First of all, thank you for trying to make your nonprofit website more accessible. You want to do the right thing and make sure your site is easy to use for everyone. That’s important!
There’s no easy way to say this, but in most cases, it’s better if you uninstall that plugin (or overlay, or widget)—it’s not going to have the impact you intended.
Let’s go over some background, and I’ll explain what I mean.
What is accessibility?
Mirriam-Webster dictionary defines “accessible” as “easily used or accessed by people with disabilities, or adapted for use by people with disabilities”. On the web, this means that when a site is accessible, anyone can use it without difficulty.
Unfortunately, even though there are guidelines available for web developers to build accessible websites, there are many sites that are difficult for people with disabilities to use. 96.8% of the top million websites had accessibility errors in February 2022. That’s a lot!
Let’s talk about overlays (and plugins and widgets).
If you’ve found out that your site is inaccessible, it’s tempting to look for a quick solution. After all, many nonprofits must comply with ADA guidelines or section 508 guidelines for accessibility, and that includes your website.
The rise of companies like AccessiBe, UserWay, AudioEye, and more have created what seems to be a perfect solution: add just one line of code to your site, and your site will be accessible! In most cases, though, it’s too good to be true.
What is an overlay, anyway?
For this article, I’m using the words ‘overlay’, ‘plugin’, and ‘widget’ interchangeably. Basically, it is a third-party bit of code that tries to fix accessibility problems on your site as it loads on someone’s computer or phone.
They often look something like this:
Why don’t they work as intended?
In theory, it sounds great! However, since they try to fix accessibility problems automatically without actually testing or changing your specific website, they often cause more problems than they solve.
When someone uses a screen reader to browse the web, these overlays will “trap” them (or nag them endlessly) until they enable certain features. If a person does enable these features, the website will often behave unexpectedly and make it impossible to use or understand. The problem is so widespread that there’s even a community-developed browser plugin to block overlays from loading.
Finally, lots of organizations install these overlays as a quick fix to avoid an ADA lawsuit, but that’s not reliable—every year there are more ADA lawsuits specifically citing overlays as a problem.
How to make your nonprofit site more accessible:
First off, remove the overlay. Yes, seriously! People using assistive devices are used to sites that don’t work perfectly and know how to work around the most common issues. An overlay doesn’t let them make that choice.
Here are some other easy things to start with on your site:
- Link names. Instead of saying “read more”, for example, it’s better to name or describe what you are linking to. People with screen readers will often jump from link to link when they are looking for something specific, and won’t always read the text that comes before.
- Alt text for images or graphics. If an image adds context or is meaningful to the content, then make sure the relevant parts of the image are described in the alt text. (Ask your site developer if you’re not sure what that means!) This is especially important if you have an image that contains text, though it’s better to avoid that when possible.
- Color contrast. Make sure that the color of the text is legible against the background. As a bonus, this helps everyone read and understand your content better.
You can check a lot of this (and more) with WAVE, a free accessibility testing tool. Since it’s automated, it’s not always correct, but it’s a great starting point.
Progress over perfection, always.
If you were relying on an overlay for accessibility (or were considering it), don’t panic! You don’t have to completely redesign your website. You can take small steps over time to improve. Accessibility is a journey, not a checklist item. Once you start to include accessibility in your process from the start, it gets a lot easier.
If it’s too overwhelming, an accessibility specialist can help you evaluate your site and prioritize the next steps. You can do this!
Further reading & resources
- Overlay Fact Sheet
- Overlay False Claims
- Bolt-On Accessibility
- AccessiBe will get you sued
- Lies, Damned Lies, Overlays, and Widgets
About Accessibility in General
- WAVE—Web Accessibility Evaluation Tool
- Accessibility Fundamentals Overview
- Is your organization’s website accessible?
- Web accessibility principles
- Web accessibility for designers [infographic]
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