UserWay "AI" Widget can risk your accessibility compliance

Web Accessibility Knowledgebase

Taking a deep look at UserWay's paid accessibility widget, and testing if it does or does not make websites accessible for people with disabilities

accessiBe Team

Last year we released a post covering UserWay's free accessibility widget. The post intended to shed light on new articles that were criticizing UserWay's free widget. We felt obligated, as industry leaders, to provide our point of view, especially after their customers began reaching out to us for help with demand letters and lawsuits.

Click here to read the article from last year.

However, half a year after writing the previously mentioned article, UserWay began to provide a paid version of the plugin in addition to the free one. Although the previous article refers explicitly to UserWay’s free plugin, as well as those of other companies, we’ve been auditing UserWay’s paid, or "AI" (as they call it) plugin, over the past several weeks, to see what has changed, and perhaps learn about a new viable solution in the market. Unfortunately, we've found that it does not make websites accessible or compliant.

To verify this and to be as thorough as we can with our testing, we ran multiple audits on UserWay customer websites and on UserWay’s website itself. UserWay's main website, which obviously uses the full "AI'' plugin and not the free version, has also been manually adjusted to incorporate accessibility features, more specifically on top of the "AI'' widget. We believe that it is fair to expect that at the very least their own main website will be nothing less than highly accessible by relying solely on their own widget.

Unfortunately, we found dozens of accessibility violations after running the audits. Some can be summed up as just bad practices and incorrect implementations. Others completely break the websites’ usability and accessibility for people with various disabilities, notably for blind users with screen-readers who make up 99% of plaintiffs involved in ADA lawsuits. Below you can find a video of how a person who is blind attempts to use with a screen-reader but it doesn't work.

You can download the accessibility audit PDF here:

Below you can also download the 6 web accessibility audits conducted to UserWay customer websites. Many of those websites are featured on Userway's homepage as featured customers. We figured that websites they show as examples, if not their own website at least, would be accessible. Surprisingly, none of those websites were accessible nor compliant.

Also, below you’ll find a 2-minute video of a Screen-reader (JAWS) session showing how a blind person attempts to use UserWay’s website to no avail.

At the beginning of the video, you see the user attempts to “enable accessibility for visually impaired” which simply does nothing. After that, the user goes to the “Request a Demo” page which automatically starts reading out extremely verbose and incorrect content that is unrelated to the demo. Lastly, the user goes to the contact page (and gets the same verbose and incorrect reading again), but this time, they try to operate the main menu and select different pages, but the entire menu simply doesn’t work. There are many other issues that you can see in the full audit above, but this is enough to show that for blind users, using a screen-reader on this website is a painful and inaccessible experience.

After reaching out to UserWay with the audit results in January 2021, they quickly went and manually fixed some of the errors that we brought to their attention. As far as we know, they only fixed their website’s issues manually and specifically, unrelated to their paid or full plugin where the problems still exist. We’ve tested UserWay's customer websites and looked into the product in-depth again, and nothing indicates their paid plugin now works properly other than a few minor fixes.

--- End of the audit.

There are a number of reasons why UserWay falls short. Many of them are explained in this article, in the provided audit, and in the video, while other reasons are detailed in last year's article that we recommend reading as well. Before ending this article, we want to briefly touch on one key point that we also touched on in the last article and is crucial to understand: UserWay specifically provides a "built-in screen-reader" within its accessibility plugin.

Although a built-in screen-reader may seem like an impressive feature, it is for marketing purposes only and is meant to make their plugin seem more robust. Screen-readers (the assistive technology used by blind users) are installed on the operating system (Mac, Windows, iOS), and not on the website itself.

Websites need to be compatible with existing screen-readers rather than providing them. Blind users get trained on operating their own screen-readers, and these screen-readers provide much more than just a feature to read the screen. They provide extensive keyboard functionality, virtual processing, OCR capabilities, and much more. None of which is provided by UserWay, and of course, no blind user is trained to work with their "built-in screen-reader".

Think about it, if the blind user doesn’t use a screen-reader and needs UserWay’s, how did that user even reach the website in the first place? Or even open the browser on their computer? Screen readers enable blind users to use computers in general and are used right from the login screen of the operating system. Any other type of provision of accessibility for blind users is just pure marketing.

To conclude: Based on our in-depth testing, UserWay's full "AI" widget does not make websites accessible or compliant. We can't know the extent of the legal exposure or "risk" that you should expect by using it, and we encourage seeking firm legal advice prior to using it if you choose to do it despite the evidence that it does not ensure compliance.