Meetup.com has removed its accessibility overlay, a recent addition to the company’s website that raised concerns with the WordPress community and the broader community of accessibility professionals. The overly was powered by EqualWeb, a product which claims to provide automated compliance with accessibility standards but doesn’t address inaccessibility at the root of the problem.
WordPress Community Team leaders requested a meeting with the company and were able to persuade them to take the overlay down and focus on direct improvements to the Meetup.com platform. WordPress community organizer Angela Jin reported that their director of engineering and other team members were “very receptive to our feedback.”
“EqualWeb’s widget does scan for accessibility issues, and the original plan was for EqualWeb’s team (real people!) to provide progressive fixes to the overlay,” Jin said. “Meetup’s hope was to provide, over time, a fully accessible overlay.”
During the meeting, WordPress’ Community Team representatives contended that overlays create a poor user experience for people who use assistive technology while also ignoring key WCAG issues. This is why there are growing legal and privacy concerns associated with the overlays, which do not deliver on the promise of providing equal and open access to platforms.
After reporting on the issue earlier this month, one reader asked if the overlays actually work to address the issues and, if so, what is motivating the complaint.
“They don’t work,” WordPress accessibility contributor Joe Dolson said. “To the degree that they do work, they mostly offer functionality that is already duplicated by the user’s own technology.”
Dolson examined Meetup.com’s overlay and highlighted a few of its major shortcomings:
This particular overlay also commits the cardinal sin of labeling tools by disability, rather than according to what they do. For example, if you turn on the “Visually Impaired” mode, that’s actually a high contrast mode; which is only relevant if your visual impairment benefits from high contrast. This kind of presumptive labeling is ineffective at best (because it makes it difficult to find what tool might actually help you, should you need it), and offensive at worst.
But the reality is that overlay tools are a misdirection of resources: if a user needs high contrast, large fonts, or other tools, they need those on all websites, and they need a solution that’s their tool, in their control, with their settings – and the majority of users already have that in their assistive technology.”
As part of revising its accessibility roadmap, Meetup.com is requesting feedback from WordPress community members with experience using its platforms across devices with accessibility features enabled. Those who have 50 minutes in the coming weeks can request to speak with Meetup representatives regarding which features should be prioritized. People can also leave feedback in the comments.
Meetup.com’s decision to remove the overlay was well-received by accessibility advocates who hope to see more changes to the platform’s source code based on community feedback in the next few weeks. Beyond these changes, some community members are also recommending Meetup.com add people with disabilities to their team to get more first-hand information without having to publicly walk back an implementation like this.
“Although I applaud Meetup for removing the Overlay, they are going at this backwards,” WordPress user @bryan202 said in the comments. “They should have an independent company who employs persons with disabilities to audit their platform and inform them of the issues. If Meetup wants feedback on the specific issues this choice of overlay caused, then they should be willing to pay for that market feedback.
“As a disabled person we are constantly called upon to give feedback for free. We deserve to be respected for our time, efforts and feedback. Meetup needs to expand their technical team to include persons with disabilities so they have an inside look since their current team is missing this essential component.”