Overlays are not the solution to your accessibility problem

In the long run they will hurt, not help your approach to people with disabilities

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Image for post

How can you fix what you can’t detect?

The industry is largely in agreement that only 30ish % of accessibility issues can be detected through code analysis. That means 70 % of accessibility issues can’t even be *detected* via code analysis much less fixed.

  • Take an image with embedded text and make it magnify appropriately
  • Shorten a two paragraph non-navigation header into something meaningful
  • Determine whether or not a picture is decorative, for the determination of whether alt text should be null

Overlays lull stakeholders into thinking they don’t have to care about accessibility

This is a continuation of problem #1. It just isn’t feasible for an accessibility overlay to fix everything. But it makes the overlay buyer “think they’ve taken care of that pesky accessibility issue” and as a result, of course they don’t need to spend any more time or $$ on accessibility.

Overlay vendor’s guarantees are meaningless

If the seller guarantees 100 % accessibility, or they will cover your costs if you get sued, check the fine print very carefully. I’ve seen guarantees that took the form of an insurance policy good for covering up to 100K in legal costs, which is NOWHERE near the cost of the average accessibility suit when you consider:

  • Legal costs (internal, outside counsel, plaintiff’s lawyer)
  • Expert witness costs
  • Mediation / arbitration costs
  • Accessibility opportunity costs
  • Engineering opportunity costs
  • Settlement payment
  • Post-Settlement mandated costs
  • Tag along lawsuits

Overlays address the symptoms of the problem without treating the root cause

Overlays end run accessibility, rather than solving the actual problem.

Overlays never “solve” the problem the way the USERS want it solved

Overlays effectively force all your users with disabilities to learn yet another $#(*@$#@ accessibility tool rather than be able use their own setup that they’ve spent years customizing to their individuals needs.

Overlays only “work” in the web world, when the world is moving to mobile

If you don’t realize that mobile is more important than web, here are a few statistics

Overlays may impact security and performance

For an overlay to work, a call to a java script typically must be made from the top of the inaccessible HTML code (which is usually the home page).

  • Which in turn means your home page security and performance is directly tied to the overlay vendor’s security and performance.

In the end, overlays will not be sufficient to avoid lawsuits and legal judgments

Say you (or your boss) have gotten this far into my article and still wants to use the overlay. You are going to end up in one of two situations:

  1. (Likelihood of slim to none) The overlay does solve all the accessibility issues


If overlay tools were the solution to everyone’s accessibility problem 100 % of the time, the accessibility consulting companies who actually know what they are doing would have created them already. Instead, they are coming from little tools companies who have limited experience with hands on accessibility testing or defending inaccessibility in litigation.

Remember, if it seems too good to be true …

… it probably is

And accessibility overlays are no exception to that rule.

Blogger, disability advocate, nerd. Bringing the fire on ableism. A11y Architect @ VMware. Wheelchair user w/ a deaf daughter. CS, Law, and Business background

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