Why Website Accessibility Overlays are a (Very) Bad Idea

Website accessibility has become mainstream in recent years, leaving many business owners wanting to incorporate it into their digital strategy. Driven by the dramatic business benefits and sharp rise in ADA lawsuits, as well as the DOJ’s recent statement saying that web accessibility needs to be a priority for all businesses, hospitality businesses are looking for a solution.  Enter: accessibility overlays.

Accessibility overlays are often billed as an inexpensive and easy fix for all your website accessibility problems. There are many vendors and services that promise one-click compliance with a plug-in that will fix all necessary repairs on your website in the blink of an eye.

What’s the old saying? If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. What many business owners don’t realize (until it is too late and they get sued) is that overlays don’t properly solve for accessibility (not even close!) and leave businesses exposed to discrimination lawsuits, hefty penalties and never-ending legal fees. And without true accessibility, those businesses are still blocking a huge percentage of people from using their site and booking their services.

What Are Web Accessibility Overlays?

Accessibility overlays are software tools that “scan” your website and automatically fix compliance issues. Although they can detect some surface level problems, such as color contrast or text size, overlays only address about 30% of accessibility issues.

For businesses that want to become compliant for ethical or business reasons, the allure of such an easy solution sounds great. However, overlays aren’t a reliable substitute for achieving actual compliance. This is partly because official standards like the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) are nuanced and interpretative, which is something machines struggle with. Web accessibility is also an ongoing process in the constantly evolving digital landscape—and most plug-ins aren’t able to make automatic adjustments.

The problem with overlays is that they don’t solve accessibility issues at its foundational level. As such, promises of “one-click compliance” still leave businesses vulnerable to the exponentially increasing number of lawsuits. This problem has only been magnified with the recent guidance published by the U.S. Department of Justice, which announced an increased crackdown on businesses that don’t have accessible websites according to ADA standards.

In fact, more than 250 lawsuits were filed in 2020 against companies using widgets or overlays as an accessibility solution for their websites according to a report from Usable.

American eyeglass retailer Eyebobs is a famous example of a business using overlays gone wrong. They used a software that promised it could solve problems for those with disabilities with an “automated, state-of-the-art AI technology.” However, Eyebobs ended up getting sued by a visually impaired man after his problems on the website were magnified. Examples like these are numerous and prove that overlays don’t protect businesses from legal action or don’t solve for accessibility.

A Human Touch for a Human Experience

At the end of the day, web accessibility is about improving the quality of life for real people. Guests are more than just numbers on a screen. The practice aims to create an inclusive digital environment for everybody in society. Apart from the business benefits and legal risks, accessibility solves challenges that people face on a daily basis and removes barriers to online interaction.

That’s why web accessibility is considered a human rights issue. There are some things that software just can’t fix. Conforming with WCAG is an intensive process that requires human judgment and specialized expertise. Bits of code slapped on top of your website without any real remediation simply can’t substitute for this—and using them could have the Department of Justice knocking on your front door anyway.

Solve Web Accessibility Once

It’s far better to address web accessibility—and do it correctly. In working with accredited experts like our team at Access Design Studio, your business can implement long-term compliance solutions rather than covering up underlying problems with band-aid fixes.

Get in touch for a complimentary website assessment today.

Denise Páne <br><span>CEO & Founder</span>

Denise Páne
CEO & Founder

Denise is an Accredited Accessibility Expert with a lifetime of experience with people with disabilities and over 2 decades of experience at the helm of her branding and accessible web design agency, Access Design Studio. She is a passionate outdoorswoman and bold adventurer in life and business.

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