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Why should you stay away from Accessibility Overlays?

13 July, 2021 by Ramya Venkitesh

A lady showing thumbs down.- Avoid Accessibility Overlays

Accessibility Overlays do not ensure an accessible website. Accessibility Overlays have come under fire after more than 400 accessibility advocates and developers signed an open letter urging the industry to unite against the use of accessibility overlay products.

Recently, we were contacted by a company that was looking to create accessibility overlays for their website. We have been meaning to do a blog post about what accessibility overlays are, so we decided to take this opportunity to dive into the topic a little deeper.

We are seeing a digital transformation due to the pandemic and organizations are recognizing the need to provide an inclusive user experience to their customers. In addition, ADA-related lawsuits have increased by 23% in 2020. Though this has focused much-needed attention on digital accessibility, many organizations are also seeking quick fixes such as accessibility overlays to avoid accessibility lawsuits.

What are Accessibility Overlays?

Accessibility overlays and tools are automated software solutions that claim to detect and solve accessibility problems on the web. Accessibility Overlay tools typically apply JavaScript codes to make improvements to the front-end code of the website and quickly fix accessibility issues. There are various types of accessibility overlays with tool-based options such as toolbars, plugins, JavaScript and hardware models.

What do Accessibility Overlays offer?

If you want to make your digital solutions accessible online, accessibility overlays and widgets are one of the possibilities you’ll encounter along the way. Their goal is to make the websites accessible without having to change the source code underlying, ensuring accessibility in a fraction of the time and cost.

In the market for a quick fix, accessibility providers promise that accessibility overlays can make the necessary repairs to your website, help you resolve WCAG compliance issues in seconds, and do so at a fraction of the cost of other accessibility solutions.

Disadvantages of Accessibility Overlays

  • 70-80% of the problems are not detected by the overlay. Overlays do not address accessibility problems in the source code, which means that people with disabilities are unable to navigate a website and access information at the same level.
  • Issues such as unlabeled buttons and fields are not addressed, as are keyboard navigation, images, alt-text and other common accessibility issues.
  • The problem is that while overlays can make websites more responsive to include accessibility tools, they can also make pages too rigid to be adaptable and override user preferences.
  • There are also legal risks when an overlay creates a barrier for people with a disability in their experience with the site.
  • Some users find overlays disruptive to their own access tools and they have manipulated their browsers to block overlays.

“Personally, I wouldn’t put an overlay on BarrierBreak’s website, so why would I advise customers to use overlays. If your organization focuses on inclusion, then Overlays are not the answer. Invest in Accessibility by building accessible products and solutions not by using a quick fix that can break at any time.”  Shilpi Kapoor, CEO at BarrierBreak

Why do we not advocate or recommend Accessibility Overlays?

  • As per the WebAIM Survey of Web Accessibility Practitioners on accessibility overlays – 67% of respondents rate these tools as not at all or not very effective. Respondents with disabilities were even less favorable with 72% rating them not at all or not very effective, and only 2.4% rating them as very effective.
  • Most providers that offer accessibility overlay widgets are solutions that combine aspects of overlay widgets to create their end product. Apart from the obvious problem of non-compliance with ADA regulations and the resulting lawsuits, accessibility overlays fall apart in many ways.
  • Even the National Federation of the Blind has revoked accessiBe’s sponsorship saying that National Convention Sponsorship Statement Regarding accessiBe wherein they state “the Board believes that accessiBe currently engages in behavior that is harmful to the advancement of blind people in society. In particular, it is the opinion of the Board that accessiBe peremptorily and scornfully dismisses the concerns blind people have about its products and its approach to accessibility.”

There is no shortcut to an accessible design! Providers whose sole purpose is to ensure the accessibility of the website and to avoid lawsuits for overlays do not have a good track record in bringing lawsuits.

Get in touch for a 1 hour tête-à-tête focused discussion on accessibility and personalized advice to forward your organization’s accessibility journey.

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