Web Accessibility Overlays

Web accessibility is not often on many people’s minds when they are building a website but it is incredibly important. When you have users who may need your site for accessibility reasons and a lack of accessible features, you might be running afoul of some very specific laws.

“The power of the web is in its universality. Access by everyone regardless of disability is an essential aspect

Tim Berners-Lee

As per the inventor of the World Wide Web, he has also recognized that accessibility is failing the “essential aspect” which he described back in the 90’s with a vision for an “open platform that allows anyone to share information”.

And did you know?

In many countries, including the United States, websites that don’t follow certain guidelines are subject to lawsuits from private parties. As such, it is incredibly important that you always include accessibility features when building your site or app.

One good way to start doing so is by using an accessibility overlay (sometimes also referred to as an accessibility audit tool). In this guide, we’ll cover what website accessibility overlays are, how they work, and some of the best ones currently available online.

Table of Contents

  1. Compliance Regulations
  2. Website Accessibility Statistics
  3. What Is a Website Overlay?
  4. How Do They Work?
  5. Accessibility Overlay Demo
  6. Benefits of Using Website Overlays
  7. Browser Support
  8. Limitations of Using Overlays
  9. Different Kinds of Disabilities Supported by Overlays
    1. Epileptic and Seizure Disabilities
    2. Vision Impaired Disabilities
    3. Cognitive Disabilities
    4. Neurodevelopmental Disorders
    5. Motor Disabilities
  10. Recommended Web Accessibility Overlays
  11. The Bottom Line
Web Accessibility Overlays
Web accessibility overlays

Compliance Regulations

Before we continue about discussing overlays, it’s important for you to know about compliance regulations. The things is, web developers often lack knowledge of accessible technology. They may be aware of legislation, but are not always properly equipped to build websites that follow guidelines.

Here's the thing:
Depending on where you live, compliance can be expensive and time-consuming, especially if you are required to submit your website for certification. Web accessibility overlays are now a solution that makes it easy to meet accessibility regulations.

For a website to be considered accessible, it should work for any person who visits it. Making sure a website is compliant with accessibility standards requires checking its content against known disabilities, such as color blindness or poor vision. These practices make sure that information is in text rather than images or using colors and contrast that are too busy.

Another accessibility feature is providing alternative ways of accessing information on your site. For example, you can provide captioning for videos and transcripts for audio content so someone can listen to a video without visuals or look at an image without needing any peripheral vision. The most common method of meeting these requirements is by adding an overlay to your site’s pages.

Website Accessibility Statistics

When it comes to numbers, web accessibility statistics and research have revealed that this is a serious issue that needs to be properly addressed and solved. Take a look at the latest stats below:

Stats from WHO
Stats from WHO
  • There are currently over 1 billion people today who live with a disability and this is equivalent to 15% of the world’s entire population according to the latest evaluation of the World Health Organization (WHO).
  • Over 40 million Americans have a disability and 75% of these disabled individuals use the internet daily based on a survey done by the Pew Research Center.
  • The number of ADA Title III lawsuits have been rapidly increasing from just around 2,700 in 2013 to over 11,400 federal filings in 2021. That equates to a 320% increase in in just 8 years as reported by Seyfarth Shaw LLP.
  • More than 51 million errors we found based on an accessibility evaluation done on the homepages of the top 1 million websites that were tested by WebAIM (Web Accessibility in Mind), a non-profit organization. That’s an average of 51.4 errors per page.
ADA Title III Federal Lawsuits Filed Annually
ADA Title III Federal Lawsuits Filed Annually

These latest stats reveal that there’s a growing need to properly manage accessibility issues of websites. It is also notable that there is a growing body of laws and policies about web accessibility so if you own a website or managing one, then you need to be compliant or in adherence with these guidelines to avoid legal risks and violations.

What Is a Website Overlay?

A web accessibility overlay, or WAO, is simply an automated software solution that lays over your original website and adds features that improve its accessibility. These overlays usually run in their own windows and can be closed at any time to reveal the site underneath them. Web overlays are great ways to make your website accessible to all users, especially those with disabilities such as blindness or color-blindness.

Using this new technology, people with disabilities can interact with web pages, even if the site does not have proper features built-in to make it accessible to these users. As the name implies, an overlay provides a base layer of accessibility. Overlay tools typically take the form of a visual element and work by modifying the code of a web page with a snippet of JavaScript. Depending on who’s implementing this technology, an overlay may be categorized as one of the following:

  • Toolbar
  • Plugin
  • App
  • Widget
  • Software

In a nutshell, it is capable of detecting compliance issues directly on a webpage and it tries to apply the best possible fixes on these detected issues. However, it is essential to note that overlays do not typically alter the website’s source code. Instead, they can detect and modify fundamental accessibility issues, such as color contrast and text size. These overlays are simple to use, making them great additions to any business or individual site’s accessibility features.

Example of an overlay
Example of an overlay

If you have a WordPress site or any other web property and need to make it accessible to all users, you’ll want to use this accessibility plugin. These optimized tools are used in order to adhere to certain compliance regulations (e.g., Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act) that require web developers and designers pay special attention to those who have difficulty seeing and reading on screen.

Here's the deal:
Web-accessibility overlays come in various shapes and sizes, with some providers offering both free and paid versions (with added features). Using an overlay allows a website owner together with its developers or designers to quickly check whether they have met ADA guidelines without having to spend money on expensive software or extensive certification procedures. More than anything else, overlays make it possible for everyone – including those with disabilities – to enjoy access to information easily and quickly.

How Do They Work?

A web accessibility overlay essentially works by highlighting each part of a page as your mouse hovers over it. This way, you can easily determine which sections have enough contrast between text and background to be readable. There are also a number of tools that allow you to upload a website or PDF, allowing you to see what parts of it are accessible and which aren’t.

If your vision is not very good, web accessibility overlays can be a helpful tool in helping you use websites effectively. Just make sure they’re used in conjunction with another screen-reading software like JAWS or NVDA rather than replacing them outright; some people might find their use more annoying than helpful!

This a new solution for achieving ADA compliance that has emerged recently. It is a new and advanced solution that is proving itself highly effective. Best of all, it’s also much cheaper than you might think. What this new technology does is that it uses software to reinterpret your website in real time, so that the viewers will be able to perceive the site in any possible way. This allows them to create a better browsing experience based on their preferences by selecting from the numerous features of your site while it is in accessibility mode. This can be done all by flipping a switch of an unobtrusive accessibility widget which is placed on every page of your site, providing easy access for all of your visitors.

An overlay widget on Lonely Planet's website
An overlay widget on Lonely Planet’s website

Basically, the code fixes your site on the fly so that it will be compliant with whatever browsers that are viewing it. In addition, the software is constantly improving and learning so you’re not just getting a one-time fix but rather a continuous optimization.

Website codes
Website codes

By using these compliance and accessibility tools, your website can be more user-friendly. These applications are familiar to those with disabilities and impairments. It’s important to remember though that all AI compliance software packages differ in that some provide an overlay function while others offer a more comprehensive scanning. Web accessibility packages come in many varieties and some even include actually fixing your code and insurance. Keep in mind that the amount of pages you have will affect the price of your plan.

Accessibility Overlay Demo

You might have heard about the numerous benefits and advantages of an overlay specifically for disabled users but haven’t actually seen a real one. Here’s a short demonstration of this new technology in action so you can preview its features and see how it works:

Demonstration of a web accessibility overlay

Benefits of Using Website Overlays

There are many benefits of using website accessibility overlays in your business, not just for compliance. They can save you time, money and effort on your web pages by letting you know whether or not something works correctly and also alerting you when something is amiss. When these overlays work correctly, they are a huge asset in making sure that your website meets certain requirements. Many people don’t realize that there is actually a difference between WCAG 2.0 AA and WCAG 2.0 AAA standards, but essentially AAA sets a higher standard while AA is required under section 508.

Overlay on Southern Ohio Medical Center's website
Overlay on Southern Ohio Medical Center’s website

First, let’s look at why a business would want to use a website accessibility overlay. This can be done for any number of reasons, but these three are probably among the most popular:

You want your site to be accessible by as many people as possible. By providing an accessibility overlay on your webpages, you’re able to ensure that your content is accessible and viewable by people with disabilities or special needs (people with vision impairments, color blindness or other medical conditions).

You want a more complete survey of your user base and their demographics. Some surveys ask participants about disabilities, others don’t—but we all know that disability and demographic information (age range, gender) changes how users interact with our sites. If we want to make sure we create websites with designs that really work well for everybody, it helps to have some insight into who those users actually are.

You want to provide better support options for your customers. By creating accessibility overlays like screen readers and magnifiers, you’re letting customers know they aren’t alone if they need some help accessing your site. It also means that, if something goes wrong or gets broken in your site, you’ll be able to see things from your customer’s perspective and identify potential issues before they become serious problems.

Overlay on Benadryl's website
Overlay on Benadryl’s website

Creating an accessibility overlay isn’t just helpful for your customers; it also has benefits for you as a business owner. You can increase sales because people who wouldn’t otherwise be able to access your products will now be able to do so without hassle. You might also avoid lawsuits!

Making sure that the website and its content are suitable with assistive technology tools like screen readers, keyboard navigation, and other input modalities is an essential component of web accessibility. Accessibility overlays keep hold of this by ensuring that webpages are set up correctly to work with these technologies. This usually entails the use of alternate text for pictures and ARIA characteristics.

Browser Support

Overlays would usually work on most browsers including Chrome, Firefox, and Edge. In fact, they run smoothly even on mobile browsers like Safari, Opera, UC Browser, Brave and Vivaldi since majority of the developers of this automated solution have made them responsive.

Using an overlay via a mobile browser
Using an overlay via a mobile browser

It’s also possible that the presentation or behavior of the overlay will be altered when the website is accessed on a device which has a different screen width, resolution or orientation. In most cases, there’s no need to configure anything due to the overlay being already programmed and coded to make the UI-adjustments.

Limitations of Using Overlays

It’s also crucial to remember that while the use of an overlay may have some positive impact on compliance with a handful of provisions in major accessibility standards, they have some limitations. For example, this kind of technology does not add captions to videos. In addition, they require to use also manual services for PDF and media remediation, and some of them may have conflicts with assistive technologies.

Some accessibility features are good intentions but can cause additional issues. Some websites or digital tools, for example, contain screen reading technology to help persons who are blind, have impaired vision, or otherwise benefit from hearing content rather than seeing it. Many people who need screen readers already do so and have a preferred screen reader for a given sort of information, web browser, or device. In this case, the supplementary screen reader may conflict with the native screen reader, reducing accessibility.

Different Kinds of Disabilities Supported by Overlays

There are accessibility adjustments that allow users to select the best profile or function for their needs. As per our extensive research, most overlays can cater to users who have the following disabilities:

Epileptic and Seizure Disabilities

Epilepsy is a neurological condition where a person has two or more spontaneous seizures separated by more than 24 hours. A seizure is an abnormally high level of electrical activity in the brain that may result in a range of symptoms depending on which areas of the brain are affected. A person who has this disability.

Content that flashes can be a trigger for epilepsy patients as flashing lights are known to cause seizures. It’s quite common to see any form of animations such as GIF, PNG or SVG, or moving elements using CSS or JavaScript and these are all capable of causing seizures in people with photosensitive epilepsy.

Pausing an animation with an overlay
Pausing an animation with an overlay

With the help of an overlay, it can automatically disable any content or element that moves or blinks. This includes animations and flashing content as it is recognized by the plugin as an accessibility barrier. Depending on your provider, it could provide a profile for those with seizure and epileptic disabilities or it can have a command or button to pause or turn off blinking, flashing animations and risky color combinations.

Listed below are the most common epileptic and seizure disabilities:

  • Simple partial seizure
  • Focal seizures
  • Complex focal seizures
  • Generalized epilepsy

Vision Impaired Disabilities

Visual impairment (vision impairment, vision handicap) is a loss of vision that causes problems that professionals cannot treat with typical means such as glasses or medication.

Vision impaired profile from an overlay
Vision impaired profile from an overlay

By using an overlay, it can make the adjustments for vision-impaired users so that people with degrading eyesight, cataracts, glaucoma, tunnel vision, eye refractive errors, diabetic retinopathy, amblyopia, strabismus, blindness, and other related disabilities can easily access the website. Users may utilize user-friendly widgets which offer settings that can be configured depending on how they can easily read whatever is on the web page, such as screen reader overlays, locations that provide haptic feedback, and setting adjustments focused on the brightness.

In some instances, bright light from a screen or other sources hinders people with limited vision from reading and causes pain. Some utilize an overlay or dim the screen. Backgrounds are essential for some people. Some individuals who want dark backgrounds also require dark text. Others, particularly many older persons who lose contrast sensitivity with aging, require great contrast between text and background. Some prefer dark writing on a light backdrop. Some people like simple color schemes, such as black text on white or white text on black, while others prefer complex color schemes. Others need to provide background and text colors. It must choose the background and text colors to give enough contrast without being overly dazzling. It can be due to factors such as weariness or illumination.

Cognitive Disabilities

A cognitive impairment (also known as an intellectual disability) is a term that describes when a person’s mental functioning and abilities, such as communication, self-help, and social skills, are impaired. Because of these constraints, a person will learn and grow slower than a typical person.

Cognitive disability profile from an overlay
Cognitive disability profile from an overlay

People who have cognitive disabilities, such as CVA (cerebrovascular accident), dyslexia, autism, and others, can make use of an overlay to concentrate on the essential components more quickly. When it comes to visual styles and content structure, a specialized profile can make the user experience better by:

  • Making use of appropriate headings and lists
  • Increasing the amount of white space on the website
  • Content “chunking” into much more manageable pieces
  • Breaking down forms into many sequential steps makes them more manageable
  • Creating a sensible reading sequence
  • Consistency in typefaces, colors, and the placement of page elements
  • Providing access to a keyboard

Neurodevelopmental Disorders

Neurodevelopmental diseases are a set of ailments that impact the brain’s growth and development. Language, emotions, conduct, self-control, learning, and memory may be affected. ADHD, mental retardation and conduct disorders are the most common neurodevelopmental disorders.

ADHD friendly profile from an overlay
ADHD friendly profile from an overlay

Some overlay providers have a dedicated ADHD-friendly profile. This specific profile significantly decreases distractions, making it easier for persons with ADHD and neurological illnesses to browse, read, and concentrate on the website’s most essential features.

Motor Disabilities

The loss of function of a physical component, generally a limb or limb, is called motor impairment. Muscular weakness, low stamina, a loss of muscle control, or complete paralysis may arise due to this.

Profiles for motor disabilities are also quite common in accessibility site plugins. It allows motor-impaired people to navigate the website using common keys and combinations like Tab, Shift +Tab, and Enter buttons on the keyboard. Users will also have the choice of skipping between items by utilizing keyboard shortcuts like “M” for menus, “H” for headings, “F” for forms, “B” for buttons, and “G” for graphics.

Motor impaired profile from an overlay
Motor impaired profile from an overlay

A motor disability can be any of the following:

  • Cerebral palsy
  • Muscular dystrophy
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Spina bifida
  • ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease)
  • Arthritis
  • Parkinson’s disease

For many website owners, web accessibility overlays are a relatively new concept. Even if you’re aware of web accessibility issues, implementing an overlay on your own website can seem like a daunting task. There are leading website overlays found on the internet. Its goal is to make the entire internet accessible so that everyone, with and without impairments, can take advantage of what it has to offer.

To help you avoid common mistakes and get started with overlays as quickly as possible, we’ve compiled a list of recommended overlays below. They include both free and paid options; even if you only use one of them, they should give you a great starting point for your project.

Overlay Provider Best Features Sign-Up
EqualWeb ✔️ Custom accessibility audit
✔️ Fully-managed accessibility service
✔️ Full AI remediation
✔️ Custom accessibility training program
Get Started
AccessiBe ✔️ Can install using a single-line JavaScript code
✔️ Intuitive accessibility interface
✔️ Full control customization access (advanced plans only)
✔️ Automatic audits
Get Started
Max Access ✔️ Accessibility statement
✔️ Multiple languages
✔️ Rescans every 24 hours
✔️ Detailed page-level reports
Get Started
UserWay ✔️ Easy-to-use plugin
✔️ Free version available (limited features only)
✔️ Instant accessibility remediation
✔️ Doesn’t require expert coding knowledge
Get Started
Equally AI ✔️ 5 accessibility profiles
✔️ Community-tested
✔️ Accessibility statement and certification
✔️ Automatic monitoring and scans
Get Started
  • EqualWeb

    EqualWeb’s overlays are designed for websites with medium to large levels of traffic. The software installer is streamlined because it only takes the form of a plugin. Plus, the plugin contains an automated algorithm that examines any HTML-based website and identifies 70% of possible issues.

    Once you have inserted the plugin, it’ll display in a sidebar where you can easily navigate all the errors using a remedial widget. When it comes to those instances where automated remediation doesn’t work, EqualWeb also has a full remediation package.
  • AccessiBe

    AccessiBe uses AI-powered processes and an interface which both work together to ensure compliance. It is a session-based design and UI modification tool that makes adjustments to meet the most stringent accessibility standards. It provides a visually rich experience that is more intuitive and accessible. Its artificial intelligence also understands contextual information and ensures that the content stays relevant while user navigation is handled by keyboard or screen reader. After the initial setup, you will be able to see an accessibility statement which shows your site compliance status visible inside the interface to all the visitors of your website.

    This is a great choice for small- to medium sized businesses and has transparent pricing. They offer monthly updates about ADA compliance so you get a better idea of how your website is doing.
  • Max Access

    Max Access’ software has several different components to help improve the accessibility of your website. It includes features like color contrast analyzers, forms validation tools, and many more. Max Access offers both quick, instant service as well as daily scans and updates from AI technology. This means your site will continually be better than it was before. The software has both immediate and long-term benefits, and can help users navigate your website better. It’s also different from other typical overlays or widgets that you might see out there.
  • UserWay

    One of the many things that sets UserWay apart from other services is their accessibility widget. It’s easy to set up, saves you time, and improves your website for people with disabilities. It gives web error audits too, but doesn’t allow for the automatic fixing of such errors. What is does instead is that it will offer you remediation tips. It’s also worth mentioning that their toolbars are customizable and give you full accessibility features for your end-users.
  • Equally AI

    Equally AI has a hybrid feature which makes it more efficient in making websites meet accessible standards for those with disabilities. You just need to insert one line of code to your website and it handles the installation. Once installed, the automated solution will run through your website and detect any accessibility problems based on their guidelines. Machine learning is used to produce fixes that web developers can use to make their pages more accessible. In some cases, this technology is combined with the experience of accessibility experts as a way of making sure issues are correctly identified and fixed.

The Bottom Line

Website owners may find the accessibility of their site difficult to manage, especially if they are not computing-savvy. However, there are new web accessibility initiatives that they can take advantage of. You can install overlays to mitigate accessibility issues with your website so people with disabilities can use it too. You’ll be surprised on how much improvement it provides!

Keep in mind that, currently, there isn’t a perfect machine learning algorithm yet available to completely fix accessibility issues. For now, these existing overlay services are the best way to meet your immediate compliance needs. They may not be perfect but they definitely offer a quick and affordable solution.

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