5 Common Myths About Accessibility Overlays

Myth: Adding an accessibility overlay to my website will help prevent my business from litigation.

Based on our recently discovered learnings at the Accessibility Plus conference, the resounding answer is, “No.”

Why? Fully automated testing using an overlay cannot be done. To get a full scope of what issues may exist for any given website, you’ll need actual people with disabilities and a web team to do the work.

Many overlay companies will claim that they fix most or all accessibility issues automatically. But, what it is actually doing is amending HTML elements using an overlayed component that serves the user an edited version of the code from a third-party server. Technically, if you removed the widget – the issues will remain in the source code, unchanged.

Why we are changing our position on accessibility overlays:

Because a community of well-educated people educated us, and we listened.

It all started with good intentions. We want to help people. The people we help want to help other people.

To summarize, the overlay companies are fueling fear of litigation to small business owners and those who manage their websites. They may claim they are protecting us from lawsuits, but that’s simply not true. They are mostly created to be a sexy, low-cost alternative. Businesses still get sued. And the companies who own the widgets get sued as well.

But it put us all in a tough situation, especially because most of our businesses are built on trust. One misstep – and we thought the worst.

But as we learn more and more about accessibility, what it means for people with disabilities, and how recent litigation has been affecting websites – we are fully on board to make changes, adapt, and do the right thing.

Myth: I will receive a demand letter from the claimant’s law firm before being sued.

They can just sue you, and by law, do not need to notify you first. Demand letters are actually a courtesy.

Myth: Most claims are pursued by serial ADA lawsuit firms.

Take the ADP case, for example. In 2020, Automatic Data Processing, Inc. (ADP), was sued by Lighthouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired of San Francisco (Lighthouse-SF) for failing to make its software accessible to assistive technology used by employees. Lighthouse-SF alleged that ADP ignored requests to accommodate assistive technology used by its employees, such as screen readers and screen magnification software, and “provided only hollow assurances and failed to resolve them.”

This lawsuit was not filed by a serial filer or a cookie-cutter company. It’s expected to last 4-5 years before it’s resolved.

Myth: Overlays help disabled persons use your website.

Unfortunately, overlays can remove the connection between the user and their assistive technology. People who really need a solution like this, don’t want this because they have no control.

How it works without an overlay:

  • user is in control
  • they are able to use their assistive technology, fine-tuned with personalized settings
how it works without an accessibility overlay

This image shows the flow of communication from a user through assisted technology and back to the user again.


How it works with an overlay:

It becomes problematic when the communities that these widgets are supposed to serve, actually make their experience worse. For people with disabilities, overlays do NOT do a good job for them. Especially the blind community. (Most lawsuits are from blind communities.)

  • once you add an overlay, the user is forced to use the overlay as the communicator taking their own assistive technology out of the equation
how it works with an accessibility overlay

This image depicts the breakdown in the flow of communication when an accessibility overlay is used.


Survey: Overlay, Plugin, Widget Effectiveness

webaim accessibility survey results - pie chart showing results ranging from not at all effective to effective

WebAIM, a leading provider of web accessibility expertise, asked, “How would you rate the effectiveness of web accessibility overlays, plugins, or widgets that automate accessibility changes in web pages?” in a survey sent to web accessibility practitioners.

They found that “a strong majority (67%) of respondents rate these tools as not at all or not very effective. Respondents with disabilities were even less favorable with 72% rating them not at all or not very effective.”



Myth: Overlays are secure.

Most overlay companies actually broadly disclaim any responsibility for privacy and security. This information is usually buried in a Terms of Service agreement.

Anything you put on your website, you are responsible for. If the code is storing information in an inappropriate way, you should consider that. Most companies that own the overlay companies are based in Israel and therefore their servers do not have to adhere to U.S. Standards.

There is no control over what goes to and comes from the server, so we don’t know where the server is, or who owns it. It’s unchecked information. Chief Compliance Officers will often say they’re worried about GDPR, CCPA issues, and because of the lack of control and information, accessibility gets lumped in with this.

If you’re concerned about how your website’s accessibility stacks up against current standards, we have a few options available for you. Contact us and we can provide you with a free homepage audit or you may choose to purchase a more comprehensive audit. 

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