The New York TimesThe New York Times

For Blind Internet Users, the Fix Can Be Worse Than the Flaws

By Amanda Morris

13 Jul 2022 · 6 min read

Editor's Note

Many companies use Artificial Intelligence software to attempt to increase online accessibility and avoid litigation—these tools seem to be failing on both fronts.

Patrick Perdue, a radio enthusiast who is blind, regularly shopped for equipment through the website of Ham Radio Outlet. The website’s code allowed him to easily move through the sections of each page with his keyboard, his screen reader speaking the text.

That all changed when the store started using an automated accessibility tool, often called an accessibility overlay, that is created and sold by the company accessiBe. Suddenly, the site became too difficult for Perdue to navigate. The accessiBe overlay introduced code that was supposed to fix any original coding errors and add more accessible features. But it reformatted the page, and some widgets — such as the checkout and shopping cart buttons — were hidden from Perdue’s screen reader. Labels for images and buttons were coded incorrectly. He could no longer find the site’s search box or the headers he needed to navigate each section of the page, he said.

Sign in to informed

  • Curated articles from premium publishers, ad-free
  • Concise Daily Briefs with quick-read summaries
  • Read, listen, save for later, or enjoy offline
  • Enjoy personalized content
Or

LoginForm.agreeToTerms