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A client I am working with wants to make use of an automated accessibility solution in order to meet compliance standards. Particularly, they've mentioned AccessiBe.

I've got no experience with such a tool. The client had been hostile to accessibility concerns until their legal department weighed in, believing (wrongly I know) that accessibility necessarily meant compromising design. They've got a particular disdain for blue focus state boxes.

They've settled on an automated solution for two reasons:

  1. They believe they can install this and never think about accessibility again.
  2. They seem convinced this tool allows "session based" accessibility, so the accessibility features they hate won't show up until someone explicitly opts in to them using the accessibility interface this tool will add to their site.

I'm curious about what this tool can do, but also somewhat skeptical. If anyone has used this sort of tool I've got a few questions.

  1. Do opt-in accessibility features as opposed to features enabled on page load meet compliance standards? This seems like a shortcut to me.
  2. To what degree are automated tools like this just ways of passing automated accessibility tests rather than actually improving accessibility? For example, AccessiBe says it will automatically generate Alt tags via AI image recognition... Not only am I skeptical in it's ability to get this right, it seems like this will just generate extra noise for people using screen readers, when sometimes the best alt tag is just alt="".
  3. Will this tool actually get around the clients concerns about design compromises, or will it just automatically put back all the things they hate? It looks like for blue focus states it opts-in as soon as you start hitting the tab key. What about text that doesn't meet contrast standards. Will it change the contrast, or only on opt-in? Links that don't look like links until you hover on them... will it even recognize that there's an issue, and if so what will it do?
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    I think you can compare it with using Google Translate to automate translations on a website that is offered in different languages. It works somewhat, but won’t be nearly as effective as when texts are translated with care.
    – jazZRo
    Jul 9, 2021 at 16:47
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    Automatic translations are also often perceived as disrespectful or offensive. This will probably be the same for these types of (in)accessibility tools.
    – jazZRo
    Jul 9, 2021 at 17:17

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AccessiBe, like other, accessibility overlays is a horrible scam waste of money. It promises to make sites 100% accessible. It not only doesn't, it frequently makes sites less accessible.

Regarding alt attributes, there is no way this can be automated. You can try it yourself in programs like Word which will offer to produce alternative text. It doesn't work well. Many images are supposed to be decorative. How is AccessiBe going to know?

There is a tremendous amount of research about AccessiBe on the site Overlay Fact Sheet. Here's a couple of recent news stories they link to:

Maybe 30% of accessibility failures can be found with automation. The lie that they can detect and fix 100% is ridiculous.

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    I cant even begin to mention how much I agree with this sentiment, AccessiBe needs taking to court over their practices and claims, appalling product, don't use it! Jul 9, 2021 at 17:28

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