Recently a friend alerted me to an article by Ken Nakata titled Best Practices for Overlays which functions as little more than free advice to an industry that is populated by scam artists. Specifically, the article outlines a series of "Best Practices" that he recommends overlay companies follow which, outside of this context, would be good for any application to adhere to for good UX and good ethics:
- Follow W3C
- Dismissibility and non-interference
- Do not automatically apply settings
- Do not trigger updates to page content when an accessibility scanner is detected
- (Being) Accessible
- Document Fixes
- (Solicit) End-User Feedback
But, here’s the problem: Overlay companies have already demonstrated – as an industry – they they don’t care about good UX or ethics. People have been criticizing overlays since 2004 for their false claims and yet the only thing that has happened is that more companies have created products which are being oversold as a panacea for accessibility. They have been proven not to work and yet some leaders in our space somehow feel the need to make peace with them.
"Like it or Not, Overlays are Here to Stay"
In Ken’s article, he declares that "Like it or Not, Overlays are Here to Stay". The tone of this statement suggests that the accessibility community should somehow accept overlays and I find this to be no more useful than saying "male enhancement pills are here to stay". So what? Every expert in the medical field will gladly tell their patient that male enhancement pills don’t work and every expert in false advertising will tell you that when the scam artists who sell those pills make false claims, they are held accountable for it. The only difference is that nobody has yet held overlay companies accountable for their lies. Apologists are not helping in this regard, but hurting.
While I understand the motivation of wanting to guide overlay vendors into behaving more ethically, the fact is that they’ve continually shown resistance to doing so. In fact, people have been talking about the poor ethics and false claims of overlays since at least 2015. Furthermore, I’ve chronicled the false claims over at OverlayFalseClaims.com, and most overlay companies were still actively engaged in false claims as of October 2021 when that article was written. I even have a fully itemized list of evidence of their false claims and have documented two overlays’ active deception of testers.
Given their lengthy history of being bad actors in the marketplace, it is illogical for anyone to expect anything else from overlay vendors. While it might be true that "Overlays are Here to Stay" that doesn’t mean that we need to change our stance. Like male enhancements pills, weight loss drugs, or Shake Weights, the fact that these products remain in the marketplace doesn’t make them any more useful.
Over 700 people have signed the Overlay Fact Sheet, a document aimed at educating peers and potential consumers of overlays and to warn about their ineffectiveness for making websites accessible. It is worth considering what would motivate over 700 people around the world chose to endorse such a thing. To me, the answer seems clear: Regardless of whether or not "Overlays are Here to Stay" people who actually care about accessibility do not believe that overlays work and will not recommend they be used.