Accessibility Widgets Won't Make Apartment Websites Fully Accessible

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As web developers continue to champion an inclusive Internet where users of all abilities are able to access and interact with websites, online companies have begun turning to popular widgets to provide users an accessible digital experience.

Accessibility widgets offer a broad range of functions that users can manipulate to match their varying accessibility needs, such as adjusting text sizes, text spacing, or color contrast.

From a multifamily perspective, it makes both practical and business sense for apartment community websites to have tools that allow all users to find their future home. We've even interacted with some of our clients who've expressed interest in adding accessibility widgets like UserWay and accessiBe to theirs.

Unfortunately, accessibility widgets won't make your apartment website fully accessible. Here's why.

Accessibility Widgets Don't Meet Required Compliance

While many accessibility widget companies tout that their products meet required Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) compliance, simple research shows otherwise. 

WCAG is the standard by which developers improve the accessibility of websites. It also classifies a website's accessibility on three main levels of conformance: Level A (basic web accessibility features), Level AA (the biggest and most common barriers encountered by disabled users), and Level AAA (the highest and most involved level of accessibility). For more information, be sure to read our blog post on what website accessibility is and why you need it.

Example of UserWay Accessibility WidgetThis is an example of UserWay's accessibility widget on an apartment community's website. The overlay is activated when a user clicks the button located on the lower left corner.

When comparing the features of UserWay's widget to WCAG 2.1 standards, for example, we found that only seven of its features actually relate to the success criteria for accessibility compliance as illustrated in the table below:

UserWay Widget Feature Related WCAG 2.1 Success Criteria
Text Spacing WCAG 1.4.12: Text Spacing
Dyslexia Friendly None
Bigger Text WCAG 1.4.4: Resize Text
Pause Animations WCAG 2.2.2: Pause, Stop, Hide
Tooltips None
Highlight Links WCAG 1.4.1: Use Of Color
Big Cursor None
Reading Mask None
Reading Guide None
Contrast WCAG 1.4.3: Contrast (Minimum)
Text Align WCAG 1.4.8: Visual Presentation
Line Height WCAG 1.4.12: Text Spacing
Screen Reader None
Page Structure None

Comparing accesiBe's features to WCAG 2.1 standards also shows that many aren’t related to these success criteria either:

accessiBe Widget Feature Related WCAG 2.1 Success Criteria
Color Adjustments WCAG 1.4.3: Contrast (Minimum)
Content Scaling WCAG 1.4.4: Resize Text
Readable Font None
Highlight Titles None
Highlight Links WCAG 1.4.1: Use Of Color
Text Magnifier None
Adjust Line Height WCAG 1.4.12: Text Spacing
Adjust Letter Spacing WCAG 1.4.12: Text Spacing
Adjust Font Sizing WCAG 1.4.4: Resize Text
Hide Images None
Text Alignment WCAG 1.4.8: Visual Presentation
Mute Sounds WCAG 1.4.2: Audio Control
Stop Animations WCAG 2.2.2: Pause, Stop, Hide
Useful Links None
Reading Mask None
Highlight Hover and Focus None
Change Cursor Size None
Reading Guide and Mode None

These comparisons are but a fraction of the standards needed to be fully WCAG 2.1 compliant, which consists of over 50 success criteria.

This is not to suggest that accessibility widgets aren't helpful just because they don't meet all accessibility standards. But it's important to know that these companies are being misleading in saying that they're fully compliant. Property management companies planning to rely on accessibility widgets as a preventative measure against getting sued by a prospective resident who couldn't fully interact with their community websites should be warned before using one. 

It's also worth pointing out the reliance apartment websites have on forms. Having prospective residents complete an online form to request an in-person showing or submit a rental application are a vital part of the leasing process. Features in these widgets fail to account for proper form accessibility, meaning that someone with a disability may not be able to complete all the steps necessary to rent one of your apartments. 

Essentially, accessibility widgets provide a false sense of security. 

Disabled Users Report Having Issues With Using Accessibility Widgets

When asked to rate the effectiveness of accessibility widgets, 67% of all respondents, including 72% of respondents with disabilities, said accessibility widgets were not effective in one study.

Some users with disabilities have even taken the steps to block accessibility widgets from appearing on websites because of how unusable they are. One user wrote of their experience:

I know with 100% certainty, any site which has deployed
an overlay (accessibility widget) in the past year and a half
has been less usable for both my wife and me—both blind.

Accessibility widgets basically create two different versions of the same website when it would've been much easier to have built the website so it's accessible for everyone. Their features are also redundant, as many of the widgets' built-in tools could've been activated by simply changing a few of the computer's and browser display settings, or replicated using screen reading technology. 

Knowing that a majority of Internet users are struggling with using accessibility widgets indicates these tools fail to address the permanent, temporary, or situational disabilities that prevent them from being able to fully interact with websites. 

Chart featuring Permanent, Temporary and Situational Disabilities

Keep in mind, apartment websites are full of content: photos, videos, lists of amenities, price details, floorplan blueprints, and more. For potential residents to feel comfortable making such a life-changing decision that also comes with major financial implications, they need to be able to fully consume all the information available on your website. Rather than allowing all users to do this, it appears accessibility widgets tend to make things more complicated for those who actually need them.

Conclusion

While there's a prescient need for apartment marketers to ensure their websites can be used by everyone, they should be wary of utilizing accessibility widgets because they're not fully compliant and disabled users say it makes interacting with a website unnecessarily harder.

The only possible solution to ensure your website is accessible is to employ a web developer who writes code for WCAG compliance. That's exactly what we're doing at RentVision. We have established a road map for our development team to have all of our apartment community websites meet WCAG 2.0 Level AA guidelines.

This is a constant work in progress. In June 2021, we released an update to our websites in which we made our forms more accessible. We added a note that lets users know that an asterisk indicates a required field, updated the field labels so they're visible at all times, improved the way we identify fields with an error, updated the different states of the form fields, and improved the color contrast of the field labels.

Example of RentVision Community Website Form

There is still work that remains to ensure our forms are fully accessible. For more information about how RentVision is trying to make renting apartments easier for everyone, read our accessibility statement.

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