Cloudflare's inaccessible browser contradicts the company's mission

An open letter to Matthew Prince, CEO, Cloudflare

by Matt Campbell
July 30, 2021

Mr. Prince:

About four months ago, Cloudflare launched Browser Isolation during Security Week, without ensuring that the product is accessible to blind people using screen readers. Now, four months later, this problem is still not solved. Cloudflare’s neglect of accessibility in this product raises a new barrier to employment for blind people as companies adopt this product to improve the security of their networks.

As I’m sure you recall, I first contacted you about this problem a year and a half ago, when Cloudflare first pre-announced the development of Browser Isolation, because I knew based on the technical description in that blog post that this product would be completely inaccessible with a screen reader unless the team specifically took steps to make it accessible. I even offered deep technical advice on how to make this product fully accessible, based on my expertise in accessibility and many years of experience as a developer of assistive technology. You were quick to respond back then, assuring me that the team was taking accessibility into account. In particular, you wrote the following, referring to your company’s mission: “Agree with you that it’s critical we not take a step backward as we’re working toward building a better Internet.”

Now, as your Impact Week draws to a close, I’m writing to remind you of what you told me last year. Throughout this week, Cloudflare has promoted many activities that contribute to its mission. There was even a blog post about Flarability, the employee resource group for disabled Cloudflare employees. But despite all of that, Cloudflare’s neglect of accessibility in the Browser Isolation product stands as a contradiction of the company’s mission.

I mentioned above that the inaccessibility of Browser Isolation raises a new barrier to employment for blind people. This isn’t an exaggeration. A blind acquaintance of mine once lost his job because of a newly added requirement that he use an inaccessible application. Now, imagine that a company’s IT department has mandated the use of Browser Isolation for the sake of security. Any blind employees or contractors at that company would immediately be unable to browse all websites that haven’t been specifically exempted from this security measure. Sure, the company might choose to make an exception for a small number of people. But now suppose that a blind person is interviewing, and they’re well-qualified for the job, but the company has already rolled out Browser Isolation. It’s not too much of a stretch to suppose that the company would simply decide to pass on that candidate. Of course, it’s not Cloudflare’s fault if some of its customers wrongly discriminate against employees or candidates. But Cloudflare surely has a responsibility to make its products as accessible to as many users as possible, given your mission and the potentially high stakes of neglecting accessibility in this product in particular.

In light of all of that, I’m calling on you to immediately prioritize the necessary work to make Cloudflare’s Browser Isolation product accessible to blind people. I believe I have been patient; remember, I first contacted you about this roughly 18 months ago. But in the past 4 months in particular, despite my repeated emails to the product manager for Browser Isolation, my requests for updates on this problem have been ignored. That’s why I’m writing this as an open letter. It’s past time for the Browser Isolation product team to live up to the mission of Cloudflare by making this product fully accessible. I look forward to your prompt reply.

Matt Campbell