Accessibility Overlay Solutions – An Unrealistic promise?

Emergence Of Accessibility Overlay Solutions Digital accessibility talks about people with disabilities being able to access the web and other technologies. With a growing need for quick fixes, a lot many too-good-to-be-true overlay solutions have emerged in the market that promise cheap and quick remedies. Businesses are also getting allured to devise such solutions to […]

Accessibility Overlay Solutions – An Unrealistic promise? Thumbnail

Published By

Ajay Sohal

Published On

August 14, 2021

Emergence Of Accessibility Overlay Solutions

Digital accessibility talks about people with disabilities being able to access the web and other technologies. With a growing need for quick fixes, a lot many too-good-to-be-true overlay solutions have emerged in the market that promise cheap and quick remedies. Businesses are also getting allured to devise such solutions to save themselves from the increased number of accessibility lawsuits for inaccessible websites. It is not a surprise that accessibility overlay solutions have become a hot commodity. 

At the outset, many testify that the high claims made by accessibility overlay providers are simply untrue and website owners are getting aggressively duped.

A Deeper Understanding Of Accessibility Overlay Solutions

Before you commit to a website overlay solution, it is essential to understand that using an overlay is often worse than doing nothing to address your web accessibility problems. Overlay solutions are automated software solutions that work like a plug-in tool. It detects accessibility issues directly on a webpage and attempts to ‘repair’ them in real-time. As the page loads, these solutions try to automatically fix accessibility issues in the background.

Overlay solutions also take the shape of an “accessibility button” that a user needs to find and open (which may be a barrier and not even be possible for some users). The button opens a toolbar that is usually limited to basic accessibility features like text adjustments, color contrast, magnifying, reading text aloud, and screen reader in some cases.

Accessibility overlay solutions might fool you into thinking you have achieved what needs to be done to make your website accessible when in reality, you would have barely resolved surface issues. Industry reports claim and users agree that only close to 30 % of accessibility issues can be detected in the first place. They basically “fix” the easy stuff, but leave a lot many urgent issues unaddressed to claim actual WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) compliance for ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) or 508 requirements. 

Top Reasons On Why Overlay Solutions Fail To Deliver True Accessibility

Accessibility advocates are vocal about making companies understand that overlay solutions do not involve disabled people in creating accessible technology. Instead, they ignore well-documented evidence that installing one line of code does not eliminate barriers to digital inclusion. Let us discuss the top reasons why businesses need to stop using overlays as a way to sidestep their responsibility for creating accessible websites.

Address Only Symptoms And Avoid Treating The Root Cause

The overlays mask and fix only a small subset of accessibility issues. They fail to provide both full and equal access and never focus on effectively fixing issues. Stakeholders also need to be fully involved and care enough to undertake the process changes and education necessary to create awesome accessible products.

Lack Manual Testing And Remediation

It is a known fact that accessibility is not achieved through a one-size-fits-all approach. As already stated, their automatic functioning misses 70% of WCAG issues which can only be assessed using manual testing. You may notice that some providers claim to provide manual testing and remediation; however, the remediation is only applied to the overlay layer, the underlying issue is left unexposed.

Limit User’s Existing Assistive Technology

Any person with a disability spends years crafting the perfect combination of their assistive technology settings and getting tuned with it. Since their devices are set up to do the things they need, such as, zoom, text-to-speech, color contrast, etc, an overlay creates a more complex experience for them. Forcing a user with disabilities to give up their favorite set of tools is bound to make them uncomfortable. Expecting a person with a disability to study the new set of toolbar options for each website they visit is a serious matter of concern. Hence, overlays only serve the interests of the website owner and don’t work for the actual need of the people.

Do Not Support Mobile Web Users

The great wave of mobile e-commerce cannot be ignored. A lot of blind and disabled people use mobile devices for all aspects of online shopping. For the disabled community, mobile devices have grown to be essential forms of assistive technology. Given this situation, overlays have not been able to support e-commerce brands with an accessible mobile website.

Impact On Security And Performance

When you use an overlay accessibility solution, you open a door for a third party to inject a plug-in or code into your website. To achieve this, website owners will have to provide access to the home page code to the overlay company. This means your home page security and performance are dependent on your overlay solution. This may lead to security and performance risks that should be carefully assessed.

Lack WCAG Conformance Certainty

Overlays have been known to lack the ability to check all or even half of the WCAG requirements. For a website, every page’s code has to pass a set of Success Criteria. Yet, these quick-fix accessibility overlay companies go ahead and make empty promises about their tools. This leaves naive businesses unaware of possible failures in their ADA/WCAG compliance.

Accessibility Overlay Solutions Not Protecting From Lawsuits

If your business wants to stay away from getting sued under the ADA due to an inaccessible website experience, then an accessibility overlay is not going to protect you. Even if an overlay manages to identify and tag elements, there is no way to check whether the tags are accurate, or whether visually-based features are described appropriately. In case any part of your website is not accessible, assistive technology users would not have the same experience as other visitors. That surely leads to discrimination and makes you prone to lawsuits. In 2020 itself, over 250 lawsuits were filed against businesses that used overlay solutions. Organizations need to act smart and understand that investing in these overlays without building the internal capacity to make their websites accessible will only create more problems. The false sense of security by deploying overlays can have a disastrous outcome.

Web Accessibility Is No Longer Optional— But A Requisite Asset

An online shopper is more aware and discerning in today’s era, meaning you cannot get away with poor web accessibility. It’s essential to invest in making your site more inclusive and find ways to enhance its usability. Failing to do so, you will not only lose potential sales but risk yourself facing a lawsuit. Finally, remember that achieving an accessible website is an ongoing process, and requires a mix of manual and automated checks. Just like automated scans are advisable at consistent intervals, similarly, manual accessibility testing should be a regular part of your website upkeep.

And our team at Pivotal Accessibility has surely got you covered