If you want to make your website accessible right now but lack the resources for the kind of serious revamp it would take, an “accessibility overlay” may take the pressure off while the work gets done. Though critics argue that these tools may not be a permanent solution, accessiBe feels that its approach is an important part of making the entire web available to everyone, and has raised $28 million to prove it.
It’s a problem often faced by small businesses: their website may not have been built to modern accessibility standards, and not only needs a deep dive by professionals to fix, but ongoing work to keep up to date and fix errors. This sort of work can be very expensive, and SMBs may not have the cash to lay out. This is not only a bummer for anyone with a disability who visits the site, but it exposes the business to legal action.
At the enterprise level, accessibility is increasingly becoming part of the development process, and startups like Fable and Evinced are looking to push things forward there. For those whose development budgets compete with rent and food money, however, other approaches may be desired.
What the overlay code does is scrub the whole website’s user-facing code for issues like unlabeled buttons, fields that aren’t addressable by keyboard navigation, images without alt text and other common accessibility issues. AccessiBe’s system does so with the addition of machine learning to match features of the target site to those in its training database, so even if something is really poorly coded, it can still be recognized by its context or clear intention.
The result is a website that works in many ways as if it was designed with accessibility in mind, fixing a lot of the basic problems that prevent visitors with disabilities from using a site, and providing plenty of additional quality-of-life features like improving contrast, stopping animations, changing the font, etc. The overlay can be automatically activated or manually by users prompted by screen reader text that tells them how to do so.