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Web Accessibility Overlays: True Fix or False Pretense?

With the increased number of accessibility lawsuits for inaccessible websites, it's no wonder that offers for quick fixes are a hot commodity. Unfortunately, the saying, “You get what you pay for” may apply to accessibility overlay solutions.

So, what do you do? First, let’s take look at how quick-fix web accessibility overlay solutions actually work.

 

What are Web Accessibility Overlays?

Imagine your HTML web page on your web server. It can be an actual HTML file or a cached version of the page that your content management system creates on your behalf. Now, imagine a Javascript being added to the file and that script makes changes to the HTML rendered in that HTML file.

Tada! That Javascript change is the fix you need and your web page is now accessible. Or, is it? That depends.

  • It depends on what’s wrong on your page.
  • It depends on whether a Javascript can actually fix the issue.
  • It depends on whether the cached HTML page has changed and if the Javascript still works.

 

Are Accessibility Overlays for You?

With all the depends-on-this and depends-on-that scenarios that can come up, we can’t say definitively one way or the other. Therefore, we are going to walk you through a process where you can decide what’s best for your site.

The following four-step process sounds simple, but in the long run, it might not be. It’s the nature of the beast.

  1. Find the issue
  2. Identify the required fix
  3. Implement a solution
  4. Test the solution

1. Find the Issue.

The short description of this step is to conduct an audit, using both automated tools and manual testing. If you don’t have the in-house skills to identify all your potential issues, Promet Source is here to help. 

Common web page accessibility issues that can be caught by automated testing include:

  • Missing Alt text for images
  • Insufficient color contrast
  • Label issues in your forms (there are other types of form issues as well)
  • Incorrect application of headings
  • Missing titles for iFrames
  • HTML elements are missing landmark roles
     

Other issues that are better identified with manual testing include:

  • Insufficient alternative text for images
  • Lists that are not coded as lists
  • Attached non-web content, such as PDFs, are not accessible for one or many reasons
  • Missing media captions and/or transcripts

2. Identify the Required Fix.

So, how do you fix the issues? As you can imagine, given the list above, not all fixes are code based. Let’s look at a few examples.

  • Missing Alt text. It takes a human to see an image and describe it. You would need a Javascript that could apply all the unique descriptions that are missing. 
  • Label issues in forms. Given there are numerous issues associated with this topic, you would need a Javascript for each type of issue. Of course, like Alt text, some labeling requires a human decision as to which fix renders the correct solution.
  • Keyboard focus not visible. In order to see where a user’s tab key has landed, the object needs to change. For example, a border is applied. Borders are managed in the CSS files, not the HTML file. You would need a Javascript that could apply an inline style of your choosing for each tab-able object on the page.

3. Implement a Solution.

Fix the source code or go with an Accessible Overlay solution. This is where a couple more “depends-on” questions come into play.

  • Depends on whether the cost to locate and configure the Javascripts to fix your pages’ issues is less than the cost to fix the source.
  • Depends on your plans for updating your site.

And, let’s not forget the “depends-on” questions already asked. Is there a Javascript solution for your issue? If not, fixing the source code might be your only option. 

This is where things can get complicated. Not all systems allow you access to resolve the issue. Therefore, you might have to switch to a system that supports accessibility or allows you to make the appropriate changes.

4. Test the Solution.

Just because a Javascript solution looks like it will work, that doesn’t mean you don’t have to test it. Remember, if your site is running off of a content management system, you might find that the cached HTML page that gets “fixed” by the overlay solution, no longer has the exact same broken code as it did a few hours ago.

So, test, test, test. And then, keep watch. 

Next, remember that new accessibility issues can creep up over time. For instance:

  • Content author introduces a data table in a blog post that is not accessible.
  • Functionality from an external source changes, and not for the good.
  • A security patch is applied and it’s just enough to confuse the overlay you have in place.

Continued monitoring is a must when dealing with quick-fix solutions.

 

Conclusion

Accessibility overlays can serve a purpose. However, before you commit to an overlay solution, perform a cost-benefit analysis. 

  • Is the cost of obtaining a quick fix higher or lower than the cost to fix the source? 
  • Is the cost of monitoring and reapplying the overlay solution less costly than fixing the source? 
  • Is the cost of a lawsuit for an inaccessible page, where your overlay solution has stopped working, worth the quick fix?

At Promet Source, we are serious and passionate about accessibility. We’re here to help you evaluate your options and make decisions that are sustainable and strategically sound. Contact us today