This is part 6 in the series, please check out the first part first – “Accessibility of municipal websites in Norway after Web Accessibility Directive – introduction“ and follow the series if you want to go through the whole series.
When I was starting with accessibility I discovered that there are some companies that try to automate compliance and conformance parts of whole WCAG. And at first I was kind of happy to read about their plans, intentions and solutions. But the more I learned about the field the less I believed such technical solutions actually help.
I have dedicated some posts on my objective evaluation of accessibility overlay situation, and decided to advocate against overlays after doing some research of my own. The reality is still that they have more and more customers. And I totally understand how that happens. So I wanted to investigate how spread accessibility overlays are on webpages of Norwegian municipalities.
To be able to check this I had to first think about methodology of checking for overlays and I really didn’t want to check all 356 webpages manually, so I’ve made a simple but quite reliable automatic solution and while checking for accessibility failures with my automatic tools I’ve also checked for other things. Accessibility overlays one of them as well.
I’m happy to report that only 2 municipalities use accessibility overlay
Out of all 356 only 2 municipalities actually use accessibility overlay. There are some more that have some sort of accessibility features built into their websites, but those are not overlays and are often just a text resize and color contrast tools baked into navigation.
I am quite confident that there are really only two municipalities that fell into trap of too good to be true marketing, but I do allow the possibility that I missed an exotic overlay here or there. My automatic analysis included 32 most known overlay providers and I have tested a lot of websites with overlays with it and got 99.8% reliability.
Accessibility failures after overlay was enabled were even worse
I’ve tested both municipalities homepages with automatic accessibility tools and got more accessibility failures when overlay was turned on (at least one of it’s functions) than before. The same is when I tested some WCAG success criteria manually.
I guess that some overlays help in some cases but I can’t really proof that. On the other side I proved to myself that activating overlay function often make site less accessible. And it was not really a surprise for me. I just found real-life proof so that I can be even more confident when advocating against overlays.
In one case overlay even destroyed experience on mobile/zoom
I think you know about hamburger menu, kind of compact button that expands navigation items, especially on mobile devices, to save on space. Well in one case the overlay icon actually covered the hamburger menu item and with that created an impossible situation for majority of users that can see the screen and are either using mobile phones or using zoom and having the website act like on mobile.
This was again an excellent example of how overlays can cause more problems that they actually solve. It seems also that site owners only check their website on desktop computers and are totally ignorant about problems of their end-users with mobile phones or zoom on desktop computers.
If I haven’t convinced you into not using an overlay, please check out what people with disabilities are sharing about accessibility overlays (opens in new window).