Accessibility overlays alter the website experience of people that use assistive technology, which makes websites that use overlays less accessible for users living with disabilities.
What is an accessibility overlay?
Overlays do exactly as their name describes. They lie on top of your website to apply some (not all) elements of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).
How do overlays work?
Overlays alter the website experience of users with disabilities by routing them into the overlay when they detect their assistive technology devices, such as screen readers.
What is little understood is that they don’t allow people to use the assistive technology they’ve come to rely upon every day. They also have a steep learning curve.
Do accessibility overlays guarantee you won’t be sued?
The biggest controversy about accessibility overlays is that they claim to make your website both WCAG and legally compliant. However, this is not true.
Experts across the field of digital accessibility have proved this. As a result, it is now being highlighted in a growing number of court cases involving small and large businesses, nonprofits, and even government agencies.
Additionally, our team is seeing more clients who come to us after buying overlays. Believing what they were “fully WCAG compliant,” they are stunned to receive reports from attorneys demonstrating that they are not.
More importantly, accessibility overlays drain resources away from true accessibility compliance efforts. This point was made by Charles Hall, Domain and Inclusive Design Expert with CVS, at the Accessibility MeetUps we sponsor:
“Overlay products are essentially a misdirection. They’re using the marketing claim of compliance to convince organizations to invest in a recurring subscription fee to a software as a service platform. And that investment diverts funds from accessibility issues. More importantly, it deprioritizes other forms of investment in making sure web and other digital content is actually accessible.”
Accessibility overlay marketing uses overwhelm and fear
What we find most interesting about accessibility overlays is the way they are marketed. As if sensing their own shortcomings, overlay companies flood the market by dominating keyword spaces tied to digital accessibility. Train your search engine on “WCAG” or “accessibility” and you’ll see what we mean.
And overlay companies are aggressive. Digital accessibility experts and advocates for the digital rights of people with disabilities pay a price when they speak out about the ineffectiveness of these products.
And they don’t stop at their professional opponents. Even their potential customers are also targets for fear-based marketing tactics.
Just last week we met with a potential client who came to us simply because of the way an overlay company approached her to market their services. “The communication was threatening, as if to say, ‘if you don’t use our service, we’re going to smash your windows.’ There is no way we’re going to comply with a ransom demand.”
Additional reading on overlays
From the Lainey Finegold legal blog: Should I Use An Accessibility Overlay?
From WeCo’s Team of Accessibility Professionals living with disabilities: