The consensus of many people with disabilities, the web design and development community, and legal voices in this space, are that accessibility overlays are not useful on a website for the following reasons:
- They do not address inherent accessibility barriers. For example, missing alternative text, proper labeling, multimedia captioning and transcription, keyboard access, etc. A plugin cannot fix these things (at least not yet). In some cases, they can even interfere with the overall usability of a website.
- While plugins like this may be of some benefit to a small minority of people, we can assume that many people with disabilities already have the third-party software they require to navigate the web or can more easily leverage features already built into their browsers and operating systems, so there is really no value-add here. In short, your website is likely not the first one a disabled user has ever visited.
- Turnkey solutions like this set a bad precedent by lulling stakeholders into a false sense of security about the true accessibility of their website. Many of these vendors take advantage of one’s lack of knowledge about accessibility and sell empty promises that will not shield a company from litigation regarding the inaccessibility of their website.
- Privacy. People with disabilities have more of a stake in protecting their anonymity online and often want to avoid being singled out and/or treated differently (they get enough of that in real life), so there is distrust in using plugins like these. Disabled users may even block such plugins, which defeats the purpose of including them.
- Performance. Simply put, more scripts, especially if they have no proven benefit to users, will only serve to slow down your site. Not only should there be a concern about this from a usability perspective, but an SEO one as well. Many search engines rank your site by how performant they are.
So what should I do to make my website accessible?
The answer is simple: People who are disabled want to be treated equally, so they expect you to design and build your website with inclusion and accessibility in mind and not to throw a band-aid on it. The only way to do that is to commit, provision for, and make accessibility a part of your process throughout the lifetime of your website.
But accessibility is too hard and expensive.
So is design, development, testing, security, and proper management and maintenance of your website, but we have come to accept the time, money, and effort put into those things. Why should accessibility be treated any differently? Not only is it the right thing to do, but there is a strong business case to make your website more accessible, too.
A compilation of some great articles that take a deep dive into the pitfalls surrounding accessibility overlays.
- Should I use an accessibility overlay? by The A11Y Project Team (March 8, 2021)
- Why I blocked #AccessiBe by Robert Kingett (March 4, 2021)
- 5 False Claims 1-Line "AI" Accessibility Script Vendors Make by Eric Eggert (October 20, 2021)
- One Line of Code Will Not Prevent an ADA Accessibility Lawsuit by Kim Krause Berg, CPACC Accessibility & UX (August 25, 2020)
- Honor the ADA: Avoid Web Accessibility Quick-Fix Overlays by Lainey Feingold (August 10, 2020)
- #accessiBe Will Get You Sued by Adrian Roselli (June 29, 2020)
- Bolt-on Accessibility – 5 gears in reverse by Steve Faulkner (May 13, 2020)
- Web accessibility overlay tools: lies and gum balls by Julie Moynat (April 11, 2020)
- 7 Reasons Why Accessibility Overlays Aren’t a Magical Solution by Amy Carney (March 3, 2020)
- Overlays are not the solution to your accessibility problem by Sheri Byrne-Haber (January 14, 2020)
- Web Accessibility Overlays Don't Work by Karl Groves (February 14, 2019) Note: Be sure to also check out OverlaysDontWork.com!
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