Overlays are not the solution to your accessibility problem

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

Sheri Byrne-Haber, CPACC

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Accessibility overlays are tools that detect and dynamically repair HTML accessibility issues in non-mobile environments. And what accessibility manager in their right mind WOULDN’T want a solution that does that? Write an annual check and presto change-o your site is accessible which means you don’t get sued. Unfortunately that’s a little too good to be true.

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.

How can an overlay:

  • Make an non-responsive website responsive
  • 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

Simple answer — it can’t.

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

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Sheri Byrne-Haber, CPACC

LinkedIn Top Voice for Social Impact 2022. UX Collective Author of the Year 2020. Disability Inclusion SME. Sr Staff Accessibility Architect @ VMware.