Accessibility at Drift


What This is Not

A technical clarification about how we avoid the risk of violating United States WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines). The Accessibility standards in Drift are not the result of catering to the Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, but as a result of our conversations with you, now, in 2018. So what are we here to talk about? 


What is Chatbot Accessibility?

Accessibility, n. the quality of being easily understood or appreciated.

That's a really broad, top-of-the-funnel definition. But it's true, because it gets at the simple fact that accessibility is a challenge which every great product tackles: an easy and delightful experience

Conversational Marketing is still a new category which contradicts the traditional marketing and sales funnel. The concept of No Forms--offering the same personalized experience on your webpage as your would in your storefront--can in itself manifest as a hard-to-access concept, which our sales team can attest to. And our Customer Advocate team receives chats all the time from customers who are adamant that phone calls are better than live chat-support; simultaneously, we see a demand to double down on AI automation and assistant skills so that chat can do more. These contradictions are exciting and a good sign. We will always be meeting customers where they are at, while also trying to build product which inspires them to Welcome Now

It is both this resistance and the results we see when people adopt Conversational Marketing, which pushes us to learn. All the time, Drifters are humbled by how creating for Sales and Marketing teams teaches us to be smarter technologists who don't overcomplicate what a smart chatbot should look and feel like to you. 

As we've grown our product, Conversational Marketing Software has become a real and competitive product category. While the product can now be understood and appreciated by a large number of our customers, we realize that to be leaders in Conversational Marketing, our scope of accessibility extends far beyond the prototypically-abled English-speaking Marketer who champions our product:


At Drift, we think about Chatbot Accessibility as Conversational Marketing made possible for

  • All Teams within an Organization 
  • Technical and non-Technical Users
  • International Users
  • Blind or Visually Impaired Users
  • Motor Impaired Users


Drift Leadership Principles.

Did you read them? Of course you did ;) ... 

But let's repeat them anyways. While answering "So What?" 

  • Above all, You are at the center of everything that we do. 

    We need to hear your voices when something is inaccessible, because your voice rings loudest. 
  • We strive to create a Culture or Respect and Trust. 

    @DriftCares on Twitter is just one example of how we stay transparent with our customers about bot latency and fixes in real time. We want you to know that we hear and feel for you. 
  • We practice Extreme Ownership. 

    A Directly Responsible Individual is important to drive change. We keep that in mind when we plan to get things done. Hold us accountable for that.  
  • We have a Bias for Action and deliver Daily Results.

    Incremental Ships, Short Cycles, and Small Wins show us which direction to move and allow us to make faster, reversible decisions, as well as...
  • We seek Feedback, not Consensus.

    At every point of the way, we welcome critical feedback and ideas from our entire team and you. We won't ask for everyone's permission, but we will be in a state of constant revision. Strong beliefs, loosely held. 
  • We push for High Standards.

    Drifters are ambitious people who don't come into the office with a 9-5 framework in mind. People are here to create the results, and give the value that they believe you deserve. Communicate urgency and value as well as standards, and we will respond. 
  • We stay Scrappy and Frugal.

    This keeps us low ego, and helps us focus on whose voice is the most important. Yours. Remember that we won't create Accessibility out of mere personal musings about nice-to-haves. 
  • We curious Learning Machines.

    We're not trying to reinvent the wheel. We are innovators. If there's someone else who has an amazing way of providing Accessibility, tell us (chat in), we're here to learn. 



Milestone: Widget Accessibility

At Drift, we made our first steps towards Widget Accessibility because of you, our customers. SiteImprove partnered with us and motivated one of our product squads to advocate heavily for resources to move the needle in the following ways: 


Keyboard Navigation

With the Tab (and Shift + Tab) keys, the widget icon can now be navigated to with the keyboard for visually impaired and blind users. The is possible because the Drift Widget Icon is land marked so a screen reader will list the chat widget as a piece of functionality on any website that has it and make it easier to navigate to. How is this possible? 


ARIA HTML attributes

Accessible Rich Internet Applications (ARIA) supplements HTML with information about what different elements on the web page are, so that interactions and widgets commonly used in applications can be passed to Assistive Technologies when there is not otherwise a mechanism. Screen readers (one example of an assistive technology) then have additional context about the webpage and can narrate exactly what is happening. (learn more about Aria) Within Drift, this matters because:

  • Buttons that are just icons have underlying aria-label attributes that prompt the screen reader to read the purpose of the button to the user
  • Switching between views on the widget will refocus on at the beginning of the keyboard navigation flow, providing a better navigation UX
  • Interactive elements are available by keyboard navigation:
    • Bot Questions
    • Email Capture
    • Calendar Invite (Picking Day, Picking Time, Changing Timezone)
    • Opening and Closing chats
    • Creating a New Conversation
    • Navigating between existing conversations 


What's Next in Accessibility at Drift


Aria-Live Region

The last big rock with the Chat Widget is using the "ARIA-live" region, which will read out any new messages to the user. Currently, for a screen reader user to know about a message, they need to press Shift+Tab up into the conversation and scrape around to see if there are any new messages. We also want to differentiate which messages were sent from the user and received from the agent, as well as if it was a Drift Bot or a real agent on the other end. One of our smaller rocks is aasy location detection of the chat button with a screen reader on mobile devices. 


Call To Action

As of October 2018, Drift doesn't get too many requests regarding accessibility. The inspiration for this document was our Customer Success team requesting up-to-date information regarding Accessibility multiple times at the request of their customers in the past couple of weeks. Personally, I admit I'm glad that these topics are receiving attention. As a Drifter, writing this, I recognize that we need more ideas from you to generate excitement and resources for the continued development of accessible technology. Our team is growing fast and if there is demand for more eyes and noggins to be on Accessibility in the Drift App, we'd be happy to hear it. Let us know, in chat, through your account manager, or on social media. 


Before you go: If you're curious about some visual examples of how screen readers work (and can fail to), check out this article from Medium titled We Need To Talk About Accessibility on Chatbots.

Questions? Concerns? Suggestions? Chat with me or email me:



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