Deque, based in Virginia and founded by Preety Kumar in 1999, is the world’s leading accessibility testing platform. Deque has built axe-core, an open source accessibility testing library that provides an engine for testing websites and other HTML-based user interfaces. On top of that, Deque offers a suite of paid-for tools, including axe DevTools (which it says offers 80%+ accessibility coverage during app development); axe Auditor (an accessibility testing methodology) and axe Monitor (a platform to monitor and generate reports on the accessibility of a website). Other fee-based services include validation, consultancy and remediation services.Accessibility testing has become a growing priority for financial firms in the US over recent years. The 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act obliges companies to ensure their websites are accessible. Cases brought by individuals claiming their rights have been breached have been expensive for some major banks. Plus there’s a business opportunity in ensuring better accessibility.
But as more test service vendors have started to offer accessibility testing services, how is Deque responding? We asked Pretty Kumar about the future for her company.
Q: Tell us how you founded Deque?
A: As a child, my mum used to take me to visit the local blind school and I saw the lack of opportunities afforded to them. That always stayed with me.
Then, when I graduated from my Masters program in computer science, I went to work for a large telecom company. I poured my heart into the work for several years, but they decided to put the broadband project that I was working on on the shelf.
So, I decided to start my own company. I thought: “Not much to lose. I can always get another job”. The first customer I had was the US state of Maryland. I was tasked with writing their web standards, and they asked me to look into section 508 of the 1973 Rehabilitation Act, which requires federal agencies to ensure that their IT is accessible to people with disabilities.
So, these three things converged and I fell in love with accessibility. I felt very strongly that the internet, which is in my opinion the greatest revolution since the printing press, shouldn’t exclude a segment of the population.
Q: What is your summary of what Deque does?
A: We are the whole accessibility product. Whether the customer needs to do testing, validation, design or they want to automate accessibility in development and put it in their devops pipeline. We also have strategic consulting to help customers create a program.
We also offer remediation services because a lot of our customers come to us in an emergency room situation, and they first need to be resuscitated before we can tell them to take their vitamins.
Q: Who owns the company?
A: Deque is privately-owned, we’re still very much in charge of our own destiny.
Q: Do you plan to keep it that way?
A: Deque is organically grown. It’s largely unheard of that a company can get to more than $50 million of revenue, as we have done, with no outside funding.
There are two obvious adjacent markets, automated testing and DevOps, that we could potentially expand and integrate into. However, we have stayed independent because our customers, for example large banks, don’t have a single tech stack; they will have maybe 20. They will be working with different testing frameworks and different DevOps providers, and we want to solve their problems. We want to have the maximum number of integrations, which is why it makes sense to remain independent.
Q: Are there significant differences between the resources that different financial firms put into accessibility testing?
A: We’re talking about the largest minority out of all population segments with a discretionary income [around 27% of Americans have some kind of disability], so companies clearly see the opportunity.
The most obvious differences are geographic. Companies in the UK and the EU are more proactive – it’s seen as the right thing to do. The European Accessibility Act, which requires government websites to be accessible to all individuals from 2025, will further formalise the need for accessibility. In the US lawyers are often involved, and it is very much the stick rather than the carrot.
I have been pleasantly surprised to see an appetite for what we do in the Middle East, in Dubai, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. We also see South Korea, Japan, China and India starting to take note of this as well.
Because of this, geographic expansion is very much in our strategy right now
Q: Other testing companies are now offering accessibility testing as a specific product line. How is Deque maintaining its edge?
A: Firstly, I think that it’s good to have a worthy competitor because for a long time, there weren’t too many competitors. I think it keeps us nimble so I’m very happy about that.
I see Deque as a bit of a closed loop. We have subject matter experts that create methodologies for us. Those methodologies are built into our products. The services work that we do affords us access to data which we can then use to train our machine learning models. We’ve taken a human-centric approach to machine learning and artificial intelligence. I feel that this, as well the data that we have creates a mote that is difficult for people to catch up to.
Axe-core [an accessibility testing library upon which tools such as axe DevTools is built] is almost at one billion downloads and it’s the de facto rule engine for accessibility testing in the world. It’s been adopted by Microsoft, Google, and all the other major tech companies.
Q: How are you integrating AI into your offerings?
A: We have a browser extension called axe DevTools, which has a feature called Intelligent Guided Tests. The idea is that a developer is able to perform advanced accessibility testing without needing to have any knowledge of accessibility, because accessibility is a difficult niche subject. You can try this extension for free online.
We’re also looking to improve the accessibility of suggestions from co-piloting tools, such as GitHub Copilot.
Q: As the complexity of applications grows, especially with the integration of AI, Is it more difficult to test for accessibility?
A: Of course, but that’s nothing new. New tech stacks are developed, new systems come up, new frameworks come up. So I don’t think that’s something that is a challenge, I think it’s an opportunity really.
Q: What do you think the main challenges in accessibility are today?
A: I think the challenges are the same as ever. I’ve always believed in automation; developers want an easy button for doing this or that. So my goal is always 100% automation; we’re going to take some time to get there but that’s my attitude and I want to get as close to it as possible.
The other challenge is to achieve zero false positives. It’s really important because if developers see false positives or noise, they won’t adopt a tool. I’ve seen accessibility testing tools which report six times the number of defects that we report, but when we go through the defects we can see that many of them are false positives because we’ve got the subject matter experts.