USER PERSPECTIVE: OVERLAYS AND USER TOOLS ARE NOT AN “EASY” FIX FOR AN ACCESSIBLE WEBSITE
By Lynn Wehrman, WeCo Founder/President
January 15, 2021
A week doesn’t go by when our Accessibility Team and Client Relations Specialists aren’t faced with confused clients who are wondering why they can’t just pop accessibility overlays or a user tool, on their website and call it “accessible.” We understand that this is largely about time and expense, and not a desire to exclude those of us with disabilities, but there’s a real information gap here. This article is a nutshell version of conversations we’re having via email, with real responses to client questions, designed to close that gap for you.
Client Question about Overlays:
We have been using an accessibility overlay tool from ##### (name redacted) on our website. The tool offers solutions to a myriad of accessibility options such as bigger text, a screen reader and a dyslexia friendly view for example. Have you seen or worked with similar tools before? What are your thoughts on using something like this on our sites?
(By a UX Lead on the client’s internal team who had a strong grasp of the issues with overlays.
We thought it was very succinct and well phrased so we’re starting there.)
- Overlay solutions such as #### (name redacted) only detect about 30% of accessibility issues.
- WCAG is nuanced and interpretive and this is where the software can’t help. Most accessibility issues are uncovered during manual testing.
- Overlay solutions should only be used as a short-term band aid until your website is rebuilt or addressed.
- Overlays override the users’ existing assistive technology tools and browser settings.
- Typically overlays don’t work well on mobile.
- By allowing code to be injected into the website, overlays open security holes.
- #### (name redacted) tracks different types of impairments and assistive technologies. Analysts and engineers might think this is an added feature, but it further separates users into groups and special use cases, which undermines one of the defining principles of accessibility—equality and inclusion.
(From me, following the above response from the UX Lead, with supporting information from our Director of Accessibility Services, Sue Ann Rodriquez.)
It’s not always easy for us to explain to clients that what most people living with disabilities want, includes the ability to decide HOW we access websites. Working with us you’ll learn that 12 individuals with the same type of disability will choose different ways to access a site, based upon personal preference. Trying to avoid getting winded here, but these tools (overlays) appear to many of us more about making the companies and developers feel better, than creating an accessible option for us, because they can consider our accessibility needs “fixed.” They frustrate the users with disabilities that work with us, a great deal. (We can send you comments from our Testers who have vetted overlays for other clients.)
We encourage our clients to fight that urge to dictate the HOW, by focusing on the WCAG. As your coworker said, when you implement WCAG, you give people the ability to access your site the way they need and wish to. (This portion of the UX Lead response was not included in this blog.)
The unforeseen cost of overlays:
If I can be so bold as to add one more insight: we notice that when clients get focused on finding a tool/overlay to do what WCAG development can easily fix, they spend a lot of time at it. And they also divert a lot of resources to it as well. And tools and overlays are well….kind of demanding tech divas. They demand a lot of attention. They also can demand that you spend more money on them than their initial price tag, in tons of unforeseen ways—legal liability being the foremost. It can be a rabbit hole that means that the user is left out and the diva tool gets all the attention. Be careful. Those of us living with disabilities need you to focus on us. And we promise not to be divas about it.
Your company has a solid basis for real life WCAG accessibility here. I would personally focus my resources and time on that. It’s also legally sound, and that is proved out in the courts every day. It’s good risk management.
SIDE BAR: We’re going to cue up more of these question-style articles, so if you have something you’d like us to answer in the blog, please feel free to reach out to us at: firstname.lastname@example.org Title your email: Blog Question