The National Federation of the Blind had stern words regarding overlay accessibility solutions recently and the impact has caused many companies to reconsider their accessibility solutions.

For many screen reader users, the National Federation of the Blind’s stance is welcome. Accessibility overlays have often been seen to dance a line between helpful and hindering and have never lived up to the accessibility miracle solution some claim.

In fact, even the best overlays can still only detect around 30 percent of all accessibility issues on a site. That’s bad news for users and for the companies employing overlays as it’s been proven time and time again, they are not enough to shield businesses from accessibility lawsuits.

In 2020 alone, more than 250 lawsuits were filed against companies employing overlays or widgets, citing a failure to deliver an accessible experience for blind users.

Providing accessibility for all of your website’s users cannot be accomplished with a quick fix. It requires a comprehensive digital inclusion strategy. So, if you’re ready to improve your accessibility to benefit your site’s visitors, here are three vital components you should look for in your next accessibility solution.

1. Ongoing learning for your solution and your team

Overlays bill themselves as offering a seemingly simple solution to accessibility barriers. Just introduce their JavaScript or plugin to your website and the overlay gets to work fixing the errors it identifies. Yet while the overlay conducts this process you and your team are left completely in the dark as to what errors are being fixed. This hinders your efforts to learn from the mistakes on your site and avoid them in the future.

Worse yet, should you choose to end your agreement with the overlay provider, the errors will return the moment the script is pulled. Naturally, these errors can be hard to identify because you never knew where they were in the first place.

Your next accessibility solution should incorporate lifelong learning by allowing you to review and understand the accessibility issues on your website so you can prevent those errors from reappearing in the future. It’s the best way to ensure your solution continues to provide the value you paid for, even if you choose to switch providers at a later date.

2. Pairing automated and manual testing

Automated testing strategies employed on their own will only get you so far. Uncovering the other accessibility challenges on your website requires a robust manual testing strategy.

Both testing mantras are at their best when paired together. Trust to your automated testing to identify errors within its capabilities and then turn to manual testing for a more comprehensive review.

Image that says: Automated testing can tell you which images on your website include alt text. But is the alt text any good?

In addition to checking alt text, manual testing also allows your team to detect other errors, including:

• Hidden drop down menus
• Unreadable tables
• PDF exclusion
• Improper tab order
• Issues with screen magnification

Your manual testing strategy can be handled solely by your in-house team, or you can utilize a manual testing service. Whichever you choose, make sure manual testing is part of your next accessibility compliance solution and strategy. Automated review is not sufficient on its own.

Step 3: Easy to read and understand

The findings uncovered through continual correction and your testing strategies are of little use if they are not explained properly.

Technical jargon helps no one.

Your accessibility solution should present findings that aren’t written solely for developers. The more these results can be written in plain speak, the more everyone has the potential to benefit and learn from the process. Remember, your accessibility solution should be delivering long-term empowerment and the language used to convey these findings is integral.

Lastly, don’t discount the importance of your solution’s customer service team and applicable self-help resources. When you have questions – and you will – it’s important you have a customer service team to turn to for the necessary answers or one that can direct you to resources that guide your learning. This team should be committed to the ongoing growth of your team’s accessibility knowledge and the rapport you develop with them should help you in the months and years ahead.

Finding your next accessibility solution

A truly accessible website isn’t achieved through the introduction of a line of code or a simple plugin. It takes hard work, dedication, and the willingness to recognize the project is never truly finished. Stick with it and select the solution that allows your company to achieve genuine website accessibility. Your site's users will thank you for it.