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Accessibility overlays are not for disabled people

Posted in Accessibility

An accessibility overlay (or accessibility widget) is one of those wee icon-only buttons you sometimes see floating over a web page; usually in the bottom-right corner. When you press them, they give you a bunch of options to make the website ‘more accessible’.

Why did I use inverted commas? Well, they profess to make a website more accessible, but do little-to-nothing of any real use; in fact, they can actually hinder a disabled user’s experience of a website! Here are some great resources that go into detail on the problems with accessibility overlays:

Disabled people will likely already be using some kind of mechanism to make their experience accessible:

  • browser extensions
  • features built into their browser
  • operating system accessibility features
  • third-party software the runs at the operating system level, such as a screen reader

But let’s imagine a disabled visitor who hasn’t made any of those adjustments and doesn’t have any helpful software running. Are they likely to:

  • notice a website’s accessibility overlay icon at all?
  • pause their task in hand to find out what the label-less button is for?
  • be able to use the overlay in the first place, without the features it offers that they need?
  • take time to configure their preferences?
  • wonder if their configuration will persist across other websites? (It won’t…)

Accessibility overlays are not for disabled people.

Who are accessibility overlays for?

So if not disabled people, who do accessibility overlays benefit?

There are the overlay companies themselves, of course, who make money every time somebody chooses to use their product. But that probably goes without saying.

Who else? I’m sorry to say it, but those who benefit from accessibility overlays are the people that license and install the overlay software…

I’m going to assume the best in those buyers; that they’re trying to do the best by their users instead of looking for a shortcut to accessibility. So, with the best intentions, non-disabled buyers pay overlay companies for a tool that sounds great:

  • Protect yourself from lawsuits!
  • Achieve a baseline level of accessibility!
  • Give disabled users a better experience!

None of this true. But people can be easily mislead where there’s slick sales patter and a lack of understanding.

Accessibility overlays are for non-disabled people by non-disabled people. The only way to properly address accessibility issues is at the product development level: carefully considered designs and well written code. Adding a single line of JavaScript to your website or app is not the answer.

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  • A roundup of the articles I’ve posted
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More posts

Here are a couple more posts for you to enjoy. If that’s not enough, have a look at the full list.

  1. WWDC 2024 roundup

    I got al the features I wanted from this year’s WWDC, Apple’s World Wide Developer Conference; as ever, there were also a few surprises!

  2. How to browse the web with the keyboard alone

    Some people use the keyboard to get around their computer. Knowing how to do this is important for accessibility testing and to inform design.