I have received announcements of two new websites this past week, both of which are related COVID-19 responses and resources, and both of which use one of the many “accessibility plugin/widget/add-on overlays”. Both new sites are promoted as “fully accessible” and of course neither are. One used a widget call Recite Me (you’ll have to look this one up yourself – I’m not promoting them) and when it was loaded over the new website made navigating with VoiceOver on the Mac completely useless. Even without using the screen reader, Recite Me was useless.
On the home page of one of these two sites was one of those annoying pop-ups that needs to be closed before you can get to the content. But when I attempted to close the popup by clicking on the “X” in the top right corner of the popup, Recite Me announced “multiplication sign” and blocked me from going further.
Needless to say, the classic access errors were all there on this site – color contrast issues and “click heres”, redundant links – none of which could be improved by any plugin or overlay.
Accessibility pioneers Debra Ruh and Karl Groves first talked about these “accessibility overlays” early 2016 (see Should Accessibility Overlay Tools Be Used as a Strategic Part of your Accessibility Efforts and On Overlays as a means of resolving website accessibility issues.). Apparently, people didn’t get the message. Kris Rivenburgh wrote about the topic more recently in Toolbar Plugins/Widgets for Website Accessibility Aren’t ADA/508 Compliant. Rivenburgh cites seven good reasons why these overlays are a waste of time and money – the best of which is – “The overlay, when activated, can modify certain aspects and elements of your website but it does not alter the fundamentals of your website to be accessible.”
Basically, they don’t work.
Good New Bad News
The good news in all this is – at least some organizations have gotten the message that accessibility is important – particularly during these “unprecedented times” where everyone is on-line scrambling for information about everything.
The bad news is people and organizations are looking for expedient solutions and magic bullets. They are their wasting money.