This site has a web accessibility overlay or add-in widget. It’s the circle icon next to our logo on the website. If you click on it, it has a dropdown accessibility toolbar. That’s because the platform, WordPress, isn’t inherently accessible. So like the tacked on ramp to a building, it is an afterthought. But really, it advertises that the website platform isn’t really accessible and there are good reasons why.
Website add-ons for accessibility go back to the 1990s with products like Browsealoud and Readspeaker. They added text to speech capabilities on the website. More products arrived in the market with similar aims. To the layperson these features seem beneficial, but their practical value is overstated. That’s because the people who need these features will already have the software on their devices to access the web and other software. The Overlay Fact Sheet by Karl Groves explains more:
“It is a mistake to believe that the features provided by the overlay widget will be of much use by end users because if those features were necessary to use the website, they’d be needed for all websites that the user interacts with. Instead, the widget is —at best—redundant functionality with what the user already has.”
Do overlays meet compliance?
While an overlay might improve compliance in some respects, full compliance cannot be achieved using this method. That’s because the products are unable to “repair” all possible issues. In some cases, the overlay can conflict with the users software and cause problems. And ironically, some overlays are inaccessible. So that means it’s back to the programmer and designer to get it right.
The video below gives examples of overlays and graphically shows how they don’t work. You only need to look at the first three minutes to get the idea.
We all have a responsibility to make our digital information accessible. Beware any web developer who says they’ve solved the accessibility problem with an overlay or widget. Indeed, you are showing your inaccessibility by having an “accessibility” overlay and icon on your site.
Web designers might think the international web standards are sufficient. But they are not – just like the standards for access and mobility in the public domain are not enough.
By the way, CUDA uses the WordPress platform’s free version and continues to do so because we do not receive financial support for the website and want to keep it open access. As with everything universal design – it is a work in progress. “Do the best you can with what you have at the time and strive to improve next time.”