Desk with a monitor that says accessible

Are JavaScript Based Accessibility Toolbars a Viable Way to Meet ADA Compliance?

6 Nov 2019

The digital accessibility industry is flooded with companies selling accessibility toolbars that allow users to change font specific settings, contrast settings, use a built-in screen reader and other accessibility-based site adjustments. Many of these companies claim guaranteed ADA compliance, just by purchasing a subscription to the toolbar and by implementing it onto your site. I want to take some time to discuss this method of digital accessibility and why it isn’t the right way to approach WCAG conformance for ADA and/or Section 508 compliance.

Universal design is at the heart of website accessibility. The goal is to provide one experience that is inclusive and usable by all people, regardless of ability. Forcing a user into a separate experience to provide accessibility goes against the philosophy of universal design & digital accessibility.

What features do these tools provide?

The following is a general list of the types of accessibility features that these tools provide:

  • Font selection
  • Font size adjustments
  • Letter spacing adjustments
  • Contrast adjustments
  • Curser size adjustments
  • Keyboard focus enhancements
  • Built-in screen readers

While these appear to be helpful features, most of these items are controlled by OS and browser settings. People with low vision generally have their computers setup with their preferred settings, making website specific adjustments unnecessary.

What can’t these tools remediate?

There are a number of WCAG Success Criteria that cannot be remediated through an add-on accessibility toolbar. Some of the things that these tools cannot do are:

  • Create video transcripts and place them in the HTML
  • Create audio descriptions for videos (audio track that plays along with the video that describes what is happening visually)
  • Update the tab order so that it is logical
  • Change the site’s architecture so it isn’t locked into portrait or landscape mode
  • Pull text out of images
  • Update videos that have loud background noise that causes speech to be difficult to understand
  • Change the contrast of graphical objects
  • Lock keyboard focus into modals
  • Adjust application time limits
  • Change link text so it’s purpose can be understood
  • Add the ability for users to change or delete legal, financial or other data before submission
  • Add ARIA alert or live regions to status messages

Currently, technology doesn’t exist that can automatically remediate all issues related to these success criteria. For a toolbar to claim that it can do these things so your site meets AA standards is disingenuous. 

Don’t be misled into thinking that the best way to provide an accessible experience is to bolt on a toolbar to your existing website. At Accessible Web, we believe in fixing accessibility issues from the source, not adding them on through an alternative experience.