I’ve researched the accessibility of live chat widgets available on the market because I put one on my website, AccessibleTheme.com to assist with sales.
To narrow down my search, I searched for live chat + WCAG 2.0 AA.
If a chat box vendor is serious about accessibility, they’ll at least have WCAG somewhere on their website (and not just in response to a public support ticket).
Although nobody gets my seal of approval, here are the two chatbox companies that at least took a swing of the bat at being accessible / ADA compliant when I researched in December 2019.
Key note: If you install a plugin, widget, script, etc. on your website, you become responsible for the accessibility of that third party integration.
One vendor that addressed accessibility was Olark. From their official page on accessibility
“We aim to adhere to the WCAG 2.0 accessibility guidelines for the code that our customers install on their websites. Our code is written so that the chatbox is navigable by keyboard using screen reader software.”
That’s nice but keyboard navigability is just one bullet point. Before I install a third party plugin or widget, I want to know: are you completely accessible or are you not? I contacted their support via email and live chat. Here is my email and Olark’s reply:
Having fully accessible live chat is critical for me. I choose [sic] Olark live chat because Olark is one of the few who specifically embraces accessibility but after installing the Olark plugin today and reading through the policy found here:
I wanted to learn more about how Olark chat is accessible beyond keyboard navigation. Can you tell me specifically what WCAG 2.0 success criterion Olark has satisfied?
Unfortunately, I don’t have that documentation to share. I can tell you that we’ve implemented the chatbox in a way that it’s accessible to a screen reader and we’ve enabled a high-contrast mode for the agent console, so far. Accessibility is important to us, but it will be something we’re continually working on.
Are there any specific features you’d like us to put in requests for? I’d be happy to get those requests in for you!
That’s a fail. This is not a matter of me telling you what to do, you need to want to figure it out and implement it and be precise for your products own well-being.
I ended up choosing Zendesk but not because they’re completely accessible – but because I teamed up with a super talented developer to make Accessible Theme (WordPress theme built specifically to conform with WCAG 2.0 AA) and he was able to address their shortcomings by customizing the widget code.
Zendesk has been made aware of their accessibility deficiencies for literally years but has continually not come through with solutions over the years.
They say they take it seriously but how can we take them seriously when they just keep playing kick the can?
Either you get the job done or you don’t.
To their credit, Zendesk is the only vendor I found who actually has a VPAT (Voluntary Product Accessibility Template) that actually spells out how they do and do not meet WCAG 2.0 AA (They need a VPAT for Section 508 compliance). Here is Zendesk’s VPAT.
Looking at it now, they’ve actually brought up their conformance level on a lot more success criteria than they initially had.
I would have to re-evaluate and audit their widget again to determine how technically and practically accessible it is but, given their VPAT, I suspect they are the best option for ADA and 508 Compliance – not that they’re the perfect solution.
You only have a VPAT if you’re serious about accessibility and I have yet to see any other mainstream vendor with a VPAT.
2020 updates. When I first searched in December 2019, I only found Olark and Zendesk. It looks like Intercom has jumped on board but it also looks like I simply never came across Live Person because I would have picked them.
Here are my thoughts:
Intercom – They have a quick write-up and outright state they comply with WCAG 2.0 AA and then list out three features that make their messenger accessible but this is not the level of precision and thoroughness I would hope to see.
LivePerson – Ladies and gentlemen, we have a winner. Directly from LivePerson.com’s Accessibility Page:
“In order to incorporate these guidelines, we work with the international accessibility consulting organization – “Deque Systems”. Deque Systems have completed a thorough assessment of LiveEngage accessibility, and have subsequently awarded LivePerson the official accessibility stamp. The assessment included working closely with people with disabilities who reviewed and operated our products. This practice enables us to implement, first-hand, the beneficial suggestions made by impaired individuals who understand our product.”
That’s game set match. Deque is legit and one of the true technical powerhouse’s in accessibility.
Had I found LivePerson.com originally, I never would have chosen Zendesk. LivePerson wins this blog post going away.