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:
- We will never advocate, recommend, or integrate an overlay which deceptively markets itself as providing automated compliance with laws or standards.
- We will always advocate for the remediation of accessibility issues at the source of the original error.
- We will refuse to stay silent when overlay vendors use deception to market their products.
- 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.