050: A Long Overdue Discussion on Accessibility Overlays, Paperback Capiche?


In this episode, we discuss accessibility overlays, what place, if any, they have in the accessibility market, and our thoughts on recent industry shake-ups with the acquisition of UserWay and accessibility overlay by Level Access, a service-focused accessibility firm.

Mentioned in This Episode


>> CHRIS HINDS: Welcome to Episode 50 of the “Accessibility Craft Podcast,” where we explore the art of creating accessible websites while trying out interesting craft beverages. This podcast is brought to you by the team at Equalize Digital, a WordPress accessibility company, and the proud creators of the Accessibility Checker plugin. 

In this episode, we discuss accessibility overlays, what place, if any, they have in the accessibility market, and our thoughts on recent industry shake-ups with the acquisition of UserWay and accessibility overlay by Level Access, a service-focused accessibility firm. 

For show notes and a full transcript, go to “AccessibilityCraft.com/050.” 

Now, on to the show. 

>> AMBER HINDS: Hey, everybody. It’s Amber, and I’m here with Chris.

>> CHRIS HINDS: Hey, everyone.

>> AMBER: And Steve.

>> STEVE JONES: Hello. 

>> AMBER: And we are going to be talking about accessibility overlays, and some big things that have happened in the news related to accessibility overlays. 

I can’t believe, you two, that it’s been a year of this podcast, which is exciting, and we haven’t had an episode about accessibility overlays yet. 

>> CHRIS: Shocking, I know.

>> STEVE: Yes. [laughs] 

>> AMBER: I feel like we’ve talked about them here and there, but we haven’t had an episode fully focused on it, and as I was planning this and looking at some of the things I was seeing in the news, I was, like, we have to talk about overlays, so here we are. We’re going to talk about overlays. But we also have a really fun beer that I am holding up for people. 

For anyone who’s listening, Chris or Steve, one of you have got to describe this label on this beer can. 

>> CHRIS: Yes. Yes. It’s got a picture of what looks like an Italian mobster with a pinky ring, and the name of the beer is “Capiche?” with a question mark. It’s an Italian-style Pilsner. Five and a half percent alcohol by volume. It’s a one-pint can, and it says it’s “a Pilsner you won’t refuse” on the can. Or maybe that you “can’t” refuse. 

>> AMBER: So this is sort of a realistic illustration, right? And then standing over the shoulder of the guy up front is a guy in the background with, like, a, what is that? like, a [inaudible]? 

>> STEVE: It’s called a [inaudible]. We can call it what it is, right? 

>> CHRIS: Yes. 

>> AMBER: I mean, he’s holding a baseball bat.

>> CHRIS: Yes, he’s got a baseball bat and chains and everything. Let me do that justice on camera here.

>> STEVE: It looks like an old-school comic book kind of art, right? 

>> AMBER: Oh, yes, it totally does. 

>> STEVE: Yes, yes. 

>> CHRIS: Yes, so this is Paperback. They have illustrated labels like this for all their different beers. They have superhero-themed ones. They have all sorts of ones, but it’s all like this kind of illustrated-style label, which I’m sure gets them good attention on store shelves. 

>> AMBER: Have you had any of their beer before? 

>> CHRIS: I have not. But it actually has an OK rating on Untappd. They seem to do a respectable job, so what they claim about this beer is that it’s going to be crossing a German brewing process, which is of course the Pilsner, with the English dry-hopping process, giving it a unique taste, so it should be light, clear, and clean, but with still a little bit of bitterness, and maybe an herbal aroma from the hops. 

So I’m going to crack mine open here. 

>> STEVE: There we go.

>> AMBER: Yes, me too.

>> STEVE: That was a good one. 

>> AMBER: Oh, maybe I can’t. 

>> CHRIS: Ooh, OK. Definitely hoppy on the nose. 

>> AMBER: Oh, yes. 

>> CHRIS: Bitter floral smell.

>> STEVE: Yes. 

>> AMBER: I wonder if it’s going to taste that bitter. Where does a Pilsner fall in relation to an IPA?

>> CHRIS: Sorry, just as I took a sip. I like that. 

>> AMBER: Steve, you’re into that question. 

>> STEVE: Yes, I have no idea. 


>> CHRIS: So Pilsners, in my limited experience because I don’t drink them all the time, should be less hoppy than an IPA. 

>> AMBER: But they’re close, right? 

>> CHRIS: Yes. I can’t speak with authority on this one. This kind of makes me think of an IPA, though, to be honest, when I drink it. I mean, it’s not as intense. It’s slightly less intense on the hops. But it’s light bodied. It’s not full bodied. It’s like a sipping beer. 

I’d drink this after, like, mowing my lawn or something. 

>> STEVE: Yes, it’s definitely light. 

>> AMBER: You’ll drink it anytime someone offers it to you because it’s the “Pilsner you can’t refuse.”

>> STEVE: Capiche? 

>> CHRIS: That’s right. 


>> CHRIS: I mean, let’s be real. 

>> AMBER: Capiche is Italian for “understand?”

>> STEVE: Understand?

>> CHRIS: Yes. 


AMBER OK, so as we know, on this podcast, I’m not a fan of IPAs. I don’t mind this one, so I think Pilsner’s are better than IPAs, if I have to choose. It doesn’t bite you as much as I kind of think of an IPA. 

>> CHRIS: Yes. 

>> AMBER: It’s smoother.

>> CHRIS: The other thing that I appreciate about this is, you know, some beers are a little skunky, right? This is very clean, very straightforward, and its flavor profile, they didn’t mess around. They didn’t do anything weird. 

>> STEVE: No. I mean, it tastes like a Bud Light or like a Miller Light or something. I’m not really getting anything special off of it. 

>> AMBER: OK, we don’t buy that kind of beer, so I have no idea what those tastes like. [chuckles] 

>> CHRIS: I would argue that those are going to be a little less hoppy, a little more watery. But, yes, I get what you’re saying. Like, it’s a very easy drinking, like, uncomplicated. 

>> STEVE: Yes. I mean, it’s not bad. I’m not saying it’s bad. I’m saying… 

>> AMBER: Yes. 

>> CHRIS: Yes. 

>> AMBER: Yes. It’s about five and a half percent, so as far as beer goes, it’s kind of on the lighter side, right? 

>> CHRIS: Yes. 

>> AMBER: As far as alcohol content?

>> STEVE: Yes. 

>> AMBER: Yes. This is interesting. It’s from California. 

I’m reading the label. 

>> STEVE: Yes. Really, it’s not bad at all. I prefer lighter beers. The IPAs are pretty skunky for me. [laughs] But I think you’re right. I think it’s like a drinking beer. Like, you mow your grass and have one of these, right? Like, it’s not bad.

>> CHRIS: Capiche? Yes. 


>> STEVE: Capiche? 

>> AMBER: You just like the name of it in the picture. 

>> CHRIS: I did. I like the name and I like the illustration. That’s what got me. They’ve got their branding down. 

>> STEVE: Yes. 

>> AMBER: Yes, I love that. I feel like I want to go now and look at their website and see what their other beers look like. 

>> CHRIS: It’s like looking at an art gallery. It’s like they’re all different, but you will always know it’s a Paperback beer just because of the illustration style and the bold colors.

For our gamers in the audience, this also kind of makes me think of, like, a Grand Theft Auto illustration, like you see on the covers of those games. That kind of makes me think of that a little bit, too. 

>> STEVE: Yes, totally. 

>> AMBER: Oh, Chris is a gamer, so that’s why he picked it. He’s, like, “It’s a gamer beer.” 

>> CHRIS: Yes. 


>> AMBER: Well, I like it, and, you know, it’s kind of funny. I’m going to flip our show notes because I just thought of a really great segue. [chuckles] 

>> CHRIS: I think I know what she’s going to say.

>> AMBER: Talking about recent news and accessibility overlays, and someone who’s going to beat you. There there was an update on AudioEye, which is one of the bigger accessibility overlay companies that are out there. They were suing Adrian Roselli for talking bad about them. 

Defamation or something is what they sued him for. They released a joint statement this week that they were dropping the lawsuit, and they agreed to pay $10,000 to the National Federation of the Blind. 

He has a statement we’ll include in the show notes on his blog, which he kind of talks through the joint statement that they released, and then he has a lot more thoughts about what the impact of that lawsuit was. 

Of course, he doesn’t say who “won,” but my assumption is if AudioEye is paying National Federation of the Blind some money, then that means he won and they didn’t. 

>> STEVE: Yes. For context, what was the original claim? 

>> AMBER: If you scroll all the way down to the bottom of his blog post, there’s all the stuff related to that, and the original lawsuit, he posted about it on May 12th, 2023. It was a defamation, because they said that they wanted him to stop making defamatory or disparaging statements about them. 

So he posted all this on his blog, and he kept being, like, they were sending him untagged PDFs, so a blind person couldn’t read the PDFs, and he kept being, like, “I asked them if they could send me an accessible PDF and they didn’t do it,” which is kind of funny. 

>> STEVE: Yes. 

>> AMBER: I don’t know. I think in the article where he wraps up, there was one PDF where he’s, like, “Hey, they sent me a tagged PDF finally.” [chuckles]. Like, throughout the entire case, he kept being, like, “Send me accessible PDFs, please,” and they didn’t do it. I think it’s interesting. 

There are some other articles which he links to. 

Lainey Feingold has written a bit about this. There was an overlay company in France called [inaudible] or something, however you pronounce that, that was suing an accessibility expert there who also had spoken out about their product. 

So this is something that’s happening. I think overlay companies are trying to fight back about the negative press that they get online. 

>> STEVE: Yes. 

>> AMBER: But I don’t know. To me, I’m just, like, suing, I don’t think helps them. I don’t think it helps their case to sue people. 

>> STEVE: No. No. We’ve talked about this before. You’re just making lawyers rich, right? And that’s money that can’t go to making the web more accessible, right? Or developing product and… 

>> AMBER: Yes. 

>> STEVE: Yes. 

>> AMBER: So in his post, one of the things that Adrian said when he was talking about the impact was – in my words, not his – even though he won, there is still negative impact. He got comments from people, including someone he quotes there who was doing research for a master’s thesis, and the research subjects that he was talking to were, like, “Don’t use our name,” like, they were afraid because they had heard about this lawsuit against Adrian. 

I do think that the downside is maybe these can’t actually proceed as defamation and they won’t win in court, but they still do something where it makes people afraid, because you still have to pay an attorney to help you respond. 

>> STEVE: Yes. 

>> AMBER: Have you guys thought about that, like, in our business, and whether we should be worried about that at all? 

>> STEVE: Worried about somebody calling us out? Is that, like… 

>> AMBER: No, no, the other way around. I mean, we don’t have a crappy overlay product, so I’m not really worried about us, and our testing tool literally says in multiple places, like, you still have to do manual testing. 

I think the biggest thing with overlay companies is that they’re not honest. 

>> STEVE: Yes, they claim a one-click fix, right? 

>> CHRIS: Yes. It’s the technology, and the deceptive marketing associated with the technology. If they were honest about their technology and their marketing, I think most people or fewer people at least would have a problem with it. There might still be people complaining and saying, “Hey, your tool doesn’t work very well.” But they wouldn’t be able to say they’re lying about their tools, if the marketing were honest. 

>> STEVE: Yes, but were you asking if are we afraid to speak out? 

>> AMBER: Yes. 

>> STEVE: You know, afraid of like something witch-y just coming against us? I mean, honestly, like, maybe. [chuckles] I don’t want to be sued, right? That would divert our attention and our efforts and our money away from what we really want to be doing, and that’s developing the Accessibility Checker product, right? That’s where we want our focus to be, so it would definitely be a huge distraction, right? 

>> AMBER: Yes. 

>> CHRIS: Yes. Look at the whole “everybody lost” section on the Adrian Roselli’s blog. right? It’s not just the cost of paying lawyers to defend against a SLAPP suit. It’s also the lost focus, lost revenue, loss of people, potentially. There are so many hidden costs. 

>> AMBER: Yes, he was talking about how he used to sponsor events or go to events, and he’s, like, “I have no idea how much this is going to cost me.” So he just stopped doing all that last year, so all those events that lost out on him being a speaker or a potential sponsor or any of those things. Yes. 

So the Overlay Fact Sheet, which we’ve mentioned on this podcast before, “OverlayFactSheet.com,” is a website that Karl Groves put together. It talks about what web accessibilities are. It list names of common ones, or really popular ones. It talks about strengths and weaknesses, and shares comments from users, and tries to provide more well-rounded information about what they can or cannot do, and lists a lot of information from users about problems that they’ve had on websites with overlays, and you can sign that. 

You have to figure out how to [inaudible] it on GitHub because you have to sign it via GitHub, so it’s probably easier for a developer to do than a non-technical person. But I’ve thought about that, and I haven’t signed it yet. I share this website all the time in talks, but I haven’t put my name on this website, and I will say part of why I haven’t.., and probably there’s people listening to this who are going to get mad at me, and be mad that I haven’t put my name on this website. But I have wondered about that, like, what’s the repercussion in the long run, right? And hearing when Adrian first posted about being sued last year, I definitely thought more carefully about how I talk about overlays in the talks I have given between that time last year and now. 

>> STEVE: Plus the majority of your talks, you’re not out there independently doing. You’re representing our company. 

>> AMBER: Yes. 

>> STEVE: So I think a bit of caution is good there. I mean, I think at the same, you can get into the big overall, like… Does the back and forth between the people that will call out overlays and then the overlays that are sued, the people calling them out, is any of that really any good? 

I try not to dive into that. I just try to work on making the product and making things accessible, right? Correct me if I’m wrong, like, overlays, it’s like $35 a month, right? And people think that they’re just fixing… You know, “I installed this…” 

>> AMBER: It’s magic. 

>> STEVE: It’s magic. “I put this JavaScript code on my website and it fixes everything.” It creates this ugly toolbar thing on the front-end that users can…” 

>> AMBER: That no one probably uses. 

>> STEVE: Yes, that users can make your website look completely crazy, right? Yes, that nobody uses. 

I’ve had a lot of conversations at conferences and stuff with people about overlays, and when we start to have a conversation with them about our product and our services, a lot of them are like, “Well, I got this overlay and I’m using it,” you know, and a lot of people would jump on an overlay, right? It’s, like, “We hate overlays.” 

I think from that person’s standpoint, like that independent web developer that’s trying to look for a solution, he’s not necessarily doing the wrong thing. He’s seeking out… 

>> AMBER: Like, from an intent standpoint. 

>> STEVE: From an intent standpoint. He’s seeking out, “How can I make my clients’ websites accessible, right?” And these overlays are big companies a lot of times, and they do a lot of marketing, right? So they’re probably being hit with a lot of marketing, and they’re, like, “Oh, well if I install this, then I can say it’s…” Right? It’s an education thing, right? 

I’ve actually seen it for a lot of people. It’s like a process. They start with an overlay, and then they think about it some more. Or people would say, “Hey, have you thought about the pitfalls of overlays?” And then they move along into other solutions. 

A lot of times, it’s a conversation, like, “OK, you’re thinking the right way, your intent is right, but let’s help direct that in an area that actually gets you more accessible.” 

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>> AMBER: Yes. I will push back a little bit because you’re saying you weren’t sure how productive some of the back and forth is, like, on social media, and I think that if there aren’t people like Adrian or Karl who are willing to speak up, all we would get is the one-sided marketing from the overlay company, so I actually think that’s really good, and that’s the thing that I’ve had a hard time with because I’m trying to figure out what this balance is, and I sometimes feel like maybe I don’t speak up enough. 

>> STEVE: Yes. 

>> AMBER: Hence me being, like, “How’ve we gone a year without having an episode on overlays?” [chuckles] Right? Because if we don’t speak up when we know something doesn’t work, we’re contributing to the problem to some degree, right? 

>> CHRIS: Through inaction, yes. I will say, too, though, to kind of walk the middle line as I do, that it also depends a little bit on how that back and forth is delivered from both sides of this debate, right? So when someone is just no-holds-barred, like, crapping all over overlays, and to the point where maybe they’re being a little unfair, like saying they don’t work at all, which is objectively false. They do fix some things. They just can’t fix everything, and on the other side… 

>> AMBER: And you can add problems. 

>> CHRIS: Sometimes… They can add problems. I’m not debating that. But what I’m saying is, on the other side, the accessibility consultancy side, it kind of gets to like a torches and pitchforks vibe sometimes with the level to which they go after them. At the same time, then the overlays dig in and they sue people, right? It’s these degrees of escalation rather than collaboration. 

I don’t know if it started with collaboration because I’ve only been you know loosely involved in the accessibility world for six, seven years at this point, and overlays have been around longer than that. I don’t know if back in the day, like, Karl Groves and Adrian and some of these other long-timers, if they had reached out to these companies [inaudible] and being, like, “Hey, your tool doesn’t work. Can I help you?” And if the company was, like, “Go pound sand. We don’t care. We’re just here to sell product.” Right? I don’t know how that initial interaction went. I just wish that there could be more collaboration. 

To that end, I feel like there was something that Karl put out recently that I thought was really interesting, and we can probably link to in the show notes. But he put out a blog post about the need for an honestly-marketed overlay tool, and how that would fix a lot of the problems that most people in the accessibility industry have with overlays. If overlays could be more honest about what their solutions can and cannot do, and the proper use cases for them versus just being a blanket, Band-Aid, fix-all magic pill, that it would fix most of the problem. 

>> STEVE: Yes. 

>> AMBER: Yes. I think your question about, did they go and help, you’re just showing your WordPress when you say that.

>> CHRIS: Yes. 

>> AMBER: Because, yes, in WordPress, we all go help one another, right? And there’s a ton of collaboration, which is part of what makes the WordPress Community so amazing. But at the same time, suggesting that an accessibility consultant should volunteer for some of these our very large companies… Like, accessiBe is venture funded for millions or billions of dollars. I can’t remember, but it’s a lot, right? And so it’s, like, is it really the fault of the people who didn’t volunteer to help them? Or is it that they haven’t bothered to pay people who actually know what they’re doing to test their stuff? 

I mean, I’ll say this on accessiBe, and they’re the one that I do sometimes call out in my talks. I haven’t looked recently, but for years, they had a demo of their product where you could click and go to a fake E-commerce website, and the toolbar would be there, so you could play around and see what it’s like for a user, right? 

They had configured their product demo so that the toolbar, it was on, like, an e-commerce website for women, and so it was, like, light pink and white, and it failed color contrast. 

So I was just, like, any human being who has read Web Content Accessibility Guidelines would know that this right here is an accessibility violation, and yet it’s set as a demo. Who knows? It might even still be there. It’s a demo on their website for years. Like, that right there to me is, like, “Are you even trying?” Or are you just, like, “They were smart enough to figure out the AI bandwagon before most people did last year”? 

>> STEVE: Yes.

>> AMBER: Right? Most of us got all excited about it about a year and a half ago. They figured it out early and they’re just capitalizing, and they are, like, “Oh, and this is an area where there’s not a lot of competition, and we can make a lot of money.”

>> STEVE: Yes. 

>> AMBER: That’s the thing that I have a hard time with. When I look at it, I’m just, like, “This is an obvious failure.” 

>> STEVE: To like jump back a little bit to, like, you know how I don’t like to jump into these waters too much. It’s like when you talk about being part of the problem or the solution, right? 

Advocacy, of course, is one thing, right? But being part of the solution, I think, from my standpoint, is the path that I’ve kind of chosen, because we all have just limited time, right? There’s only so many hours in a day, and I think the path that I’ve chosen is that I’m going to work on making product that helps make things accessible. 

The advocacy part, I mean, it’s fine, right? If I ever felt the need to actually say something, [chuckles] which, a lot of times, I don’t… I’m not big on social. But I feel like there’s just so much more I can do, like…

>> AMBER: To make a difference in the world besides calling people out? 

>> STEVE: Yes, yes. It’s, like, you could pick and choose. I think it’s great that there are guys like this that are willing to stick their necks out, you know, risk their careers and their reputation for this, right? 

In Adrian’s case here, I think it’s been probably a net positive for the accessibility community, but it could have ended poorly, right? It’s a risk, but. 

>> AMBER: Yes. I think I did see somewhere… I couldn’t find it in advance of prepping show notes. But I think I did see one of the European cases. The court in Europe sided with the overlay company, not the accessibility specialist. 

>> STEVE: And to some degree, I wonder, you know, companies like ours.., and whoever’s listening, this could be a solopreneur or an independent freelancer or a company. But for a company like ours, is overlays our competition? 

>> AMBER: No. In fact, I know that we have customers who use our plugin and overlays. 

>> STEVE: Right. 

>> AMBER: They have an overlay on their website, and they’re using our plugin. My hope is that they are actually fixing things that our plugin identifies, and that maybe someday they’ll decide they don’t need the overlay. This is maybe sort of interesting, going back to what they can and cannot do, for people who have not tried them. 

>> STEVE: Yes. 

>> AMBER: Because I think one of the arguments sometimes for overlays is they’re a good temporary solution. That’s what people will say sometimes. Like, “Oh, you figured out your website is inaccessible. Put an overlay on it while you fix it.” And I don’t know if either of you have thoughts about that?

>> CHRIS: It may depend on the nature of the errors that were identified. Can the overlay actually fix the problems that are present? If the website’s a total dumpster fire, it may be better to just rebuild it accessible. 

>> AMBER: Yes, but let’s be real. That doesn’t happen next week. 

>> STEVE: Right. Right. 

>> CHRIS: Yes. 

>> AMBER: So would you put an overlay on your current website for the three months it takes to build your new website? 

>> STEVE: I would not. Just because I’ve had enough education in overlays that I’m just going to stay away, right? But let’s look at it from, like, if I had problems with my navigation, right? Because some of these overlays claim to fix issues with navigation, which, in theory, is something that could be fixed with an overlay. Or my website doesn’t have skip links, right? That is something that, in theory, can be fixed with JavaScript fairly easily, right? 

>> AMBER: Yes. 

>> STEVE: If I just had my personal website. I want to make it accessible. I don’t have time to work on it, but I can grab this overlay for $25 a month or whatever, I can throw the JavaScript code on there, right? I would not just throw it on there and walk away. If I was to do it, which I wouldn’t, I’d put it on there, I’d enable the skip links, and then I would test that it’s actually working. 

>> AMBER: Yes. 

>> STEVE: And I think that’s where people will go wrong, is they install it, “There, I did it. It’s accessible.”

>> CHRIS: Well, this is where the marketing comes in, in the marketing problem with overlay companies, right? 

>> STEVE: Yes. 

>> CHRIS: They spend a lot of time and a lot of money convincing otherwise well-meaning people that that’s all you have to do. You just have to put this code snippet in. 

>> AMBER: Well, of course. We all want the fast, easy, cheap fix, right? If there was actually a company like that, an honest overlay company, like Karl suggested, they would probably not have the market share that the companies who lie have, because if you were looking at two websites and you are not an expert and you didn’t know, and one said, “Our tool is part of the solution, but you still need to do manual work” and the other one says, “We’ll make your thing 100% accessible in 24 hours,” which one would you pay $49 a month for? 

>> STEVE: Right. 

>> AMBER: Yes. Like a human nature problem. 

>> STEVE: Right. Which is potentially impossible without human evaluation, right? 

>> AMBER: Oh, it’s totally impossible. 

>> STEVE: Amber, I’m trying to use words that are legal. 

>> AMBER: You’re not naming any specific companies so I think you’re good. I did shout out one earlier, so we’ll see what happens to me. 

>> STEVE: Here’s the thing that’s interesting to me, if I go look at XYZ’s overlays website, and everybody puts the logos of the companies that use their product, right? And some of these companies are huge. Like, Fortune 500 companies, are they really using these overlays? Are they maybe just using the toolbar feature of the overlay? 

>> AMBER: So that’s what we’re talking about, right? So there are two main ways that these overlays work. One is they add a toolbar that you could then expand the toolbar. 

I’m on the UserWay website right now, and I can turn on a screen reader, which is interesting. I’m not totally sure why someone who doesn’t already have a screen reader on their computer who needs a screen reader would want a screen reader, but I don’t know. 

>> STEVE: Is it, like, their own tool screen reader? 

>> AMBER: I guess so. Yes. I don’t know. Wait… Oh, no, that’s just telling me what the keyboard shortcut is, so I could turn on the screen reader. I can do smart contrast. I can pause the animations… Oh, let me see if that works, because they have animations on their website. No, I just paused the animation and the video that’s auto-playing still plays, so, whoops. 

Hide images. I changed the dyslexia-friendly font, right? So there’s the toolbar thing, which may or may not work. Their own toolbar doesn’t work on their own website, and then there’s the whole, they use JavaScript to edit the page as it loads. 

So this is something which I know we have a whole episode we should link to in the show notes about creating alt text, right? But that’s something where, as the page loads, they look for images that don’t have alt text and they try to auto-generate alt text with AI by guessing at what’s in the image, smartly, I guess, sort of. Not really, if you look into that episode. 

>> CHRIS: More like dumbly. 

>> STEVE: Dumbly. [laughs] 

>> AMBER: Yes. [chuckles] And so there’s the toolbar piece and there’s that. There’s a lot of WordPress plugins that don’t have the whole JavaScript. We try to modify the page as it loads. They have the toolbars, and my thing about the toolbars is, you know, a lot of that, either people have it… If you need a website to have really large text because you have low vision, you probably need all websites to have really large text, and you just have your browser default set that way. 

With Contrast, sure, maybe there are some websites that are better than others. But to me, fixing color contrast, depending on the website and how it’s built, that’s, like, maybe, max, a day’s work. It might be way less if the website’s built nicely with variables. 

So then it’s like technically it’s cheaper to pay $49 and to pay a developer to fix that one thing on your website, but over time, it’s not. It would be so much cheaper to just pay a developer to fix your color contrast, and then you don’t have to have a button that allows people to turn on high contrast. Just have contrast that works, you know?

>> STEVE: Everybody wants the one-click fix, right? But sometimes in life, it’s worth doing the hard things, because the knowledge that you gain in the process of doing that hard thing lasts a lifetime. 

So if you actually take the time to figure out why this color isn’t meeting color contrast, if you run WAVE or whatever, then you can figure out, “Oh, OK, now I know how to do that.” Or, like, “How do I make a modal accessible,” right? You do it one time, and you’re like, “Oh, OK, I understand the ARIA attributes that are needed for this, and where focus should change, and where focus should return once the modal is closed.” Like, you go through that hard process… I say “hard” in quotes, because it’s not really that hard. You go through that process once, and then that’s knowledge that you have for a lifetime, so why are we always looking for the easy fix? 

There’s a phrase called “Embrace the bitter.” And you can follow that through your life a lot. I guess in foods, a lot of times, the bitter foods are healthier for you because of fermentation and stuff, you know, yogurt, sauerkraut and stuff. 

In life, too, you embrace the bitter and it makes you stronger. It makes you better. It’s like we’re always looking for this one-click fix, and it’s not always the best thing, and if you really want to make a difference in accessibility, and you’re a developer or somebody that has the ability to effect change in a development company or agency, learning that is invaluable. 

>> AMBER: Yes. 

>> CHRIS: Yes, and it’s a skill that’s transferable between roles, between jobs, and you will serve either yourself or your next company or your next employer well by knowing these things, because you can keep them out of a world of trouble and, at the same time, let them reap the benefits of having more accessible things. 

>> STEVE: Yes. Yes, exactly. 

>> AMBER: So let’s talk a little bit about UserWay. On December 31th, Level Access announced that they were buying UserWay. Level Access, for people that aren’t familiar, is a company that has an automated SAS-ish testing tool, and they’re largely a services company, so they did auditing and remediation of websites. 

They announced on December 31st that they were purchasing UserWay, the overlay, that company, for $98.7 million in cash, so they didn’t have to bring in any investor funding, so they were doing quite well, is my assumption, as a services-based company, if they had that much cash just sitting around to go buy UserWay. 

Why do we think that they’re just looking for the money [inaudible]? 

I’ll link this in the show notes. The CEO at Level Access, he posted a big thing on LinkedIn, where he was talking about it and talking about how important overlays and AI-fixes are for the future of accessibility, so is it that the technology has changed significantly since these were first announced, and that is the future? Or what do you think? Do you guys have any thoughts about this purchase? 

>> CHRIS: I think that at least the position that their CEO took can be summed up in five words: Access today beats access tomorrow, so the idea that this CEO is proposing is that they can leverage UserWay as a quick fix while they do the real work behind the scenes, kind of like we were talking about earlier. 

Now, what remains to be seen is if it actually going to be marketed that way, number one, and number two, are they actually going to use that in the way they say, where they basically treat the overlay as a top of funnel to deeper accessibility services?

I see the potential there as a business person because that’s essentially what our model is with Accessibility Checker, except Accessibility Checker is a checker, not a fixer. But the tool, both the free and the paid versions, are inroads into deeper and frankly higher dollar accessibility services. 

So the businessman in me thinks, “Yes, smart move buying this company.” I hope that they live up to what they’re saying they’re going to do. 

>> STEVE: Yes. 

>> AMBER: Yes. He did say a lot about how he was going to change the marketing messaging. 

>> STEVE: Yes. Yes. I definitely think it’s customer acquisition, right? 

>> AMBER: Yes. I found a press release that UserWay had put out in August, so about six months ago, and in this press release, the title of it is that they hit 81% ARR, so annual recurring revenue growth in August. They anticipate that they’ll be cashflow break even. 

So reading through the details of it, like, they were cashflow negative, so they were still putting more money in. It said that their negative cashflow was reduced from 1.8 million in the first half of 2022 to 400,000 in the current period, so they were getting close. Maybe by the time they’d reach this deal with Level Access, they were break even. They had 6,800 customers in August, and their ARR in the previous year had been 12 million, but I’m not sure if it says what it is. 

It’s just interesting, because it’s like they bought a company that is barely making money, or maybe not, depending on how their progress went from August, and so maybe that is it. They were like, “Here’s 6,800 people that we know are willing to pay for some amount of accessibility, and now we can tell them why the thing they’re using is not quite good enough.” Not enough to make them cancel it, [chuckles] right? But to upsell them, and maybe that’s worth $98 million?

>> STEVE: Yes. I mean, the overlay wins here, right? UserWay is walking away with $100 million. I don’t know if they’re walking away. They’re probably still… right? 

>> AMBER: Yes, so it said that the head of the CEO of UserWay was staying on, and it’s still going to be its own brand. They’re not going to rebrand it or anything like that. 

>> STEVE: Well, I mean, that’s the thing with the overlays. Is it just the marketing? Would we in the hardcore accessibility community back off if the marketing became honest? 

>> AMBER: I will fully admit, I have not tried enough overlays to be able to, like, really say that they all suck. However, in the experiences I’ve had.., so for example, we had a nonprofit client that uses a Divvy website. They did not have the divvy accessibility plugin installed, which is free on GitHub, and they got an overlay because Divvy sucks. For accessibility, it’s horrible. Like, you couldn’t even get to the navigations or anything like that. The overlay fixed it. You could tab into all of the drop-downs. 

Although, the weirdest thing is, when you tabbed into the drop-downs, they opened up, and it shifted the entire header of the website down, so I was, like, technically it is more accessible. It’s also horrible, right? 

Literally today, I went on UserWay’s website and I randomly hit the… Like, I hadn’t done that before. I was just, like, “pause animations.” “Oh, they have animations. I’m going to try it.” And it didn’t pause the animations. 

So I’m just, like, if they can’t even do it on their own website, like, I don’t know… 

>> CHRIS: Yes, and it was like the first thing you randomly decided to try and it randomly didn’t work. 

I do believe firmly, Amber, that there is some sort of weird universal law of attraction between you and finding issues, that you are just intrinsically guided to them somehow. It is one of the great mysteries that I will probably never figure out, kind of like quantum theory, and what’s on the other side of a black hole. But yes, it’s not a good look when you can’t even make your overlay work on your own website, and it takes our CEO about 10 seconds to find something. 

>> AMBER: Yes. I guess no one wants me to do QA on their work. We’ll just put it that way. I’m good at finding, so that’s the thing. 

Then I also wonder a little bit about, like, what’s the performance impact when you’re… If a website only has a few problems… We’ve done this. We made our own effective overlay for, like, a WordPress plugin. We didn’t have templating. It didn’t have any filters or anything, so we just put JavaScript in the theme that [inaudible] will change it, and I think if it’s a few elements, that’s not bad. But what if you put it on a website where it has to change almost everything? 

>> STEVE: Yes. I mean, you’re… 

>> AMBER: That’s going to slow it down, right? 

>> STEVE: Yes. It’s always a trade-off. Everything’s a trade-off, right? Yes, we’ve had to do it with plugins like, for instance, FacetWP, right? Like, I want actual labels on the facets, right? 

>> AMBER: I think they’re better now. 

>> STEVE: It’s better now, yes, yes. We’ve had to modify some of those facets before. I don’t know if it was labels, because you can add labels. I think they have a hook for that. But I’m not sure you can control… I think it puts it in as a heading. I think it puts it in as, like, an H3, so I think I’ve had to modify that to be a label, and have the correct for… With the ID. But in that instance, it’s not really much of a performance fit. But yes, the more you add with JavaScript, the more.., and it’s a trade-off, right? 

Like you said, you went to one and it had its own voiceover built into it, right? That all has to load on every page. Or like a toolbar that can do all these things, all that stuff has to load on every page. 

Now, like you, Amber, I haven’t tested enough of them to know if you can choose pages not to load certain assets of the overlay. I’m assuming you can’t, right? That’s to develop [inaudible]. 

>> AMBER: Or you maybe could if you didn’t have a universal header that you put the code snippet in. 

>> STEVE: Well, yes. 

>> AMBER: [Inaudible 00:47:] not load it. 

>> STEVE: Yes. but somebody that’s buying an overlay, are they thinking that far ahead? I mean, you could potentially use, on WordPress, like, perfmatters to only load it on certain pages, right? Or use your own conditionals and stuff. But yes, it’s always a trade-off. 

Like with Accessibility Checker, it’s a checker, right? But that’s not to say that at some point, we won’t add something that, you know, and add skip links to your site, right?

>> AMBER: Well, we have our New Windows Warnings plugin, and that uses JavaScript, and it adds the warnings, so we do it, and I think there are some instances, and like you said, like, we’ve talked about, and we probably will add some things that we know we can do right. 

So I think there might be a tool or a solution that fixes things with JavaScript that makes sense. I’m not a fan of the actual toolbars. I think they’re silly. 

>> STEVE: Yes. [chuckles] 

>> AMBER: Also, I get really annoyed about floating elements. 

For anyone who’s here, if you have never zoomed a website into 400% to experience what it’s like when you have sticky elements for someone who is low vision, please do that. Go try. Open your browser, hit ctrl or command-plus until you get to 400% and see what it’s like to have that little accessibility bug or a sticky nav menu. 

>> STEVE: Overlay in everything. 

>> AMBER: Yes. You get this small, tiny little window that you can read content in and it’s not functional, so I don’t think that I would, ever if the marketing was great, recommend a toolbar. Just make the website look right. 

>> STEVE: Yes. 

>> AMBER: And then the other things the toolbar does, users can do with their assistive technology or in their browser or their operating system settings. 

We’ve had some talks about respecting prefers-reduced-motion and things like that. As long as you’re coding your website in that way, then it that’ll do what it needs to do so. 

It’ll be interesting to see what Level Access does with UserWay, and where it goes. I’m not sure that I think this is a good thing for web accessibility overall. 

>> STEVE: Yes, yes. 

>> CHRIS: Yes. 

>> AMBER: Well, I think we’re about at time. I don’t know if either of you have any additional closing thoughts. 

Most of our listeners probably know about the Overlay Fact Sheet. But if you haven’t, I always recommend going and checking out “OverlayFactSheet.com” to get more information about overlays. 

Of course, check our show notes for all the links we were talking about today. 

Anything else you all would add? 

>> CHRIS: I would encourage people to be curious. 

>> STEVE: Yes, yes. Be cautious of overlays. 

>> CHRIS: Be curious about accessibility. Yes, “cautious” is another word for it, right? I’m perhaps being overly generous, but yes. 

>> STEVE: Capiche? 

>> CHRIS: Be curious, yes. Capiche? 

>> AMBER: Steve is holding up his beer and showing the “Capiche” label. 

>> STEVE: Is it backwards? It’s backwards to me. I don’t know if it records backwards. 

>> AMBER: It looks forward to me. 

>> STEVE: OK, cool. [laughs] All right. 

>> AMBER: Yes. Well, thanks for the really fun beer, Chris. It is pretty tasty also. 

>> STEVE: It’s good. This is one of my favorite ones we’ve done. That must be that I’m not a very, like… You know, I like the cheap, regular-tasting beer. 


>> CHRIS: Tune in next week for Coors Light. 


>> AMBER: Uh, no. Well, wait, I will totally do that if they give us a lot of money, so Chris, find sponsors for Meetup. You can go find Coors Light and get them to sponsor it, and then we will do a whole episode. But otherwise, no way. 


>> CHRIS: Oh, man. All right. We’ll see you all later. Thank you for the conversation. 

>> AMBER: Bye. 

>> STEVE: See you. 

>> CHRIS: Thanks for listening to “Accessibility Craft.” If you enjoyed this episode, please subscribe in your podcast app to get notified when future episodes release. You can find “Accessibility Craft” on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, and more, and if building accessibility awareness is important to you, please consider rating “Accessibility Craft” five stars on Apple Podcasts 

“Accessibility Craft” is produced by Equalize Digital and hosted by Amber Hinds, Chris Hinds, and Steve Jones. 

Steve Jones composed our theme music.

Learn how we help make thousands of WordPress websites more accessible at “EqualizeDigital.com.”