Social media can make a small dedicated group seem like a majority, when it is not
How many accessibility experts are there? Before we delve into whether “most” are against it, let’s start with a statement everyone will agree with:
- Some accessibility experts have added their name to a document by Karl Groves – note, they are listed as “signed” but the text keeps changing, so they did not really “sign”, let’s just say they agree to associate their name with the website.
- Some accessibility leaders, universally acknowledged as leaders in the space, have deliberately NOT associated themselves with this problematic website.
- Most industry leaders have not associated themselves with the site.
Here are the details:
- Most W3C accessibility activists do not associate themselves with this website. This includes most contributors and editors for WCAG, ARIA, and HTML specifications.
- Most accessibility consultants do not associate themselves with this website. Many that have are not aware the text keeps changing.
- Some accessibility leaders from large corporations do associate themselves with the website, but most corporations do not.
Some accessibility experts from higher education institutions do associate themselves with the website, but the vast majority have not.
There is no evidence of this practice.
There is no definition! Comparing an overlay from one company to another can be like comparing toaster ovens to convection ovens.
Approximately 2% of websites are accessible. It is estimated that there are almost 2 billion websites in existence, but somewhere between 200 million to 400 million are active. If the people who only practice manual website remediations are to bring all these websites into conformance, why have they not succeeded to date?
You’ve probably already guessed the answer. They can’t keep up because of the sheer scale involved. And their service model assumes that companies have developers, while many do not, so a lot of individuals and businesses cannot use the conventional manual approach and never even start their accessibility journey. Overlays provide a fast, effective and affordable way of getting started.
When you read statements like, “Last year, more than 400 companies with an accessibility widget or overlay on their website were sued over accessibility, according to data collected by a digital accessibility provider,” it sounds like widgets are a problem. But what about companies that used manual accessibility audits? How many of them were sued? It’s not zero.
Most companies that are named in lawsuits have never used an overlay, but they have used other accessibility services, such as in-browser automated checkers, manual audits, and courses for their developers. So why are they being sued? Lawsuit frequency has less to do with the accessibility solution, and more to do with the conformance model of WCAG 2.1 AA. It is nearly impossible to become 100% compliant, and any deviation can lead to a lawsuit.
People making this type of statement are biased towards “shift left”, the conventional wisdom that knowledge, proper design, proper development and testing will make all websites accessible in the end. If this were the case, why are barely 2% of all websites accessible today? The answer is scale. The only way to make the millions of websites that already exist accessible (and all the new content being created every day), is to use automation.
The people making this type of statement are biased towards manual repair. And why wouldn’t they be? It’s what they know how to do best, and overlays are relatively new tools that they have not chosen to learn. The reasoning behind much of the content on the “fact sheet” website is quite similar to an issue society has encountered many times. People get worried by innovations, and may even be concerned that their jobs might be replaced.
Throughout history, automation has improved the lives of everyone when it comes to food production, medical research, shipping, and many other industries. Sometimes jobs are lost (there aren’t too many buggy whip makers or shoe cobblers around anymore), but advances lead to new job opportunities. For example, much of the advertising we see online is automated, but there are experts now who optimize how companies spend their digital advertising dollars. These jobs were unheard of just a short time ago. The same is true for AI and digital accessibility.
Plus, the AI used for accessibility is improving every day. If people can make cars that drive themselves, then surely AI that makes reliable accessibility possible for websites isn’t far behind (if not already just as or more advanced).
Here’s a funny fact – Full compliance cannot be achieved with any single solution. Period. If an expert manually makes a website fully accessible, it will only stay that way for a short time. As soon as new content gets added by someone who is not an accessibility expert (which, let’s be real, is most content on the internet), accessibility problems are introduced.
Now, unless an accessibility expert can make updates and corrections on-demand, a site will always have problems.
Conversely, automation can correct many website accessibility issues (and identify the ones it can’t correct), but it’s best to always have a human at least checking to make sure everything works as intended.
There are plenty of examples online of accessiBe having earned itself raw hatred from blind users. All accessibility vendors are not the same.
There are NO accessibility products or services that can eliminate legal risk. It is always possible for someone to file a lawsuit.
Blogs that make this claim engage in the age-old practice of “bait and switch”. They seem to be making claims about overlays, but they are really discussing the difficulty of eliminating legal risk in the current litigious environment. The Department of Justice is a significant contributor to this problem because it has yet to define how websites qualify (or not) as places of public accommodation.
Overlays are a tool towards compliance. They are not a magic legal force field.
A fact sheet communicates facts. A petition makes an argument and takes a stance.
The website at the URL “Overlay Fact Sheet” pretends to be a fact sheet. It is not. How can you tell?
Accessibility and the rights of the disabled are a very serious subject. People’s lives can be affected, for better or worse, and so emotions can run high. There is a place for strong verbal or written attacks on someone or something, and a place for presenting facts. It’s when people deliberately disguise an attack as a fact sheet that we need to call it out.
Accessibility activists know what a fact sheet is. For example, accessibility activists concerned about accessibility privacy often link to these two fact sheets:
- Factsheet on Commercial Surveillance and Data Security (https://www.ftc.gov/system/files/ftc_gov/pdf/Commercial%20Surveillance%20and%20Data%20Security%20Rulemaking%20Fact%20Sheet_1.pdf)
- Factsheet on Public Participation in the Section 18 Rulemaking Process (https://www.ftc.gov/enforcement/rulemaking/public-participation-section-18-rulemaking-process)
What makes those fact sheets into “fact sheets”?
- They have a clear authoritative author that declares their position in relation to the facts at hand. In this case, it is a rule-making body.
- Facts are laid out, one at a time.
- There is no petition or signature.
- There is no vow or course of action associated with the fact sheet. Imagine if the fact sheets linked above ended with, “I solemnly swear to never ___.” That’s not a fact, it’s a declaration.
A petition, once signed, should not change. The overlayfactsheet.com website changes its content frequently.
Some signatories have removed their names when they found out that the content keeps changing. Others likely do not know.