Accessibility Overlays – Both sides of the debate

30 June 2021
by Natasha Christensen

Accessibility overlays are a hot topic at the moment and the pros and cons are just as hotly debated.

Most of the opinions are that they are not a good idea but as the old saying goes there are two sides to every story and it has always been our motto to remain as objective as possible to give our clients balanced advice.

What are accessibility overlays?

For the uninitiated, accessibility overlays are tools that are automated and claim to be software solutions that can detect and fix web accessibility issues. They generally work by modifying the code of a web page with JavaScript and they can be a toolbar, plugin, app, or widget. 

As one observer said “It is important to note that overlays do not typically make any changes to the website’s source code. Instead, they can detect some basic accessibility issues, such as colour contrast and text size, and make modifications.”

There are some customised overlay solutions available that promise to address the shortcomings of your specific publishing system in a better way than the generic overlay tools. Although they are specific to your site’s code, they still don’t alter the source code. In layman’s terms, this could be clarified by pointing out that accessibility overlays don’t fix the issues but rather alter the user experience if they choose to turn the overlay on. 

The pros

Overlays are popular because businesses need a fast and cost-effective solution to accessibility compliance. One case in point was in 2016 when Domino’s was sued for failure to make their website and mobile app accessible with assistive technology. Despite a supreme court appeal on the basis that there was no clarity on how to make their services accessible, they lost. 

Businesses know their websites must be accessible, but they generally lack the money or know-how to properly address accessibility issues. They turn to overlay tools as a quick fix solution to avoid getting sued, but this is a mistake.

The cons

The problem is that the quick fix solutions that accessibility overlay tools offer do not make businesses fully compliant. They are dangerous as a long term solution because they engender a false sense of security and still leave many companies open to potential lawsuits. 

Apart from the legal issues, there are 2 more significant problems…

  • The disabled – Overlays don’t solve accessibility issues in the source code, so the disabled may be unable to navigate the website and access information properly.  Remember that overlays can be likened to giving users with a disability a side door. What we should actually be doing is making sure that they have the same access as everyone else. This makes your site inclusive  – and not discriminatory! 
  • Their failure to adapt to any user’s specific assistive technology, such as screen readers, means the overlays can override existing settings. So those relying on assistive technology and already have their devices and browsers configured to their specified settings may have to use the overlay!


Web accessibility can be a pleasure and a solution 

The best solution is to ensure your web pages are compliant with Web Accessibility best practices. You wouldn’t build barriers around your business, so why put them up on your website?

At Little Forest, we understand the importance of Web Accessibility, which is why we work with you to flag up any problem areas and allow your users to have the easiest journey possible.

The Little Forest Accessibility tool gives you instant reports on how your pages perform against all major standards including WCAG 2.1, 2.0, Section 508 and many more. With a market-leading on page view, you can easily see exactly where your errors are on the page with helpful tips for getting them amended.

Talk to us today about cost-effective web accessibility solutions that really work.
Stay safe – and stay compliant!

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