Toolbar Plugins/Overlay Widgets for Website Accessibility Aren’t ADA Compliant
(Updated for 2023)
There are a dozen+ “accessibility” overlay vendors that really want to sell you an instant-fix widget to supposedly make your website accessible.
Besides overlay, you may seem them referred to as any number of terms: plugins, apps, software, toolbars, etc.
What’s most important to remember is that overlays are sold and marketing under the pretenses of being as a complete “solution” to website accessibility.
These “solutions”, when activated, open up to a menu with some combination of the following settings:
- read page aloud
- change color contrast
- stop animations, gifs, etc.
- increase font size
- change font type
- change cursor
Oh, and not a single line of code will need to be touched.
You’ve probably heard and experienced the adage, “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”
This is another one of those times.
Three big problems:
- overlays don’t make your website accessible
- overlays are discriminatory under the ADA
- overlays don’t stop complaints (i.e., lawsuits)
Let’s quickly run through the reasons why overlays fail.
Overlays Don’t Make Your Website Accessible
To make a website accessible, you have to make changes at the code and content level.
An overlay cannot make these fundamental and essential changes. Rather, overlays can only make superficial changes based on automation.
This means your website’s code and content remain inaccessible — even when the overlay widget is activated.
For a full technical rundown of why overlays don’t make your website accessible, visit overlaysdontwork.com.
Overlays are Discriminatory
Including the fact that overlays don’t actually work, overlays create a separate and unequal experience for people with disabilities which is per se discrimination under Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
Overlays Don’t Stop Lawsuits
Overlay widgets are a result of sellers looking to take advantage of serial litigation by offering a low cost automated “solution”.
There’s nothing wrong with opportunism when value is provided and the marketed promise is fulfilled.
There is something wrong with the vendors sell a widget under false pretenses.
It has been proven time and again, through hundreds of complaints filed, that overlay do not stop lawsuits.
You can learn all about the lies and read through the documented litigation at overlayfalseclaims.com.
Note 1: “AI” Claims
What’s ironic is many of the overlay vendors tout the “We won’t touch your website code” line as a selling point when, in fact, this is what buyers should want and expect when attempting to make their websites “ADA compliant”.
Instead, overlay sellers want to extol the virtues of technology as to why manual services are unnecessary.
The AI card is the #1 card played by vendors.
What the AI card comes down to is overlays use basic image recognition software to describe images.
Let’s discuss this quickly through an illustration.
The alt text I added to the image was:
“Smiling woman excitedly looking at phone in coffee shop.”
Image recognition software will attempt to extract the objects it can identify and recite those. At best, the alt text from overlays might look like:
“Woman, phone, coffee cup”
That doesn’t accurately convey the meaning of the image so, in effect, the image is inaccessible.
(You can experience AI alt text firsthand by checking the automatically generated alt text on your Facebook image uploads.)
Accessibility Scan Logic
There aren’t any automated scans — scans created by the most reputable of accessibility companies and experts — that claim to flag all of the accessibility deficiencies on a website (they only get about 25% of issues per WCAG 2.1 AA).
So if there isn’t technology to even flag all of the errors, how can a widget exist that will remediate or “fix” your website to fully conform with WCAG 2.1 AA?
If there really was a game-changing product that made a website accessible, the DOJ would have certainly made mention of it in their March 2022 Guidance on Web Accessibility and the ADA post.
But they didn’t.
And they won’t. Because overlays don’t work.
In a Nutshell
Overlays aren’t meant to make websites accessible. They’re meant to sell website owners on the illusion that they do.
To be clear, there is nothing wrong with having a plugin or toolbar for accessibility — there can be some benefit. And some can help for specific purposes. (But just installing a plugin won’t make your website “ADA compliant.”)
I’ve lumped in many common terms because overlays are the source of tremendous confusion.
What I want the reader to take away is that anything that is sold as automated remediation or an instant fix is a lie.
There’s no “solution” even remotely close.
The best approach is to manually identify and remediate important accessibility issues.