Cautions on Accessibility Overlays

You may not know what an accessibility overlay is but you may have used one.

It might have had an accessibility icon, like a wheel chair. If you selected it, a set of menu options would appear:

  • An option to resize text.
  • An option to change the colors on the page.
  • An option to read the text aloud.
  • And so, so many more.

Some companies sell these overlays as a solution to all accessibility compliance issues. They ask you to insert these on web pages and online course materials.

Some companies sell these overlays along with education on improving accessibility. They teach you how to fix your web pages and online course materials. They advertise the overlay as only supplemental assistive technology.

The former is under investigation over false claims. Accessibility specialists have tested their claims using assistive technology. The overlays have often created more barriers, not removed them. They have also appeared in litigation. People with disabilities have identified barriers that obstruct their ability to use websites. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), people with disabilities have made complaints. They request web maintainers fix their websites to be more accessible. This means the overlay does not solve all the accessibility compliance issues on its own.

Why avoid using overlays?

Whether they are effective, overlays still add extra code to web pages and online course materials. This can still cause barriers including loading or information security issues. Many of the assistive technology benefits are already on your operating system:

  • a way to adjust color contrast on all content
  • a way to read the text aloud on all content
  • a way to adjust text size on all content

Granted, many of these solutions are not perfect. Part of the issue is still the underlying code on web pages and online course materials.