IAAP Positioning Statement and Recommendations on Accessibility Overlay Tools

What Are Accessibility Overlays?

Accessibility overlays are applications and coding that claim to detect web accessibility issues and bring them into compliance with WCAG without changing a website’s underlying source code.Typically taking the form of a widget, plugin, app or toolbar, they allow users to adjust the way they experience a website.

Many such tools seemingly offer a comprehensive accessibility solution that is scalable, affordable and convenient. Unfortunately however, when it comes to WCAG compliance, there is no overlay that will make your website fully accessible - not even close.

Who Are The IAAP and Why Are They Acting Now?

The International Association of Accessibility Professionals (IAAP) is a not-for-profit membership-based organization for individuals and organizations that are focused on accessibility or are in the process of building their accessibility skills and strategies.  

In recent times, the IAAP has experienced an increasing number of complaints from both members and non-members regarding misleading overlay advertising. This isn’t surprising though, as promotional and marketing materials commonly seem to willfully misrepresent the facts and exaggerate the supposed impact that overlays can have upon a website’s accessibility level. 

Indeed, a whopping 90% of respondents reported in a current study to have seen false advertising claims regarding the effectiveness of accessibility overlays. 

The IAAP has released an official positioning statement in order to address these concerns. In addition to this, a task force was established that has now recommended the creation of a Code of Conduct & Ethics Review Advisory Council. This Council will aim to ensure that IAAP members do not engage in misleading accessibility overlay advertising. 

To be clear, while overlays can and do serve many useful and helpful purposes, they cannot make websites fully compliant with WCAG accessibility standards single handedly and in some cases have also been found to interfere with the ideal use of assistive technology on the website. Any claims to the contrary are inherently misleading, as the reality is that current accessibility overlays are only capable of detecting around 20-30% of all website issues.

Understanding The Positioning Statement and Recommendations

Let's take a quick look at what information is contained in the positioning statement and what the recommendations are intended to achieve. 

The positioning statement outlines the following member obligations: 

  1. Uphold the reputation and good standing of IAAP.
  2. Act with integrity and be respectful of others.  
  3. Act fairly and take responsibility for one’s conduct (including, if applicable, the conduct of one’s employees and agents). 
  4. Act within the boundaries of relevant legislation. 

The associated recommendations, which can be read in full here, have been designed to crack down on any false claims being made by both current and future members and to provide some core structure and clarity around the area of accessibility overlays in general.     

It is important to note that although the IAAP cannot ban overlay providers from being members due to antitrust laws, they do have the power to ban them for bad behavior. What constitutes ‘‘bad behavior’’? Well, in order to understand this it is firstly important to note that there is a subtle but important difference between false advertising and false claims. Put simply, as false advertising can be tricky to define, the IAAP has opted to focus instead on two specific false claims that are not dependent on subjective reasoning.  

These claims are as follows: 

  1. You can fix your website with a single line of code. 
  2. You can fix your website accessibility in 24 hours.

As the above claims are demonstrably misleading, they should therefore be avoided at all costs by overlay providers who do not wish to jeopardize their IAAP membership.

But What About Monsido’s Own Widget, PageAssist?

Unlike most tools on the market, Monsido’s powerful PageAssist widget doesn’t actually work as an overlay, but instead makes changes to your site in real-time. It won’t make your website compliant with WCAG standards in 24 hours, or with a single line of code, but it will allow your visitors to customize the way they experience your website in helpful and engaging ways. 

PageAssist can be used to remove visual accessibility errors, parse on-page navigation, change the color scheme, font, font size, and more. We would never recommend using PageAssist as your sole web accessibility solution, but would rather encourage you to think of it as a handy and easy-to-use tool in your larger overall website experience toolbox. 

Click on the following link to learn more about PageAssist

In summary, the IAAP’s statement on overlays and associated recommendations represent significant first steps towards tackling deceptive practices in accessibility overlay marketing. Individuals and companies engaged in making false claims will find themselves unable to attain IAAP membership, and existing members can now expect to see increasing real life consequences for any such misleading and intransparent behavior. 

For further information on how to address web accessibility issues in the right way, click on the following link to download our Accessibility Handbook.