An Overview of Accessibility Overlays

Submitted by Jessica Luzanilla on Mon, 11/29/2021
Summary
While these widgets appear to be a “quick fix” to instantly repair accessibility issues, they often do not work

Web accessibility is an issue that affects all users, not just those with a disability. Web accessibility is designed to be as inclusive as possible, enabling access to a website for all users, regardless of their ability or circumstances. Its main focus is to eradicate barriers that can block a user’s access and ensure that the website is usable by everyone, including those with visual, cognitive, physical and or auditory disabilities.

Web accessibility is so important that on June 30, 2021, Colorado Governor Jared Polis signed Colorado House Bill 21-110 (HB21-1110), Colorado Laws for Persons with Disabilities. The act aims to strengthen current Colorado law related to protections against discrimination on the basis of disability for persons with disabilities, specifically as it relates to the accessibility of government information technology. It requires that public entities and/or state agencies not exclude any person with a disability from the use and benefits of their services, programs, and activities. It also requires that these public entities and/or state agencies develop an accessibility plan and fully comply with accessibility guidelines before July 1st, 2024. Failure to comply will be met with a fine of $3,500.

A QUICK SOLUTION?

A popular service that promises to make websites more accessible is the use of accessibility overlays. These overlays, also referred to as accessibility widgets, are pieces of coding that are added to websites that change settings when users view them. Users can adjust elements such as contrast, highlighting of titles, increasing font sizes, pausing animations, etc. Some accessibility overlays can be completely custom to a specific page and others appear as tool-based, typically in the form of a plugin or extension that can be controlled by the user.

While these widgets appear to be a “quick fix” to instantly repair accessibility issues, they often do not work. They become another tool that users with disabilities must learn and sometimes have difficulties finding it to use on the page itself. Additionally, they fail to detect other website issues that currently cannot be addressed such as unlabeled/mislabeled form fields, alt text, incorrect heading structure, closed captioning, keyboard only usage, focus order, or images of text.

Using an accessibility overlay on a website can affect the user experience for people with disabilities. People that use screen readers and other input devices may find that their experience is disrupted if they have to switch over to using an overlay on a site and find issues with the layout, since the fixes are not coded within the structure of the site itself. Layout issues such as magnified text may cause website elements to overlay and hide content.

Additionally, accessibility overlays can affect the performance of a website. The more add-ons on a site, the slower it can load and lead to an overall reduced user experience.

APPROACHING WEB ACCESSIBILITY EFFECTIVELY

Websites need to be built for users of all abilities and using a fast fix fails to accomplish this. It's much more than being able to change the text size or contrast of a page to implement proper web accessibility standards. Part of making a website accessible should be considered at the development stage of a website rather than working through it as an existing page. However, accessibility can still be worked into existing sites. The W3C has many resources on how to get started on creating and maintaining an accessible site. A combination of proper accessibility standards, automated and manual testing tools is one of the best approaches to evaluating a website’s accessibility.

The process of making a site more accessible might be slow, require more resources, and be continuous, however, the reach becomes greater. More users will be able to properly use a website, which leads to an improved user experience and ultimately increased business. As they say, good access is good business.

 


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