Written by WeCo’s Team of Accessibility Specialists who live with disabilities
In early 2022, the International Association Of Accessibility Professionals (IAAP) released a position statement on accessibility overlays. The statement included recommendations, and caution, for organizations exploring the use of software often referred to as accessibility overlays.
There’s been a sharp rise in companies and products which claim to make websites automatically accessible with the promise of an easy software “fix.” But in reality, accessibility overlays simply insert a few lines of code. They allow the software do the heavy lifting of making existing sites accessible, as well as creating an illusion of keeping sites accessible over time as content changes are made.
Overlays Create More Accessibility Problems
Although this solution may seem ideal on the surface, these “solutions” often create more accessibility problems than they solve. Overlays and widgets often, for example, don’t ensure that alternative text for images is sensible and helpful to users. They also put the website owners in the position of having to rewrite entire portions of code for components (such as large navigation menus) because the artificial intelligence in the programs cannot detect them. Some overlays also require users to learn new keyboard shortcuts, interfere with the normal functioning of the assistive technology or keyboard navigation techniques they use every day and are familiar with. This places an undue burden on users with disabilities.
The IAAP statement speaks for itself with this quote, “IAAP believes that long-lasting integration of accessibility innovations into services, products, and infrastructure is critical to achieving equal access for all. Innovation should be encouraged but carefully deployed so that it does not result in misleading potential buyers or impeding people with disabilities’ ability to access products and services using their assistive technology of choice.”
Mitigating the legal issues that stem from “instant fix” overlays, is another problem most organizations don’t see coming. As website inaccessibility lawsuits climb, accessibility overlays are fast becoming a key contributing factor. See: Criticisms of “Quick-Fix” Website Accessibility Products Highlighted in New Lawsuit | ADA Title III
Nothing About Us Without Us
At WeCo, we believe in the ability of those of us living with disabilities to understand our own needs. We also believe that we are in the best position to articulate our needs to developers and content creators. While we all look forward to a time when innovation makes this easier, advancement should not overlook, or ignore our input.
Nor should accessibility progress require us to learn new techniques and software navigation skills, to gain digital access to a website or software that is accessible to others without these additional steps.
Additional WeCo Accessibility Blog reading on widgets and overlays:
Are Accessibility Overlays Overbaked? – WeCo Digital Accessibility (theweco.com)
Overlays and User Tools: A User’s Perspective – WeCo Digital Accessibility (theweco.com)