as a way to track and display the accessibility status of all the products we use at our institution but lacking a VPAT I have to look elsewhere, even though we do have legacy inaccessible products in use here too.

Michael Cyr

Indeed, but that was not the context.

UofM’s accessibility “library” was not inquiring or commenting on the accessibility of Airtable for procurement purposes. Instead, they were [apparently] trying to justify their existence (and perhaps their funding) by finding tools that may not ideally meet all accessibility standards and then publishing broad and sweeping [headlining] statements of failure to comply.

I have no problem with calling attention to Airtable’s lack of compliance, but doing so with sensational headlines in a customer-facing forum and all without ever attempting to contact Airtable directly, calls into question their motives and also opens their own content to direct scrutiny.

Given that posture, full accessibility and compliance for their own “digital library” are very relevant. One must challenge and hold accountable the very organizations that claim high ground and cast long-lasting negative dispersions about commercial products, and especially when their own backyards are littered with inaccessible content whose topics ironically make claims that all content must meet accessibility standards.

With specific regard to WCAG 2.1 and VPAT, I cannot comment (not an Airtable employee). However, compliance requirements have predicates and I assert that there are some aspects of a database development tool that qualify for a few of the well-documented exemptions. And I’m sure they also have some work to do as do almost every SaaS vendor on the planet likely has room for improvement.

Without the original posts it’s hard to judge. I work with higher education accessibility professionals all over the world and I have yet to meet anyone who goes out of their way to identify and pounce on companies whose products don’t meet ALL accessibility standards. It’s a truism in our world that there are no 100% accessible digital products. What we do have to do, according to the Federal Dept. of Education, is confirm vendor’s claims of accessibility. It’s ludicrous that the burden isn’t on vendors to publish and stand behind their claims. Thousands of institutions have to duplicate their analyses of the same products! Hence there have been attempts to put together libraries of our findings. Again, without the original post I have to withhold judgement.

I did do some basic testing of airtable and it’s much worse than a lot of other products. However, anything with a tabluar display takes extra work to make accessible. 10 years ago, very few SaaS products passed even basic accessibility testing. The landscape is much improved but there’s still a broad spectrum of compliance. Airtable doesn’t seem to have any public statement or commitment to accessibility. I have requested their VPAT. If I get one I’ll update this thread.

Mike

Precisely. Why would they retract the post and the history? The only plausible explanation is they likely realized they were overly harsh and their approach was flawed.

Please be specific - as compared to what exactly? Are your tests of a specific Airtable solution or are they of the tools and processes provided in Airtable to make solutions?

That’s not the only plausible explanation. Many who test for accessibility withhold their results from the public due to fear of litigation. Whether or not one is “correct” has no bearing on the cost of fighting such suits.

I tested the basic airtable DB table view/edit screen. I compared it to the WCAG2.1 level AA standard, section 2.1, Keyboard Accessibility, using the NVDA screen reader. It’s completely inaccessible, that is,keyboard-only control does not provide corresponding screen-reader accessible text that matches what is visually displayed. I test a lot of applications. Total lack of keyboard and screen reader support is unusual these days. I also tested the read-only view of the table from a shareable link. Same lack of support.

I’ve also received a response from airtable. They do not have a conformance report. I’m asking for clarification about what they DO know about the accessibility of their DB product.

Yep - I get it, there are many good reasons to follow these standards and attempt to achieve compliance. As I said, Airtable probably has a lot of work to do.

Are you saying that not a single person with accessibility challenges of any kind whatsoever could never use any aspect of Airtable?

That’s a scary statement to any current or future buyers considering Airtable. And yet, WCAG 2.1 AA is darned near the most stringent test you could possibly administer, right?

The publication of WCAG 2.1 does not deprecate or supersede WCAG 2.0. While WCAG 2.0 remains a W3C Recommendation, the W3C advises the use of WCAG 2.1 to maximize future applicability of accessibility efforts.

Furthermore, 2.1 is the standard you would advise if you want to dovetail accessibility recommendations into the [distant] future, right?

I’m sure it’s a good thing to plan to meet 2.1, but I just want to understand - today you are measuring Airtable’s accessibility with a “standard” that really hasn’t been adopted yet, nor is it likely to be adopted in the near term, right?

WCAG 2.1 is not required by the revised US Federal Section 508 standards. The US Access Board would need to start an official process to update the revised standards to reference the updated WCAG.

You said earlier that other tools like Airtable are totally accessible. Can you name them and provide the test results so I can advise my clients?

Lastly - and to help us all understand this better - tell us about the distinctions (both legal and standards-based) between these six “web” environments. Does WCAG v2.1 apply to APIs? Web Apps? Database tools? SQL language? What are the exceptions embodied in the WCAG overall?

  • Web Site
  • Web App
  • Mobile App
  • Database Management Tool
  • SQL
  • Database API

I should have said that it’s complete inaccessible to people who are blind or visually impaired. BVI is the most common source of accessibility complaints but obviously there are others. I could test contrast ratios for example… but not bothering because failing the most basic keyboard test means that we can’t adopt the tool.

No, level AAA is the most stringent of the WCAG standards. The US section 508 (which applies only to federal agencies) is based on level AA. The level of stringency is really irrelevant as the courts have pretty much agreed that level AA is reasonable and they continue to hold institutions and organizations accountable to it under the ADA even though the ADA has no regulatory framework in the area of digital accessibility.

If a manufacturer could show me that they meet 2.0 AA and not 2.1 AA then I’m not going to be too concerned. Remember I said that we accept that nothing is 100% accessible. There’s other precedent in the ADA that encourages a case by case accommodation strategy. However, if you provide a public accommodation, it’s in your interest to reduce your risk to lawsuits, no? The courts have already said that the evolving nature of these standards is not an excuse to ignore them. SCOTUS just refused to hear Dominos Pizza’s appeal based on such a claim.

I did not claim that there are accessible alternatives to airtable. There are however many web-based applications (SaaS) that are accessible. Google Docs for example, are pretty good and getting better all the time. Microsoft is doing a good job with Office 365. I don’t have an accessible alternative to airtable but that doesn’t mean there isn’t one. It is the responsibility of everyone who creates a public accommodation, under the ADA, to ensure that the technology is accessible… same as if you build a store, it needs an access ramp.

There aren’t exceptions in WCAG because WCAG itself is not a law. There are two exceptions built in to the ADA. “Fundamental Alteration” and “Undue Hardship”. Financial hardship rarely qualifies as undue hardship because the Feds look at the cost of accessibility against the entire organization’s expenditures. An undue hardship for example might be that there really is NO accessible alternative to airtable. That would be your burden to prove though and it’s a pretty high bar. However, even if you make the undue burden case successfully, you still have to provide an “Equally Effective Alternative”. I have a client that publishes 600 page inaccessible PDFs of their Board Materials. The PDFs are produced by an app. They spent a month trying to find an accessible board book app and couldn’t. So they publish the inaccessible PDFs, along with a note that they will make the source files available to anyone (qualified) who needs them.

“Fundamental alteration” is pretty straightforward. For example, you don’t need to make a driver’s eye exam accessible to a blind person because doing so fundamentally alters the purpose of the test, i.e., to determine whether someone can see well enough to drive safely. Similarly, flight schools don’t have to make flight simulators for student pilot use accessible. because someone with a disability that would affect their use of the simulator would not be qualified to earn a pilot license.

The distinction to keep in mind is whether you have created a public accommodation or not. The Dominos Pizza website is a public accommodation. The development environment that their web developers use is not a public accommodation. Hence a member of the public, who doesn’t have access to the Dominos development environment has no standing to make a claim of discrimination. However, an employee who needs to use the development environment could well make a claim that they suffered discrimination if that environment creates barriers to their job performance, advancement, etc.

Here’s an interesting question though… what about someone with a cognitive disability that prevents them from successfully developing DB queries using SQL? That would probably qualify as a fundamental alternation exception because the nature of the work is fundamentally complex and that’s reflected in SQL itself. It’s not the technology that’s creating the barrier, it is the job itself. The ADA requires Equal Opportunity, not Equal Outcomes.

The above is is no way legal advice. Consult your counsel if you have questions.

Michael Cyr