Hackernoon logoWhy Paid Commercial Web Accessibility Plugins Is Better Than Free Plugins by@oyetoke-toby

Why Paid Commercial Web Accessibility Plugins Is Better Than Free Plugins

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@oyetoke-tobyOyetoke Toby

Software Engineer

Building website these is one thing, building an accessible and useable website is another thing entirely as it requires some expertise and use of accessibility tools.
These days you can easily build website and host it with a blink of an eye with just a few clicks. However competition is starting to build up and you would need to have an edge over others. One of the ways is making your website easily accessible and useable.
There are tons of tips you can employ to make your website accessible, however you may not have the luxury of time to go through these tips and apply them. Thats where these plugins comes in as they help you identify where there would be issue with accessibility on your website and provide tips to fix them. While some helps you identify the problems and as well as fixes them.
Web Accessibility plugins usually comes in free and paid (or premium) forms and some are either powered by open source or commercial tools. The choice of choosing a free or a paid plugins varies from different reasons and aspects and choosing the right web accessibility plugin is very important. Also plugins of choice should solve a specific problem or provide an essential features that makes your website accessible.

What Are Web Accessibility Plugins?

Web Accessibility plugins are tools that helps you make your website accessible with a few clicks. Some plugins like Axe can help identify web accessibility issues in your website and provide tips to and steps to fix these issues.  While plugins like Accessibe idenitifies these issues and fix them itself with an installable toolbar or scripts.
There are many aspects in making websites accessible and most of these plugins are able to make your website accessible and as well as WCAG and ADA compliant.
These plugins really goes  a long way as they help you make the process of making your website useable, accessible and compliance.
Like we have mentioned earlier, there are free plugins and paid plugins you can use. Free plugins as it name implies comes with no cost and you can use them as you want, while Paid plugins comes with a price that could either be a one time fee or subscriptions base.
Some of these free plugins are written by a person or a group of people making it open source and free to use. Most users would usually go for free plugins as it is free and provide free solutions to make their website accessible. 
In most cases, these free plugins usually get the job done and most people are comfortable with it and not knowing the consequence of trusting free plugins with Web Accessibility compliance. They only provide 20% of the requirements to make your website accessible like highlighting links, changing colors, text size and so on. Using free plugins is all good as it saves you money, however you can't compare the benefits you get when using a paid commercial plugins.  In the remaining part of the article, we’ll be exploring why paid commercial web accessibility plugins are better than free plugins.

Keyboard Navigation

This is one of the most important guidelines to pay attention to when making your website accessible. By default anything on the website should be something that could be conceivably carried out using a keyboard only. Most users with mobility disabilities, including repetitive stress injuries, may not be able to use a mouse or trackpad and many assistive technologies rely on keyboard-only navigation.
While most free plugins like UserWay claim to provide such features and make your website keyboard accessible, they don’t do it properly as expected. If you look at most websites using these plugins you’ll see that you can’t navigate in dropdowns, popups, and in some, the focus won’t be visible. 
However, commercial paid plugins like Accessibe, uses AI to analyze your website and fix keyboard navigation issues.

WCAG And ADA Compliance

When building an accessible website, these are one of the most important guidelines to follow as it provides tips to make your website accessible to people with disabilities and helps you prevent accessibility lawsuits thereby saving you money.
The WCAG guidelines explain how to make web content more accessible to people with disabilities. Web content generally refers to the information in a web page or web application including: natural information (such as text, images and sounds), code or markup that defines structure, presentation, etc.
ADA compliance refers to the Americans with Disabilities Act Standards for Accessible Design, which states that all electronic and information technology (like websites) must be accessible to people with disabilities. 
Making your website compliance to both WCAG and ADA makes your website accessible to everyone and you barely see a free plugin claiming to make your website fully compliant to these guidelines and laws.
Plugins like UserWay don’t make your website compliance at all and most free plugins don’t claim that as well. if you end up going for a free plugin that barely makes your website compliant, you are liable to get a lawsuit filed against you. 
If you are company, a lawsuit, could be filed against your company if people with disabilities cannot access or use your site. Even if your business didn’t intend to discriminate or exclude people with disabilities from visiting or using your website, you could pay thousands of dollars in lawsuits just because you rely on a free plugin to make your website accessible.
With, Accessibe or other premium plugin, your website will be analyzed and within 24hours they make your website accessible and compliant.

Screen Reader Optimization

When building an accessible website, ensure screen readers are able to understand and read through your content with no hiccups as most users with vision disabilities tends to use screen reader software and device to navigate your website.
Screen reader optimization is actually one of the key guidelines to take note if you want to support vision impaired users since they will be using screen reader to navigate your website. 
WCAG requires websites to be optimized to assistive technologies that people with disabilities already use.  People with vision disabilities will already be using Screen readers like Jaws and NVDA that is installed on their. 
Most free plugins like UserWay don’t optimize your website to be readable by screen readers. UserWay claims to have a built in Screen Reader to their plugin, however no one is using it or would use it because most of these users already have their own assistive software they use and they barely use UserWay’s reader that is if they know it existed. 
Accessibe not only has screen reader built on AI, but also optimizes your website to be accessible and readable by any screen readers like Jaws or NVDA.

Form Accessibility

If your website requires users to fill forms and enter details into forms, then you should consider taking this serious.  Forms are crucial components of the web as they help collect user information.
Most people with disabilities, especially those with vision disabilities, have difficulty using forms. Moving through form fields and providing valid data is can be quite difficult if the form is not accessible.
People with disabilities won't be able to use the forms if forms don’t respect keyboard navigation, their assistive tools like screen readers cant access and read out the forms and so on.
Most free plugins do not mention anything about making forms accessible and they usually ignore it which can be very dangerous since a lawsuit can be filed against you by disabled users who cant use your forms. Screen readers should be able to capture if forms is valid or invalid when used by vision impared users.
UserWay particularly didn’t mention anything concerning form accessibility, however, Accessibe not only mentioned but makes your form accessible by making your forms keyboard accessible, validating and showing invalid data.

ARIA Attributes For Dynamic Content

The aria-* attributes are HTML attributes provided by WAI-ARIA that help to make web content more accessible for everyone including people with disabilities.
Most of the time, you really don't have a need for this, your basic HTML is enough to be accessible and you’ll only use it when working with dynamic content in complex user interfaces.
Most free plugins, development tools already have this in place and most people don’t know that it only address a small percent of it and it needs an intervention from the developer to make it grow by a little margin.
If your website has a lot of interactions, dynamic content and custom complex user interface you should take this seriously as it determines if users are able to interact with your website. 
Most screen readers have issues interacting with Dynamic content and only use the aria attributes to understand the interaction. If its absence, not correctly labelled or using it wrongly, the screen reader will be confused which will end up giving the user hard time to use your website or unable to user your website.
Commercial web accessibility plugins usually take their time to understand your website interaction and uses AI and algorithms to apply where needed the ARIA attributes for screen readers readability.
No Support For Cognitive Disabilities
No free plugins have support or provide solutions to those with cognitive disabilities and can be a time ticking bomb if not taking seriously in the future.
Web accessibility simply means making the web or websites accessible to any one regardless of their conditions or disabilities. Basically anyone including people who has cognitive issues, elderly people, people who has brain injury and couldn’t understand the wordings, phrase on the web.
UserWay does not provide solution for anything of such since the solution to this is to provide an interface where each phrase, wordings, slangs can be looked up and get their meanings with just a click.
Accessibe plugins already has built in interface just for that. With just a click you can get meaning of words,phrase and so on.

Take Away Crucial Notes on Free Plugins

Like I said earlier using can look good at first since they are free and as well as increase your website accessibility by a small margin. However, web accessibility doesn’t just stop in improving the web design, changing colors, highlighting links or changing text size, its the whole thing.
Most of the lawsuits are coming from the blind user and the motor impaired - the exact users that the free plugins do not cater to their needs - Keyboard Navigation and Screen Reader Optimization.
All free plugins don't actually claim to make websites compliant. They only mention making your website compliant to just wcag 2.1 and not AA (required). These plugins do not provide any service such as assistance in case of legal action being taken against a business owner.
Most times when using free plugins, you would need to jump into the sites source code and start making changes manually which requires another skill or service entirely. This is something you don’t want as a business owner.
Some free plugins companies may do this intentionally and make your website not 100% accessible and compliance. So they can help you audit and fix your website manually and charge you a crazy amount for the service. This means that these companies are aware that their free solution is not enough, and does not make your site accessible, or legally compliant just to later charge you a crazy fee.

Conclusion 

We have explored why free plugins is bad for a website and why you should try as much as to go for a paid commercial plugins that makes your website 100% compliance and accessible.
Free plugins don't make your site 100% accessible and compliant therefore they put you in real risk of legal action and preventing people from disabilities using your website.

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