Meetup.com Raises Concerns with New Accessibility Overlay

Meetup.com raised some concerns with the WordPress community (and the broader community of accessibility professionals) this week after it added an accessibility overlay to its website. The overlay, powered by EqualWeb, displays a list of settings that can be toggled, ostensibly to address various accessibility needs.

Accessibility overlay products are often marketed as a quick fix solution that will make a website ADA compliant and immune from legal action, when accessibility had not been built in from the beginning.  

In May 2021, accessibility advocates signed an open letter urging people not to use accessibility overlay products like AccesiBe, EqualWeb, and others. Signatories published a four-part statement that articulates the reasons why overlays are harmful:

  1. We will never advocate, recommend, or integrate an overlay which deceptively markets itself as providing automated compliance with laws or standards.
  2. We will always advocate for the remediation of accessibility issues at the source of the original error.
  3. We will refuse to stay silent when overlay vendors use deception to market their products.
  4. More specifically, we hereby advocate for the removal of accessiBe, AudioEye, UserWay, User1st, MK-Sense, MaxAccess, FACIL’iti, and all similar products and encourage the site owners who’ve implemented these products to use more robust, independent, and permanent strategies to making their sites more accessible.

WordPress’ Community Team uses Meetup.com to organize local and virtual meetups, as well as educational events. Accessibility practitioners consider the use of overlay products a flagrant malpractice and are calling on Meetup.com to abandon this solution in favor of addressing inaccessibility at the root of the problem.

After receiving some complaints, Meetup appeared to take the overlay down but reinstated it the next day. At the time of publishing. the overlay is still on the website. WordPress community organizer Angela Jin offered to contact Meetup.com on behalf of concerned community members. In the meantime, accessibility evangelist Amber Hinds suggested the Community Team explore Meetup.com alternatives and said the WordPress Accessibility Meetup will be looking into using a different events calendar.

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4 responses to “Meetup.com Raises Concerns with New Accessibility Overlay”

  1. A little confused about the complaint – does the software they oppose work or not work? It seems (from the way the article is written) that the opposition comes from the devs not adding in accessibility. But it doesn’t say whether or not the overlays work. If they work….I’m not sure why complain? If they don’t, while allowing the website to claim compliance, then I understand.

    • They don’t work. To the degree that they do work, they mostly offer functionality that is already duplicated by user’s own technology.

      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.

  2. I tend to lean against third-party/outside your website .

    Currently for WordCamps we have

    https://city.wordcamp.org/year

    Like:

    https://birmingham.wordcamp.org/2023
    https://kolkata.wordcamp.org/2022

    Could we not do something like that? Not necessarily with the wordcamp.org domain or with that domain.

    https://toronto.wordmeetups.org and same for other cities and towns.

    Heck, Toronto could use https://toronto.wordcamp.org for both the annual event and the monthly events.

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