Meetup.com had recently added an accessibility overlay to the platform’s website, which wasn’t received well by WordPress users as well as the larger community of accessibility professionals. However, the company has removed the accessibility overlay after the broader community raised concerns about the same.
WordPress community team leaders, who had requested the company for a meeting, were successful in persuading them to remove the overlay and instead focus on making direct improvements to the platform. Angela Jin, a WordPress community organizer, reported that the director of engineering at Meetup.com as well as the other team members very quite receptive to the WordPress community’s feedback.
According to Jin, “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. Meetup’s hope was to provide, over time, a fully accessible overlay.”
The WordPress community team leaders present in the meeting pointed out that apart from ignoring key WCAG issues, such overlays also tend to create an inferior user experience for people with disabilities who use assistive technology. This is one of the main reasons why several legal and privacy concerns are associated with overlays – these often fail to deliver the promise of ensuring equal and open access to online platforms.
According to a WordPress accessibility contributor, Joe Dolson, the overlays don’t really work in addressing issues that a user might be facing. He added that “To the degree that they do work, they mostly offer functionality that is already duplicated by the user’s own technology.”
Dolson also went on to highlight some of the main shortcomings of Meetup.com’s recent overlay. Firstly, it “ commits the cardinal sin of labeling tools by disability, rather than according to what they do”.
For example, the “visually impaired” mode, which turns on high contrast, may not be relevant for people whose visual impairment doesn’t benefit from high contrast. In his words, “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.” In addition, he also believes that such overlay tools are a “misdirection of resources”.
In a bid to revise the platform’s accessibility roadmap, Meetup has requested WordPress community members to provide feedback on their experience in using the platform across different devices. People who can spare time in the upcoming weeks can also choose to speak directly with representatives of the company. They have also encouraged users to provide feedback through comments.
While this decision of the platform was appreciated by accessibility advocates, the latter is also hoping to witness further changes in Meetup’s source code based on user feedback in the upcoming weeks.
Some users were of the opinion that the platform needs to take further steps to get the right feedback. This would save them the hassle of having to remove such website elements after implementing them. For instance, one WordPress user, while applauding Meetup.com for removing the overlay, also added that he thinks that the platform isn’t taking the right approach toward this issue.
In his words, “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.”
He went on to say that disabled individuals are constantly called upon to provide feedback free of cost. However, in his opinion, disabled people also deserve to be respected for their time, efforts, and feedback. And Meetup.com needs to expand its current technical team to include people with disabilities. This will help them get an inside look at the issue – something that they are clearly missing at this point.