The Trouble with Accessibility Overlays

Man in Red Glasses working on a Laptop at a Desk

I think it’s safe to say that the word is out: accessibility overlays do not work. In fact, if you Google “accessibility overlay”, you’ll get more results about how they don’t work than results about the products themselves.  And there is plenty written about why these do not work—and how they might actually cause you some trouble.  But how exactly can a business sell a product that doesn’t actually do what it says it does?  And why did these products gain such traction with businesses looking to improve their web accessibility?  More importantly, what does all of this say about the current state of web accessibility? 

The Ambiguity of ADA Compliance 

How can companies sell accessibility overlays if they don’t actually work? The answer to this question speaks to one of the biggest issues currently surrounding web accessibility.  That is, there is no official standard in place for ADA Compliance.  While most cases have referred to WCAG 2.0 as an acting standard, the ADA promises a certain amount of flexibility to businesses in regards to web accessibility.  This was a major point brought up by Domino’s Pizza’s legal team in the recent web accessibility lawsuit they found themselves in.  From a legal standpoint, and from a business standpoint, this creates a lot of issues.  Companies who just want to avoid getting sued can’t exactly just check a box and call it a day.   And companies looking to sell these accessibility overlays are making liberal use of the flexibility described in the ADA. 

Why Were These Products So Popular?

There is a lot of fear surrounding the recent uptick in content accessibility lawsuits. Companies are under pressure to quickly implement solutions that aren’t always easy to understand. These products offered—or claimed to offer—a cheap and quick solution to web accessibility.  

But when web accessibility is just about beating lawsuits, you end up with a subpar product—like these overlays—that misses the entire point of the topic as a whole.  Web accessibility can be a way for businesses and organizations to expand their audience and create more capable experiences for everyone.  And businesses that choose to view accessibility in this way will discover all kinds of benefits.  

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