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Web Accessibility Overlays: A Quick Fix, A Dangerous Solution

With regards to Web Accessibility, many electric cooperative and utility organizations try to find quick and easy solutions. Accessibility overlays have become a popular choice for many organizations but are not the right choice- they can have short and long-term, dangerous solutions. Accessibility overlays are typically chosen to mitigate the risk of a lawsuit, however often these overlays do not fall in compliance with Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). In 2021,

The National Federation of the Blind banned the market leader for accessibility overlays from attending their convention for their “harmful practices.” Any organization recommending accessibility overlays does not think in the best interest of site visitors, and this advice could be leaving an organization legally exposed. Web accessibility will never be a quick fix. It takes time, effort, and intentionality.

“Accessibility overlays create a false sense of security for electric cooperatives and utility organizations. If the goal is the check a box on this front, you will not be accessible, not be compliant and leave your organization at legal risk. The only way true accessibility is achieved is to think of the site visitor experience from the perspective of those with a disability and create a thoughtful and intentional plan as part of the design and content curation process.” Charlie Stanley, Senior Solution Architect for Powerful Web Team

Accessibility Overlays

Accessibility overlays are designed with a purpose to quickly adjust accessibility issues within an organization’s site. They are frequently found as an icon near the center or bottom of the page. When the icon is clicked on, it displays a box with functions to automatically adjust the content to the site visitor’s needs. It may appear as a toolbar or widget with accessibility functions such as color contrast, adjusting text size, etc. These overlays are simply that of its’ name- an overlay, typically something of a JavaScript that is simply put on the site, never fixing the actual source code. It’s like putting a band-aid over a wound that needs surgery. Nonetheless, accessibility overlays are not one hundred percent accurate and still leave the site open to legal risk.

Compatibility Challenges

The compatibility between a site and a site visitors preferred settings of their specific device can make or break their experience. For several site visitors with diverse disabilities, they often have set preferred settings on whatever device they use to perform tasks. This makes it simple for them to study their devices preferred settings to get comfortable with. However, accessibility overlays have their own preferred settings. They work against and do not change to work in accordance with the settings the site visitor is familiar with. This barrier causes site visitors to learn an entire new system every time they approach an accessibility overlay.

Not Found and Not Activated

For an accessibility overlay to work, it must first be found and activated. Commonly, these overlays are not keyboard accessible or cannot be found by screen readers and other assistive technologies. Several overlays are only effective by being accessed to turn on and off by a mouse. This means the site visitor who needs the functions of the accessibility overlay is unable to activate it, therefore making it purposeless.

Consistency is Key, Accessibility Overlays Miss the Mark

There are a handful of different companies who offer accessibility overlays that can be placed on your site timely (typically within 24 hours). Since it is a competitive market, one overlay is not the same as the next overlay. There is no consistency, which leaves site visitors struggling to adjust to each site.

Imagine a site visitor with a diverse disability needs to pay three different bills online. They navigate to three different sites with three different accessibility overlays that all do not accommodate to their preferred device settings. Essentially, this site visitor is having to navigate and learn a new system on each site which could result in hours of work to simply pay each bill. Creating a burden for your site visitor is harmful.

Privacy, Maybe?

Privacy is a big concern when it comes to the web in general. Since overlays are scripts, they can have a direct impact on security and speed while you have little to no control. Scripts are often hosted on the client’s specific vendor’s server, meaning if the server is hacked your website is exposed and could be next.

Limited Mobile Functionality

Making your website accessible does not stop at your site- it expands to all digital platforms and devices.  Mobile traffic is on the rise. If your website overlay is only effective by mouse, you are directly withholding content from site visitors visiting your site through a mobile device. Accessibility makes certain that sites are identically available across platforms.

Accessibility Gaps

Accessibility overlay vendors are making false promises. Experts explain that accessibility overlays on average only detect 20 to 30% of web accessibility issues. That is leaving an entire 70 to 80% of issues on your site not accommodated for. Below is a list of common items accessibility overlays fail to amend:

  • Alt text
  • Keyboard only usage
  • No input changes
  • Parsing
  • Misidentified language
  • Closed captions
  • Locked display orientation
  • Error prevention
  • Use of layout tables
  • Unlabeled/mislabeled form fields

Accessibility overlays can you leave you in more trouble than you were trying to prevent in the first place. Automatic Fixes Are Never Permanent Solutions. Accessibility overlays are ineffective solutions. Save your money and time and invest in a permanent solution for the people who deserve it the most.

A Recognizably Powerful Difference

It is essential to create and provide equal web opportunity to people with diverse disabilities. With each site redesign, the Powerful web team ensures that your site will fall in accomplice with the with Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). We spend the extra time and money with extensive education on web accessibility to guarantee that our sites are accessible to all users across all devices.

We offer curriculum-based accessibility training courses and other services design to educate and empower your staff. We understand that web accessibility is not something to be cheated out of but has direct impacts on site visitors daily. We take the human-first approach; we always have, and we always will.

For more information on Powerful’s passionate approach to web accessibility check out: Web Accessibility Services

Additional Reading on Web Accessibility Overlay Challenges