Is a11y your ally?

Let’s talk about accessibility overlays.

Overlays? Permalink to heading Overlays?

I’m referring to automated codes that are supposed to “handle” the accessibility part. Many of those tools miss most accessibility errors that jeopardize the use of assistive technology.

For example, some projects use toolbars or javaScript plugins to make the website more accessible without changing the source code.

The ubiquitous of overlays Permalink to heading The ubiquitous of overlays

There are many overlays out there. Some are generic, and others focus on specific impairments, such as cognitive disabilities or visual diseases.

For example, if you have dyslexia, specific fonts and magnifiers are supposed to improve your experience by applying a different letter spacing.

This way, websites may pass some tests that follow the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).

It’s way better than nothing, but it’s not enough.

It might be too late, though Permalink to heading It might be too late, though

Unfortunately, many a11y overlays come at the end of the line, while accessibility should be involved at the earliest stages of the project.

You might get excellent scores with free online checkers and even fulfill some WCAG conditions, but you won’t pass a complete WCAG audit; while this kind of compliance is what you should probably achieve, I mean legally.

The easiness is the trap Permalink to heading The easiness is the trap

The idea of being compliant while keeping the code base as it is (or with a few changes) is seducing, and accessibility overlays can positively impact a significant part of users.

However, there’s a catch, and it’s a big one. It might create more problems than it solves. In the worst-case scenario, those overlays are not accessible themselves. You can’t use them with the keyboard or change the font, which adds an accessibility error.

Besides, some overlays add features that screen readers already provide. It gets worse when they override familiar keyboard shortcuts with their shortcuts, forcing users to learn new (useless) stuff.

Wrap up Permalink to heading Wrap up

For now, you can’t replace human expertise with accessibility overlays. Automated tools miss critical aspects of accessibility and often fail to apply accessible tags.

You cannot even say it does not do evil because sometimes it does, and you’d probably better not adding them to your website. It doesn’t fix inaccessible code.

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash