Accessible overlays aren’t accessible

Camryn Manker on 2023-06-27

You can’t solve accessibility with a single line of code. Overlays are deceitful and undermine inclusive design practices.

Photo by Franck on Unsplash

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Accessibility in an instant? It almost sounds too good to be true!

…because it is.

In an increasingly digital world, web accessibility has become a crucial part of ensuring equal access and inclusion for everyone, regardless of their abilities.

Unfortunately, some organizations have turned to accessibility overlays as a quick fix to make their websites compliant.

Image Credit: Silktide

Alright, well, what exactly are overlays?

Overlays are third-party tools or plugins designed to be added to existing websites with the aim of enhancing accessibility. They typically appear as a button in the lower right (or left) corner of a web page with the web accessibility icon on it.

Once clicked, a menu widget appears with various setting that users can change to (allegedly) create a more usable experience. For example, many overlays can change the color scheme of the website, make text larger, and enable text-to-speech.

While they might sound great in theory, these overlays are not only ineffective but can also exacerbate accessibility issues, ultimately doing more harm than good.

P.S. If you have any first hand experience with overlays, please share! All of my findings are backed by extensive research, but I don’t personally use any assistive technologies, nor have I implemented an overlay into my work.

At the end of the day, overlays suck. Let’s go over why.

False promises