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HearSay Blog - Episode 1: Accessibility Overlays - More than Meets the Eye

Posted January 29, 2024


Posted January 29, 2024

A purple accessibility icon overlaid on a stylized web browser. The purple background has icons representing different types of disabilities, with a label in the upper left corner that reads "HEAR SAY"
A purple accessibility icon overlaid on a stylized web browser. The purple background has icons representing different types of disabilities, with a label in the upper left corner that reads "HEAR SAY"

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In this post, we take a closer look at the definition of an overlay, discuss how to use overlays responsibly, and discuss why AudioEye's combination of automation and expert human testing is a reliable, proven, and effective approach for achieving and sustaining website accessibility.

In recent years, there's been a lot of talk in the disability community about how effective–or harmful–web accessibility overlays are. As we start 2024, this discussion is getting even more attention. This is especially true after the news that a well-known accessibility company, Level Access, and a major overlay provider, UserWay, are joining forces.

In the past, most of this debate has been pretty one-sided against overlays and automation technology. But this year, I’m hopeful we’ll start to see more balanced and cooperative discussions about the many different ways technology can help us solve accessibility at scale. As experts in this field, we all want to make the digital world work for all, and the approaches up to this point have yet to keep pace with the breadth of the problem. 

It's time to rethink this debate. We need to go beyond a narrow definition of what overlay solutions can and cannot do. In the past, people have described these solutions as encompassing just one or two core components: an assistive toolbar and, in some cases, an auto-remediation solution.

While this basic, high-level definition has been convenient and easy to understand - not to mention an accurate definition when applied to certain inadequate overlay solutions being sold in the marketplace - it doesn't fully capture what the best overlay solutions are capable of. The fact is, not all overlay solutions are the same. Responsible overlays are not limited to automation-only capabilities - and they certainly aren’t limited to the few, front-end usability features made available from the accessibility icons promoting them.  When we really look into what they can do and how they can be expanded, we see that they are much more powerful and useful than we might have thought.

To learn more about overlays, their role within the modern web tech stack and AudioEye’s long standing mission to eradicate barriers to digital accessibility, download AudioEye’s whitepaper, “Building for Digital Accessibility at Scale

This article looks closely at the definition of what a responsible overlay solution is and why AudioEye’s end-to-end offering is a reliable, proven, and effective approach for achieving and sustaining website accessibility.

All accessibility experts agree that just adding a simple code to a website can't make it fully accessible and compliant with standards, nor fully optimized for people with disabilities. This is especially true for solutions that only use automation, which is the case for many overlay companies. AudioEye is different from these typical solutions.

What Are the Components of a Complete Solution?

For the last ten years, AudioEye has been optimizing its offering based on feedback from the community and business leaders. Like any innovative technology solution, AudioEye’s full-service, Managed offering has evolved and improved over the years, but the core components remain the same. Below you’ll find what we consider to be the core components of a robust solution, including:


As soon as AudioEye's JavaScript is added to a website, it starts checking the website against the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. This is the first step to find and fix accessibility issues. The opponents to overlays will be quick to point out that you can’t test for and find every issue through automation – and we agree. To catch the remaining accessibility issues, we conduct manual audits, completed by certified accessibility testers, including members from our A11iance community.

This kind of detailed testing is similar to what accessibility consultants do, and provides a necessary point-in-time analysis that must be conducted at regular intervals into the future. By pairing this ongoing testing process with always-on, monitoring, and automated testing technology, businesses can keep costs down while maximizing efficiency. This is further enhanced through the application of our robust remediation technology - the cornerstone of the AudioEye approach and an essential component for achieving accessibility at scale.


Each time a user visits a page, the JavaScript provides an updated, accessible experience to the end-user. This is made possible not solely based on the reach of automation to fix issues, but rather through the application of manually-coded fixes, which were informed by a thorough testing process and deployed by developers versed in the nuances of the prevailing accessibility standards. Any overlay solution lacking this core manual component falls short.

Monitoring & Reporting

Another important part of keeping websites consistently accessible involves monitoring and reporting. A robust digital accessibility platform provides businesses with direct access to dashboards that show current accessibility issues, progress, and overall compliance. In addition to providing clients with access to their dashboard, we also - when possible - recommend at-source code updates. AudioEye compiles detailed fix-at-source reports that are shared with client stakeholders to encourage “shift-left” planning and implementation, which encourages prioritizing accessibility as early as possible within the Software Development Life Cycle (SDLC). AudioEye commonly works with clients to integrate accessibility SDLC processes and we have advanced tools and consultative services that support that effort. 


AudioEye is a big proponent of a shift-left approach to accessibility. We provide our clients with free access to a deep repository of accessibility training materials and resources, which may include individualized sessions with AudioEye SMEs and A11iance Community members. All of this is in addition to the free resources made publicly available to everyone via the AudioEye Blog, including our industry-specific 2023 Digital Accessibility Index.

Visual Toolkit

The use of accessibility icons on websites with overlay technology has been a hot topic over the years. The icon has made people more aware of digital accessibility and also makes it easy to spot which websites are using a technology solution.

When someone clicks on these icons, they're taken to a set of tools designed to make the website easier to use for people with disabilities. Our version is called the Visual Toolkit, which offers various ways to change how the website looks and works, depending on what the user needs.

Some experts in accessibility argue that these tools are unnecessary because similar features are already available in modern web browsers and assistive technologies. While this may be true today, it was not always the case. Additionally, many people may not know that you can press command and the plus sign at the same time on a Mac to make the text bigger. This and other features are there, but not everyone is aware of them.

There's also a very valid concern that these overlay tools might interfere with the software that many people with disabilities use to browse the web. At AudioEye, we take this very seriously. We’ve always taken a "first do no harm" approach. We test our solutions with assistive technologies and think carefully about how to introduce our tools to users, especially those using screen readers. Our tools aren't meant to replace others but to add to them. They also meet certain web accessibility standards that might be difficult for small businesses or those without full control over their website design.

Help Desk

Our accessibility icon does more than just enable web personalization. It also lets users fill out a form right to report any issues they're having with accessing our clients' websites. Nowadays, it's common for overlays to have a form like this. We're proud to have offered a 24/7 help desk for web accessibility from the very beginning. What sets us apart is we take action and make sure that when someone reports a problem, we really look into it quickly. If there's an issue, we take steps to fix it. This commitment to responding to feedback and solving problems has always been central to our commitment to our customers and their end users. 

A Sustainable & Scalable Approach

Each of the features and capabilities outlined in detail above - which combine technology and human expertise - are included in AudioEye’s main offering. Every single day, AudioEye remediates billions of digital access barriers across more than 100K client websites. This sustainable approach to achieving and maintaining accessibility compliance for businesses of all sizes provides a scalable solution that has proven effective over the past decade. 

To learn more about AudioEye and how we got started, check out Episode 1: A Decade of Disruption on our HearSay Podcast Series on YouTube or on either of your favorite podcast providers (Spotify | Apple).

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