Overlay Fact Sheet: What it is and how to make it work for you

Written on March 17, 2021

At this point I don’t want to spend a lot of time explaining what overlays are or why they’re bad. I’ve done that a bunch and so have others and my regular readers are probably already familiar with the background. For those of you who are unfamiliar, please spend some time reading the linked resources in “Additional Reading”

A few days ago, I got together with others in the accessibility community to create the Overlay Fact Sheet. The Overlay Fact Sheet is an open statement providing a high level overview of what overlays are and what they can and cannot do. It also contains a statement which takes a stand against the use of overlays. As of right now there are 233 people who have signed the fact sheet.

The Overlay Fact Sheet is a statement of unity by the accessibility community as a whole (If you consider yourself part of the accessibility community you should add your name). It provides clear facts in an easy to digest format. It provides actual opinions of people with disabilities regarding their experiences with overlays. There are a variety of ways you can benefit from the Overlay Fact Sheet.

Educate yourself and others

While we hope that the Overlay Fact Sheet itself is informative, the resources listed under “Additional Reading” provide a wealth of detailed information about specific overlays and commentary on why they should not be used. Read, study, and share that information so you and others can become more informed.

Share it with others without fear

You should share the Overlay Fact Sheet with everyone who may be otherwise tempted to use an overlay. One of the guiding principles of the Overlay Fact Sheet is to focus on presenting facts without any undue attacks on specific vendors or products.

In the past, a handful of people in the accessibility community have received threats of legal action against them by overlay companies. While I’m not personally qualified to give legal advice, my understanding of defamation claims is this:

  • The ultimate defense against any defamation claim is the truth. So long as what you have said is true, it can’t be defamatory. Unflattering criticism is not defamatory as long as it is true.
  • The Overlay Fact Sheet contains 21 quotes from actual users with disabilities on their direct experience with an overlay. Quoting other people (so long as the quotes are used appropriately) is not defamation
  • The material content in the Overlay Fact Sheet has been endorsed by over 230 people. Many of those people are people with disabilities. Many of them are people whose entire careers have been dedicated to accessibility. Some of them are legendary in this industry. Others are authors and contributors to the standards that drive the Web and Web Accessibility.

The importance of that latter point cannot be overstated. Overlay vendors may think they can get away with bullying individual critics, but the Overlay Fact Sheet contains too many names of too many people. The overlay vendors can’t go after hundreds of people all of whom have the same criticisms. As long as you stick to the facts, those other signatories have your back.

Improve it

Finally, you should consider checking in on any issues listed[link!] to see if you can make any improvements to what’s there already. Our goal is to help provide clear, factual information so that others may avoid the mistake of adding an overlay to their site. Any help you can offer will surely be welcome!