International Association of Accessibility Professionals (IAAP) position statement on overlays

Last fall, IAAP established an Overlay Task Force after increased concern from their membership about the activities of Overlay companies in the context of their membership in IAAP.

Earlier this month, that task force presented a draft set of recommendations to the Global Leadership Council, of which I am a member. After some wordsmithing back and forth, the GLC voted, and the resulting position statement and recommendations were passed.

Position Statement Summary

In particular, the position statement identifies these four obligations of all IAAP members:

  1. Uphold the reputation and good standing of IAAP.
  2. Act with integrity and be respectful of others.
  3. Act fairly and take responsibility for one’s conduct (including, if applicable, the conduct of one’s employees and agents).
  4. Act within the boundaries of relevant legislation.

It was critical to me that obligation number three call out not just members but their agents. Several individuals on the overlay payroll have blocked various accessibility professionals (including me) on LinkedIn. These paid “experts” weren’t interested in engaging in public, respectful discourse about overlay pros and cons with assistive technology users and others.

Recommendations and Progress

Read the recommendations here. Progress and action steps towards implementing the resolutions identified in the position statement are tracked here.

This is my TL;DR summary.

Eight recommendations that will be implemented largely in 2022 were made by the task force and adopted by the GLC to consider behavior by both current and future members. These recommendations provide some fundamental structure around:

  • Including questions about overlays on future IAAP certification exams
  • Preventing individuals and organizations who have made false claims from becoming IAAP members in the future.
  • Dealing with individuals and organizations already members who have allegedly made false claims and potentially revoking their membership.

What is the difference between false claims and false advertising?

False advertising is surprisingly tricky to define because it is a term of legal art that changes from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Concerning overlays, IAAP called out two specific false claims rather than focusing on false advertising that is dependent on subjective reasoning like, “reduces your risk of litigation.” Those are:

  1. You can’t fix your website accessibility with a single line of code.
  2. You can’t fix your website accessibility in 24 hours.

Why couldn’t IAAP outright ban overlay companies from being members?

Associations have to follow laws that non-profits like NFB do not. Because associations link multiple businesses together and involve communication between those businesses, antitrust law applies. One fundamental principle of US antitrust law is that competitors cannot join together to limit how products or services to are offered to potential customers. Banning overlay companies outright from membership would likely be a violation of US antitrust laws and at a minimum would invite expensive litigation when IAAP has way more important things to spend money on.

However, trade association leadership are allowed to ban bad behavior by it’s members, and can establish a complaints/ethics member review process. It’s up to the members to follow those rules or have their membership potentially revoked. The latter is the approach that IAAP chose to take.

This position statement was a lot of work, and implementing the recommendations is even MORE work.

Extensive surveying of the membership was conducted, and hundreds of hours in total (if not more) were invested by dozens of people, including volunteers and IAAP staff.

In law school, my favorite professor said the definition of a good compromise was “something that no one likes, but everyone can live with.”

This position statement and implementing the subsequent recommendations are a good compromise from where I am sitting.

Thanks to Samantha Evans for reviewing this article before publication