Website Overlays: The Red Flags in Accessibility Lawsuits

[Approximate Reading Time : 4 mins]

Accessibility is a right that people with disabilities (PWDs) are still fighting for. Accessibility in websites and applications give PWDs tools and options that enable them to have a similar online user experience as those without disabilities. Some companies offer accessibility to existing sites as soon as a piece of software is installed or a few lines of code is included. More often than not, these are new consultants who offer poor-quality work at low prices. They are advertised as “ADA compliance with one line of code,” promising to make your company immune to accessibility lawsuits.  These ads are targeted at companies that are on the lookout for cheaper options.

Overlays do not update the website’s code; rather, they are add-on solutions that insert fixes directly into the web page. When users visit the site, they find accessibility options, menus, and settings that duplicate accessible websites, but the code added to the website calls the vendor’s server to load only a limited set of fixes that addresses only about 20 percent of the problem. They neither offer full access nor meet the definition of effective communication as stated by the ADA. The United States has seen a great increase in accessibility litigations since 2017. The fear of litigations and lawsuits drives companies and website owners to mistakenly believe that buying fixes for their website is better than accessibility built through proper website design. Web overlays are about avoiding lawsuits, not including PWDs. Knowingly deploying a website overlay that provides flawed accessibility suggests ongoing discrimination against PWDs. Companies that have a massive online presence and following like retail and food services are more likely to be targeted, and so these entities need to be extra vigilant.

The accessibility of these websites disappears with the expiration of the license. The organizations have nothing to show for investment or progress. The effects of third-party tools on websites are not as long-lasting as the websites built with accessibility in mind. Accessibility is not an afterthought. We are yet to witness an add-on that can test and remediate sites instantly.

Lucy Greco, a visually challenged accessibility evangelist who runs AccessAces, says that the toolbars provided by vendors increase the difficulty of using sites rather than making it easier. Overlays override the user’s existing assistive technology that they are more comfortable using. They also do not support mobile web users, which many visually challenged people depend on. According to a report by ADA Webguard, around 100 companies at the beginning of 2020 have received lawsuits after investing in widget or overlays. So even if avoiding litigation is your aim, widgets are not helpful. It creates a false sense of security in website deployment while you still end up losing potential customers.

An automated web accessibility testing tool can definitively test for approximately 25–29 percent of the best practices of WCAG 2.0. But to conform to WCAG is to satisfy all its success criteria. Missing alt-text for images, insufficient contrast, missing header cells, form elements without labels, poorly structured dynamic elements, nested tables, broken links without text, and redundant links are the major anomalies that cause legal trouble. Of 85 percent of accessibility issues, only redundant title attributes can be fixed via automation. All other issues are huge roadblocks for PWDs. A business can be sued even when it is revamping its website to make it accessible. So regular checkups, updates, and fixes are necessary. Web accessibility cannot be circumvented, and workarounds only cause more trouble. Overlays being sold as permanent solutions and not as temporary targeted fixes are the real problem. Many accessibility scanning tools that plaintiffs use to scan websites, scan the same way, with or without the widget. Unless accessibility is fully operated by the third-party vendor, it is highly unlikely to not get sued. Conducting audits to test sites automatically and manually will reveal the true condition of the accessibility of your site.

The effectiveness of designers and developers in creating accessible websites has not been duplicated by tools and widgets yet. Collaboration with PWDs in designing inclusive websites and usability testing will improve and empower your brand name. To ensure equity, provide an inclusive experience to all users, and protect your company from legal battles on accessibility. If accessibility is your priority in 2021, Amnet is here to help you take the first step. Amnet is a Benetech-certified accessibility vendor that entwines accessibility into the core of your digital presence and makes it conform to ADA, WCAG 2.1, and Section 508.

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