The four pillars of accessibility overlay marketing

Fear, Guilt, Inspiration Porn, and Pay to Play

Sheri Byrne-Haber, CPACC
6 min readNov 22, 2021


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Accessibility overlays are tools that detect and dynamically repair HTML accessibility issues in non-mobile environments. And what accessibility manager or product owner 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 lot too good to be true.

I have written numerous stories on what I feel are the negatives of using accessibility overlays, including discussions on:

  1. Overlays not being a valid solution to *anyone’s* accessibility problems;
  2. How overlays must have been developed by people who didn’t understand how people with disabilities engage with assistive technology;
  3. Reminding people that getting sued while using an overlay is now a trend that almost 10 % of defendants in accessibility litigation are experiencing;
  4. A recent ADA lawsuit settlement that involved an accessibility overlay;

The impact of overlays on customers with disabilities is more than just the immediate website barrier to a person with a disability. Researchers at Cornell just concluded that overly positive feedback leads to poor assistive technology. Put more simply — people stop researching because they think the bad technology has solved the problem. My conclusion is that overlays create both immediate and long-term problems, and much of that is caused by their misleading marketing. Here is what I see as the four motivating sources behind most overlay marketing materials.

Fear (Punishment) / Guilt

The Grand Dame of accessibility herself, Lainey Feingold, authored the article titled, “Fear is a Poor Motivator for Accessibility.” Her work extended earlier work done in 2012 by WebAIM’s Jared Smith, where he wrote that:

Guilt and punishment are the



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.