Recently there has been an increase of inquiries about the necessity and meaningfulness of accessibility widgets and overlays. Thus we, the WACA-Initiative, would like to make a statement, to also rectify incorrect statements of providers.
More and more website operators integrate different tools, in hope of designing their internet offerings highly accessible in a quick and easy manner. But experts worldwide agree that overlays are no appropriate measure to create accessibility and to comply with legal requirements. Despite the usage of overlays websites will still not be barrier-free even if the marketing of suppliers promises a simple and legally compliant solution with this applications.
Countless of suppliers are on the market, above all on the American market. Good and bad providers and product solutions exist and there is no experience value if users utilise these tools. A prerequisite to utilising these tools is, that the website itself is already designed to be barrier-free to a certain extend. Overlays are just an additional feature. The source code won´t be modified or improved with overlays.
The WACA-initiative advises against the usage of such additional software. They do not contribute to the accessibility of a website. A better approach would be to take the barrier-free concept into account from the outset and to cite the international applicable norm WCAG 2.1-AA in the call for bids.
- From a technical point of view accessibility overlays are an additional code, which can be implemented in the website and partially also functions with artificial intelligence. They settle like a filter on the Website and obstruct the operation of the screen reader. As far as our experience goes an overlay impairs the screen reader suitability of the website as well as the operability of the magnifying software. There is no tool or web solution to be found on the current market, to improve an existing website, to make it more accessible and especially not to adjust the WCAG-deviations. The application of overlays is no guarantee for a legally compliant website.
- Accessibility widgets are basically not obstructive for a barrier-free website but they have to be usable by keyboard by all means and for the usage of the screen reader there should be the option to switch them off. These tools do not offer an added value for these users. It is also important to test these tools manually before installation.
Put yourself into the position of the users. They need to adapt on each website to a new tool just to operate the website.
It would be better, if each user can use their own assistive technology (screen reader, magnifying software, special mouse devices and so on), because they are most suited for their specific disability. Websites implemented according to the WCAG criteria are optimal accessible for all users, independent of their specific disability and assistive technology used.
The International Association of Accessibility Professionals (IAAP) is convinced, that overlays, plugins or widgets should not hinder the access to assistive technology, the choice of the browser and the system functions. The marketing of suppliers should not imply that the overlay technology / Plugin / Widgets are applications to make websites whole barrier-free for users with disabilities: Overlay Position and Recommendations (accessibilityassociation.org)
The European Disability Forum (EDF), the umbrella organisation for people with disabilities in Europe, is of the same opinion and has also published a statement together with the IAAP.
Study of the Nielsen Norman Group: Challenges for Screen-Reader Users on Mobile 2023
- Access Guide
- New York Times article
- Bizeps - Austria
- BITV / BIK for all - Germany