Monday | July 4, 2022
Don’t Get Scammed: Why You Should Avoid Quick-fix Overlays For Web Accessibility
In the last few years, there’s been much talk on the web about accessibility widgets and overlays. You’ve probably heard from companies selling them that they’re the key to making your website accessible for people with disabilities.
But have you ever stopped to ask yourself what these things are? How accessible are they? And whether or not you should use them on your website?
Don’t worry! I’m here to set the record straight and tell you everything you need to know about these handy tools (or maybe not so handy). So read on, and learn all about the truth behind accessibility overlays.
What exactly are accessibility overlays?
Accessibility overlays are scripts that promise to make the content on your website accessible to people who use screen readers, such as people with blindness and low vision.
Typically, adding this “wonderful” technology to your website is easy. All you have to do is add a code snippet to your website, and poof! Your site is magically accessible. You can pat yourself on the back, walk around in a circle three times for good measure, and tell stakeholders that you fixed the accessibility problem.
Hold that thought for just a sec! Is your website accessible after all that? There are many reasons why it isn’t; we’re going to look at them now.
Now Let’s Get to The Point, Are Overlays Accessible?
While many people like you use overlays with the idea that using that alone will make their website accessible, most don’t work very well because they only cover some technical fixes at most.
Accessibility overlays can’t fix everything on their own. They’re not a replacement for proper labeling, good ordering of elements on a page, and an overall well-designed experience that meets the needs of users with disabilities.
You could say that using overlays is like putting a new coat of paint on an old broken-down car and calling it a new car. It might look great outside, but the engine is still old and outdated.
Overlays can’t fix structural problems underneath your website. That’s why overlays aren’t a suitable replacement for doing accessible work.
The problem with using accessibility overlays is that the existing code doesn’t change. So instead when you use an accessibility overlay, what happens is that it adds suggested fixes to accommodate access to the best of its abilities based on your current website but is just a superficial bandaid that doesn’t take into account the overall user experience for people using screen readers.
But that means it is just a Band-Aid and not a permanent solution, not to mention it doesn’t address all accessibility issues on your website.
Additionally, many overlays are not well-designed. For example, many overlays aren’t compatible with screen readers and other tools that help people who are blind, have mobility limitations, or navigate websites using assistive technologies; in many instances, overlays will get in the way of screen readers.
They can also be challenging to use for people with cognitive disabilities. And sometimes, they are not compatible with all web browsers.
So, while accessibility overlays can be helpful in some cases, it’s important to remember that they aren’t a suitable replacement for actual accessible development, and anybody telling you otherwise is telling you bullshit, stealing your money, and putting you at risk for lawsuits and reputation-damaging discrimination.
Should I Use an Accessibility Overlay?
The short answer is “hell no.”
The long answer is “maybe, but only if you’re using it as a temporary solution while you are working on fixing your website to make it compatible with people with disabilities.”
But that ultimately falls apart if you dump it there and leave it for years without fixing your website. At most you can keep something like this on your website is a year. After a year you look more like an asshole who doesn’t give a damn about accessibility than someone who actually cares.
You might want to reconsider your approach if you’re using an accessibility overlay as a permanent fix. Accessibility overlays are not a real fix. If you want an accessible website, then you should build an accessible website in the first place.
Overlays can also make it hard for people to use websites. They are widely hated in the accessible community because they get in the way of standard tools people with disabilities use.
When you slap an accessibility overlay on your website, you’re telling your users to learn a whole new operating system to use your site. That’s annoying and disrespectful! And let’s face it—it shows that you didn’t care enough about making your site accessible and just slapped on a Band-Aid instead.
Some thoughts about the word inclusivity
I often see many businesses and organizations making a big deal about being inclusive and super welcoming to everyone. But, still, they slap accessibility overlays on their website because it’s not a priority for them and most of them systematically chose to cut budgets and resources to fix the problem year after year.
The word ‘inclusivity’ is powerful, attached to brands like a shiny gold star. But if you’re not giving people with disabilities the same priority as the rest of your users, you’re just a hypocrite.
I’m not saying you must be 100% accessible immediately, but at least show me that you’re trying. Show that you care about people with disabilities and their needs by making your website or app more accessible.
I believe actions speak louder than words. Don’t use the word “inclusivity” as a buzzword to make money while discriminating against people with disabilities. That is just despicable! As they say, “talk the talk and walk the walk.”
What are the Problems With Accessibility Overlays?
Here are some of the problems with using these tools:
Overlays do not provide full WCAG compliance.
Overlays can help with some accessibility issues, but they don’t fix all of them. It is because they can only address a limited number of accessibility problems. Only 50%, or less, of accessibility issues can be detected and fixed through automation that relies on these products. For example, the overlay can help with color contrast but won’t fix navigation structure or alternative text problems.
It will not protect you from ADA lawsuits.
Using an overlay or widget will not protect you from being sued under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The law says businesses and organizations must make their websites accessible to people with disabilities. Still, companies that used these accessibility widgets or overlays faced more than 200 legal cases. None of these fixes made websites accessible for blind users. Also, look at this year’s accessibility report from UsableNet to learn more about legal claims.
Accessibility Overlays are not a substitute for good design.
An accessibility overlay or widget should not be used as a crutch to compensate for poor website design. In other words, don’t use an overlay or widget to fix accessibility problems that shouldn’t exist in the first place. For example, if your website uses a Flash animation that is not accessible, an overlay or widget will not be able to fix that.
Some people with disabilities find them annoying.
Some people with disabilities find accessibility overlays annoying because they can interfere with how a person wants to use a website. So, how annoying are accessibility overlays to people with disabilities? Very irritating, so much there is an addon called AccessiByeBye designed to block overlays so people with disabilities can navigate websites using the tools they love and know how to use.
They can be hard to find on a page.
Accessibility overlays and widgets are often located in the footer of a website or the settings menu. As a result, they can be hard to understand and use even if you find them.
They are not a permanent fix for accessibility problems.
Some think that accessibility overlays quickly fix accessibility problems. That is not true because they do not solve the root problem. They only provide a temporary solution that does not fix the underlying issue and only covers some of the problems, not all of them.
Let’s summarize, shall we?
So there you have it – the ugly truth behind those pesky accessibility overlays. While they may seem incredible to help your customers, they can do more harm than good.
But don’t be sad! You can use other ways to make your website more accessible without using these tools. Allow me to give you some actionable steps.
- Starting from scratch: If you’re building a website from scratch, the best way to ensure it’s accessible is by hiring a developer who knows how to make sites that are accessible. And don’t forget that accessibility is not an afterthought — it’s an integral part of the design process. So ask your developer for proof that he or she can actually build an accessible website, and make sure it’s not just talking.
- Existing Website: If you have an existing website and want to fix its accessibility, get a manual and automated site audit to ensure you know how many problems there are. Then hire an experienced developer to fix the issues.
- Training your developers: You can also get training for your developers, so they don’t introduce inaccessible code in the future and learn how to fix and build accessible websites and applications.
Just be sure to research and find the best solution for your needs. If you have any questions, feel free to reach out on LinkedIn anytime. I will be more than happy to help 🙂
Did you find this information helpful? Are you giving accessibility the priority it deserves? Please let me know your thoughts in the comments below. Also, please give this article a thumbs up to support more content like this.
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