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Accessibility Overlays: A Band-Aid Solution for a Broken Bone?

A mockup of a laptop displaying the homepage of the City of Princeton Website. A , blurred transparent webpage showing a closing bracket code is overlayed on part of the laptop screen.

In today’s digital age, a well-designed website is the cornerstone of any local government’s communication strategy. It’s a virtual town hall, providing residents with essential information, services, and opportunities for civic engagement. But what if your website is unintentionally excluding a significant portion of your community?  This is where website accessibility comes into play, and it’s an area where many local governments are falling short.

In an effort to quickly address accessibility concerns, some municipalities are turning to accessibility overlays – third-party tools that promise to make websites compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) with minimal effort. However, as we’ll explore in this comprehensive guide, these overlays are often a Band-Aid solution for a much deeper issue.

Understanding Accessibility Overlays

An accessibility overlay is a piece of software that sits on top of your existing website, like a layer of digital veneer. It typically offers features like adjustable font sizes, color contrast changes, and even text-to-speech functionality.  The allure is understandable: with just a few lines of code, you can seemingly transform your website into an accessible platform.

However, the reality is far more complex.

The Pitfalls of Accessibility Overlays

  1. Surface-Level Solutions: Accessibility overlays primarily address visual aspects of a website. While they might change the way your site looks, they don’t address the underlying issues in your website’s code that prevent people with disabilities from accessing your content effectively.
  2. Inconsistent and Unreliable: The effectiveness of overlays varies greatly. They might work well for some individuals with certain disabilities, but they can actually make the experience worse for others. Screen reader users, for example, may encounter errors and confusion due to the overlay’s interference with the website’s natural structure.
  3. False Sense of Security: One of the most dangerous aspects of overlays is that they can create a false sense of security. Website owners might believe they are ADA-compliant simply because they have installed an overlay, leading to complacency and potential legal repercussions.
  4. User Experience Nightmare: Overlays can be clunky, slow down your website, and disrupt the user experience. They often introduce new elements that are difficult to navigate, especially for individuals with disabilities who rely on assistive technologies.
  5. Legal Liabilities and PR Nightmares: Relying solely on overlays to achieve accessibility can be a risky gamble. Companies like Domino’s Pizza have faced lawsuits and negative media attention for failing to provide true accessibility, even with an overlay in place.

The True Cost of Overlays

While accessibility overlays might seem like a cost-effective solution, they often lead to more expenses in the long run. Consider the following:

  • Legal Fees: Defending against lawsuits and paying settlements can be financially devastating.
  • Remediation Costs: If your website is found to be inaccessible, you’ll likely need to invest in significant renovations to bring it up to standard.
  • Reputation Damage: Negative publicity can erode public trust and harm your municipality’s image.

A Holistic Approach to Web Accessibility

The key to creating a truly accessible website lies in a holistic approach that addresses accessibility from the ground up. This involves:

  • Following WCAG Guidelines: The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) are the international standard for web accessibility. Adhering to these guidelines ensures your website is usable by a wide range of individuals with disabilities.
  • Building Accessibility into Design and Development: Accessibility should be integrated into every stage of your website’s design and development process. This includes using semantic HTML, providing keyboard navigation, and ensuring proper color contrast.
  • Regular Testing and Maintenance: Accessibility is an ongoing process. Test your website regularly with assistive technologies and promptly address any issues that arise.

The Starry Eyes Media Advantage

At Starry Eyes Media, we specialize in crafting accessible websites for local governments that are not only compliant but also user-friendly and engaging for all. We understand that each municipality has unique needs and goals, and we tailor our solutions accordingly.

We invite you to contact us for a free consultation and audit of your website. Our team of experts can help you develop a comprehensive accessibility strategy that goes beyond quick fixes and ensures your website is a welcoming space for everyone in your community.

Remember: Accessibility is an investment in your community. By creating a truly inclusive website, you’re not just complying with the law; you’re fostering civic engagement, promoting transparency, and building trust with your residents.

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Accessibility Overlays: A Band-Aid Solution for a Broken Bone?

by | Jun 5, 2024 | Economic Development, Government, Learning, Web Design

Jordan is the Content Marketer and Designer at Starry Eyes, helping with creative projects as well as social media planning, market research, and SEO. He is obsessed with books, soccer, pottery, and various nerdy things. Jordan is a bit of a hipster and is still coming to terms with that. Big fan of trees.

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