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Overlays: A Year and a Half Later

The problem with overlays is that they are still a problem! In February of 2021, I posted about the havoc that overlays cause to assistive technology and its users. According to a recent article in the New York Times (July 13, 2022), not much has changed. 

The article’s author, Amanda Morris, interviewed Patrick Perdue, who is blind and shops for radio equipment on a website called Ham Radio Outlet. The website was coded in such a way that it was easy for Mr. Perdue to find, read about and purchase the items he needed.

But then Ham Radio decided to install an automated accessibility overlay from accessiBe. Here’s what happened next.

Suddenly, the site became too difficult for Mr. Perdue to navigate. The accessiBe overlay introduced code that was supposed to fix any original coding errors and add more accessible features. But it reformatted the page, and some widgets — such as the checkout and shopping cart buttons — were hidden from Mr. Perdue’s screen reader. Labels for images and buttons were coded incorrectly. He could no longer find the site’s search box or the headers he needed to navigate each section of the page, he said.

So what exactly did the overlay fix?? And how much did Ham Radio pay for those "fixes?" SMH

One of the reasons overlays are popular is they are marketed as "making your website compliant and preventing your company from facing litigation." For example, in step two of "How AudioEye Works," they state:

AudioEye automatically fixes many accessibility issues while the page loads, helping you meet many of the WCAG requirements for every visitor. This helps people with disabilities to access your content and reduces the risk of a costly lawsuit.

Well, that doesn’t seem to be working out as well as expected.

According to the New York Times article, "...some of the clients that use AudioEye, accessiBe and UserWay are facing legal action anyway. Last year, more than 400 companies with an accessibility widget or overlay on their website were sued over accessibility…"

The 3 largest automated accessibility overlay producers, AudioEye, Userway and AccessiBe, have acknowledged, to some extent, that their products are not "perfect" and that they will listen to feedback from accessibility advocates and users to make improvements to their products.

But in the meantime, people like Mr. Perdue continue to struggle and be denied access to completing even the simplest online tasks:

"I’ve not yet found a single one that makes my life better," said Mr. Perdue, 38, who lives in Queens. He added, "I spend more time working around these overlays than I actually do navigating the website."

Resources

Maggie Vaughan, CPACC
~ friend of DubBot, A11Y practitioner in higher ed