MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Louie McGee is a 17-year-old high school junior with a challenge faced by few of his classmates.
“It’s a retinal disease, it will be progressing over time,” McGee said. “Getting worse, losing my vision from the center out.”
McGee was diagnosed at the tender age of 5. He relies heavily on audio books, screen-reading software and braille. But there are modern accessibility features on his digital devices which help invert the appearance of text.
“I like white writing on a black background. It stands out better to me,” he said.
The Americans with Disabilities Act was signed into law in 1990. That was long before web retailing became a way of life. Unfortunately, many companies — as well as educational, medical and government institutions – have not caught up with the requirements to update their digital portals.
So to help companies comply and avoid costly ADA lawsuits, Minneapolis-based Accessible360 was born of necessity.
“If somebody is limited to using a keyboard, they tap through the website and see where they’re at. But can they interact with all the controls just using the keyboard?” said Accessible360 co-founder Aaron Cannon.
The former software engineer’s mission is both good business and quite personal. Cannon himself is blind and navigates the web using a number of accessibility features, such as screen-reader software.
“There’s no technical reason they can’t be accessible,” Cannon said.
Accessible360 staff are trained to audit company websites, PDFs and mobile applications to flag problems and suggest solutions.
Then software engineers and IT departments can make changes to websites and online forms, such as job and financial applications, mobile shopping and even paying bills via the web.
Accessible360 has helped more than 70 businesses and other clients fix their digital problems in just the first year alone. They have worked with banks, restaurants, retailers and even fast food vendors to adapt their online presence.
“It is affordable to do, it’s good for your business and there are clear guidelines,” said Accessible360 co-founder Michele Landis.
McGee has now started his own website called Louie’s Vision. Its goal is to help others like himself unlock a world within reach; a world that others without visual impairment largely take for granted.
“We seek to empower the visually-impaired kids to reach their fullest potential,” he said.
A world that is physically and digitally accessible to all.
“Not only do we get to help a lot of small businesses, but we also get to help make the world a better place,” Cannon said.