AccessiBe and other similar tools are coming under fire after more than 400 accessibility advocates and developers signed an open letter calling on the industry to unite against the use of accessibility overlay products. These overlay “widgets” are technologies that apply third-party code to the front end in an attempt to automate repairs after sites launch without having accessibility baked in from the design phase.
A major part of the complaint is that these products are often marketed as quick-fix solutions that will make a website ADA compliant and immune from legal action. For example, the accessiBe website advertises the product as: “The #1 Automated Web Accessibility Solution for ADA & WCAG Compliance…A single line of code for 24/7 automated compliance.” Similarly, EqualWeb advertises making sites accessible by inserting “one line of code” to gain “compliance with WCAG 2.1, ADA, Section 508, AODA, EN 301549 and IS 5568.”
Sponsors and signatories have published a four-part statement condemning the use of these products as anything more than a temporary solution:
- We will never advocate, recommend, or integrate an overlay which deceptively markets itself as providing automated compliance with laws or standards.
- We will always advocate for the remediation of accessibility issues at the source of the original error.
- We will refuse to stay silent when overlay vendors use deception to market their products.
- More specifically, we hereby advocate for the removal of accessiBe, AudioEye, UserWay, User1st, MK-Sense, MaxAccess, FACIL’iti, and all similar products and encourage the site owners who’ve implemented these products to use more robust, independent, and permanent strategies to making their sites more accessible.
Accessibility practitioners are urging developers and site owners to abandon any overlay solutions they put in place, in favor of those that address inaccessibility at the root of the problem.
The document lists numerous first-hand accounts of people with disabilities struggling to use websites that have implemented overlays. Although the letter includes various products like Userway, EqualWeb, AudioEye, User1st, MaxAccess, FACIL’iti, and Purple Lens, nearly every struggling person cited accessiBe as the problem.
AccessiBe is one of the more widely known overlay products after the company raised $28 million earlier this year. It is also the subject of a cogent exposition on the dangers of using overlay products and expecting not to get sued, an article cited in the document. More recently, accessiBe gained notoriety in the WordPress world after WordPress.org removed a collection of fake reviews from the plugin’s page. The plugin is currently installed on approximately 4,000 websites. Competitors UserWay and EqualWeb have 40,000 and 1,000 active installs of their WordPress plugins but don’t seem to be as well known when compared to accessiBe’s aggressive marketing.
The creators of the document began adding signatures in March 2021. Several prominent WordPress accessibility contributors and experts are signatories on the document, including Joe Dolson, Rian Rietveld, Amanda Rush, Luc Poupard, and Gary Jones. Check out the full document for a more in-depth history of web accessibility overlays and why experts believe they are negatively impacting user experience on websites that implement them.