Why Apartment Marketers Should Avoid Website Accessibility Tools

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 website accessibility tools to provide users an accessible digital experience. These tools, often referred to as 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.

For apartment marketers, ensuring that their community’s website is accessible for all users makes both practical and business sense. But the unfortunate truth is that adding accessibility widgets like UserWay and accessiBe to your apartment website won’t make it fully accessible. In fact, they actually cause more problems than the ones they tout to fix. Here’s two reasons why apartment marketers should avoid them:

1. 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). Here’s more information about what website accessibility is and why apartment marketers need to incorporate it into their websites


This 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 FeatureRelated WCAG 2.1 Success Criteria
Text SpacingWCAG 1.4.12 Text Spacing
Dyslexia FriendlyNone
Bigger TextWCAG 1.4.4: Resize Text
Pause AnimationsWCAG 2.2.2: Pause, Stop, Hide
TooltipsNone
Highlight LinksWCAG 1.4.1: Use Of Color
Big CursorNone
Reading MaskNone
Reading GuideNone
ContrastWCAG 1.4.3: Contrast (Minimum)
Text AlignWCAG 1.4.8: Visual Presentation
Line HeightWCAG 1.4.12 Text Spacing
Screen ReaderNone
Page StructureNone

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

accessiBe Widget FeatureRelated WCAG 2.1 Success Criteria
Color AdjustmentsWCAG 1.4.3: Contrast (Minimum)
Content ScalingWCAG 1.4.4: Resize Text
Readable FontNone
Highlight TitlesNone
Highlight LinksWCAG 1.4.1: Use Of Color
Text MagnifierNone
Adjust Line HeightWCAG 1.4.12 Text Spacing
Adjust Letter SpacingWCAG 1.4.12 Text Spacing
Adjust Font SizingWCAG 1.4.4: Resize Text
Text AlignmentWCAG 1.4.8: Visual Presentation
Hide ImagesNone
Mute SoundsWCAG 1.4.2: Audio Control
Stop AnimationsWCAG 2.2.2: Pause, Stop, Hide
Useful LinksNone
Reading MaskNone
Highlight Hover and FocusNone
Change Cursor SizeNone
Reading Guide and ModeNone

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. 

2. Disabled Users Report Having Issues With Using Accessibility Widgets

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

More concerningly, some users with disabilities blocked 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. 

Source: Microsoft Inclusive Design Toolkit

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 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. For more information about how RentVision is trying to make renting apartments easier for everyone, read our accessibility statement.