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12 Jan, 2024
A person's hands typing on a laptop, symbolizing the challenges faced by the visually impaired with inadequate web accessibility widgets.

The Ineffectiveness of Accessibility Widgets for Legally Blind People

Accessibility widgets have given hope in the quest for digital accessibility. However, the effectiveness of these overlay solutions is questionable. A few important points highlight their drawbacks:

1. They do not offer comprehensive solutions

Only about 30% of the issues identified under the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) can be detected by overlay solutions. This limitation results from the fact that most overlay solutions are automated and not capable of the kind of nuance and interpretation required to properly understand and implement the WCAG guidelines. For instance, a lot of widgets turn images into alternative text with the help of artificial intelligence (AI). However, these AI-generated descriptions are frequently neither accurate nor useful, especially for screen reader users.

2. Interfering with other assistive technologies

Overlay solutions can interfere with the tools and settings that legally blind people prefer and already use. Accordingly, rather than making access easier, accessibility widgets have the opposite effect- forcing users to adjust to a new set of toolbar options and creating barriers to navigating the website.

3. Security and mobile accessibility

Overlay widgets can expose security flaws that warrant caution when incorporating third-party code into websites. In addition, despite the significant number of people with disabilities who use mobile devices, many overlay solutions do not work well or at all for mobile users.

4. Widgets are not a legal shield

Lawsuits have not been significantly decreased by the use of accessibility widgets. In fact, the number of lawsuits filed in 2023 against businesses that used these widgets increased, suggesting that these tools might not offer enough defense against lawsuits arising from the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

This increase was seen the year prior as well, with nearly 600 lawsuits filed against businesses that used overlay widgets in 2022, a 50% increase from 2021. So, despite claims that accessibility widgets comply with the ADA and protect companies from lawsuits, the data suggests that depending solely on these widgets is not a shield from liability, a fact confirmed by legal experts in digital ADA cases. In fact, the use of these widgets may actually expose companies to additional legal risks.

5. Widgets fail to meet blind users’ needs

Despite the promise of providing a simple solution for ADA compliance, accessibility widgets frequently fall short of adequately serving the needs of legally blind users. They function more as a band-aid approach, ignoring the complex requirements of true digital accessibility.

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