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Can Accessibility Overlays Offer Full Compliance?

Can accessibility overlays be the simple go-to solution we can all rely on in order to offer users with disabilities great UX? These are the advantages of these tools as well as the risks your organization is taking if you're using them.

Rohan Sharma, Non-Sighted Accessibility Expert

Accessibility assurance

Have you ever landed on a website that offers you an accessibility option or a widget– but once you access it, you still encounter limited accessibility features? As digital inclusion becomes the need of the hour and legal mandates are increasingly raising an alarm, the majority of organizations are striving to make their products, websites and apps more accessible. However, this comes with its own shortcomings if digital accessibility is not considered during the planning phase. This often happens with online plugins, which are well identified as accessibility overlays, and these accessibility overlays have their own pros and cons.

Accessibility overlays are added components, akin to web-based toolbars, that are inserted at the top of a website in order to provide several helpful features that can help assistive technology users to face no challenges while accessing the website interface. With the help of JavaScript codes, accessibility bugs can easily be remediated on the webpage itself, rather than altering the source code repeatedly.

For any functions that have statuses and properties embedded in the source code, an overlay cannot alter those within the code – it only gives the means to access extra features on the webpage. Moreover, all integrated features within a widget can be configured based on user requirements. This makes an accessibility overlay an easy path to create an accessible website and to be WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) compliant, although such online widgets are not an ideal solution for assistive technology users.

Can accessibility overlays do the job and do it well enough?

These days, if we analyze existing trends, there have been mixed reviews of the use of overlays by many organizations and users. Nevertheless, accessibility overlays offer a compelling own set of advantages, as explained below:

  1. Cost-effective – Many organizations who are novices in creating accessible websites or are new in the industry, often go with overlay tools – it is more cost-effective and inexpensive than using accessibility or WCAG compliance testing services. Therefore we, as a vender that offers accessibility testing services, would always encourage our clients and partners not to completely rely on accessibility overlays and instead shift the focus towards the testing carried out by real users.
  2. Avoid lawsuits – Accessibility overlays also offer an easier approach to comply with the given accessibility standards and norms. Be it the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) or Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), organizations incorporate accessibility overlays to steer clear of any non-conformance lawsuits – although this is also debatable and today most of the overlays cannot guarantee full compliance.
  3. Suitable for small-scaled businesses – Accessibility overlays become a suitable and go-to option for small-scaled businesses who start with a minimal investment and cannot thoroughly incorporate accessibility. In such cases, the approach is usually that “something is better than nothing”. This stands true for small enterprises that have minimal understanding of accessibility conformance norms, guidelines and especially the barriers faced by people with disabilities who use a diverse set of assistive technologies.
  4. Pre-configured settings – Overlays help users with motor or vision impairments by offering the minimal configured settings for them to easily navigate through the webpage and customize the settings as per their convenience and ease.

The issues and risks of using accessibility overlays

Today, the market is filled with several accessibility overlays and still there is no widget that can promise a good user experience for people and safeguard companies from legal suits. Not always do these overlays benefit organizations in the right way, and instead become the cause for more problems.

Needless to say, that digital inclusion and accessibility have become the need of the hour. With this, accessibility overlays are not a wholesome or a long-term solution for organizations. There are several disadvantages for using to such overlays:

  1. Neglecting real-user problems – With overlays, automation becomes a defining facet, which can never identify all the issues faced by users with disabilities; it falls short of the real-user issues that are often neglected. This is where we believe accessibility testing becomes a crucial factor, and involves real users testing a product to bring out the actual pain points.
  2. Unidentified issues – Accessibility issues such as alt texts, parsing, closed captions, etc., are not identified with overlays on websites. Automation does only so much and does not capture the logical incoherencies that real users would be able to identify in no time. Thus, accessibility overlays do not capture the whole picture and the need to employ coherent accessibility testing services comes into being.
  3. Legal restrictions – Accessibility overlays are not developed with a mindset to cater to the needs of all disabled users and therefore such overlays are never legally compliant. For instance, the WCAG states that when a visually or motor impaired user is navigating through a webpage, the focus should be on pop-ups (when they are in use). But this doesn’t happen with overlays since they cover the bare minimum for differently abled users – keyboard-only usage is not covered within overlays so the pop-up (in this instance) can easily be missed; a screen reader may also not cover the same scenario.
  4. Security breaches – Security also becomes a crucial issue with overlays. Since overlays are plugins developed by third-party organizations, users’ data can become vulnerable and open to malicious attacks. As a result, cybersecurity attacks become a crucial point of concern with overlays.

Are accessibility overlays a good solution?

All these issues demonstrate that accessibility overlays are not a sustainable solution. They surely are quick-fix solution, but assistive technology users still face hardships when these overlays are used, and organizations can still face legal trouble when using them.

Low-vision users, for instance, would have to adjust the color-contrast time and again on different websites that use such widgets – for them it becomes a taxing exercise to learn, unlearn and re-learn. For organizations as well, a legal suit may harm their brand reputation.

So, from a business as well as a user’s perspective, we would always encourage our clients to utilize our accessibility testing services as the best and most exhaustive way to achieve full compliance and deliver a seamless user-experience. That being said, these tools can surely become smarter and more efficient in the future with technologies such as AI and ML – but it would still require a human touch.

How we can help

Qualitest has a pool of seasoned accessibility engineers who are differently abled. With a cohesive paired testing approach, our engineers manually assess and verify accessibility anomalies to produce realistic, expedient, and seamless deliverables.

On this 11th GAAD – Global Accessibility Awareness Day, we want to extend our complete support to small and large businesses looking to achieve accessibility compliance via our accessibility testing services and contribute to transform the digital world in becoming more inclusive and accessible for everyone.

 

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