Using a free plugin like UserWay? You are at risk of litigation

Web Accessibility Knowledgebase

More and more articles are recently bashing web accessibility plugins like UserWay, claiming that they put your business at major risk of litigation. Following these, we wanted to shed some light and explain the situation.

accessiBe Team

As you’ve probably seen all over the internet, more and more articles are bashing web accessibility plugins like UserWay and WP Accessibility. These articles claim that using their plugins puts your business at risk of litigation. In light of these, and as industry leaders, we feel obligated to shed light and explain why the articles are correct.

In the past several months, we began to experience an increasing number of businesses that are reaching out with lawsuits or demand letters despite, and sometimes in spite of (we’ll explain this in the following section) using an accessibility plugin. Some of those businesses have been using the UserWay free plugin.


March 2021 Update:

Half a year after writing the article, UserWay has started to offer a paid widget on top of their free one. We've audited this widget thoroughly on UserWay's own website including on customer websites, expecting an accessible and compliant experience, as claimed.

Based on these tests, the paid offering does not make websites accessible or compliant and we've documented the audit results in a PDF and on video. 

Click here to go to the new article covering UserWay's paid widget

End of March 2021 Update


Here are just some of the articles we refer to in the intro:

Many plugins are very tempting to use because they are free or very low cost and are simple to install. Also, it is easy to mistake them for a real solution, as their websites are often misleading, claiming to “enhance” accessibility and provide a “framework” for compliance. The problem is, well, they never did and probably never will be able to make your website compliant. Note that they also never vividly state that they will. Rather, they tiptoe around that. 

Of course, you have tried to do the right thing and enable people with disabilities to use your website, but unfortunately, these plugins are not a solution, and they expose your website to claims. We’ll cover exactly why in the next sections.

The biggest problem with these plugins, other than that people with disabilities need a genuine solution and these plugins are not it, is that not only do they not make your website compliant, but they make even make you a target. These plugins are known to not really achieve compliance and are very recognizable on your site, making it an easy target for anybody who is testing it.

Why you need a real solution now, not later

The unfortunate reality is that while we try our hardest to help clients get out of lawsuits that derived from having such a plugin, it is often too late. The major point that needs to be addressed here is that website owners need a real solution before they get sued, not after.Preferably, one that provides a support package in case of litigation, dedicated assistance, and proof of compliance, in case something does happen.

If you are currently using an accessibility plugin and you want to know where your website’s compliance status stands, test your website and get a clear answer within seconds here: It is completely free and will help you learn where you stand.

Why these web accessibility plugins can’t make your website compliant

To explain why these plugins don’t achieve compliance, we first need to briefly touch on how you achieve compliance in the first place. Web accessibility is a set of rules, behaviors, and design guidelines, composed by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) as a meticulous set of instructions that is called the WCAG, or the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. These guidelines are internationally accepted and are adopted by almost all current legislation, including those in US courts.

To simplify the requirements, we’ll break them down into two categories:

  1. Design and UI-related adjustments – about 20% of the WCAG requirements relate to the UI and design of websites. From color contrasts to animations and even font-sizes.
  2. Screen-reader and keyboard navigation adjustments – about 80% of the WCAG requirements relate to adjustments for:
    • Blind users – a screen-reader is software that is installed on the operating system of the blind user (Windows/MAC/Android, etc.) and is what your website must be compatible with so that it is accessible.
    • Motor Impaired – people with motor impairments use only the keyboard to navigate and operate websites, and the requirements mandate that all functions that can be performed using a mouse, can also be performed using the keyboard.

Accessibility plugins provide you with an “Accessibility Interface” that users can choose accessibility options from. Some provide better interfaces, others worse. But all interfaces, with no exceptions (including ours!), cover only the first category that is explained above. Meaning - only 20% of the overall requirements.

The vast majority of the accessibility requirements, screen reader, and keyboard navigation adjustments are just way too complex for a plugin to cover. In all honesty, some of them do provide very minor keyboard navigation features like showing the keyboard focus. Still, these are not even remotely close to what is required by legislation, leaving your website wide open to complaints.

In today’s industry, there are only two ways to cover the keyboard navigation and screen reader adjustments, and therefore ensure full compliance for your website. The first is using our solution, accessiBe, which utilizes AI for remediating your accessibility failures and ensuring compliance with both the first and second categories of compliance by using an accessibility interface and AI, respectively. The other option is to hire an accessibility service company to code these adjustments manually in your template.

While plugins don’t make websites accessible to blind users, almost 100% of the lawsuits are issued by blind plaintiffs. Blind people often complain that the websites in question have not been made compatible with screen readers such as JAWS, NVDA, VoiceOver, and TalkBack, and are therefore not usable by the blind and are not compliant with legislation.

UserWay specifically provides a built-in screen reader within its accessibility plugin. Although it may seem like an impressive feature, it is for marketing purposes only and is meant to make their plugin seem impressive. Screen readers are installed on the operating system, not on the website itself. Websites need to be compatible with them, rather than providing them. Think about it, if the blind user doesn’t use a screen-reader and needs UserWay’s, how did the 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. Therefore, we can guarantee that virtually zero blind users have ever used UserWay’s or any other plugin’s built-in screen reader.

What you should expect from your accessibility solution provider

First and foremost, a good accessibility provider will inevitably attend to clients who receive a demand letter on their watch. We encourage you to reach out to your current accessibility solution provider and ask how they assist in such a situation.

Second, you need to be certified. Ask for documentation supporting that your website is indeed compliant with your solution of choice. If you went with a proper solution, you’d probably receive such documentation. But surely, you don’t expect these plugins to certify or support you in case of litigation.

Lastly, we want to help you ensure that you don’t install a solution that is lacking or will expose you to litigation. To do that, we have prepared a Table of Features that covers just 10 accessibility requirements out of hundreds. 

We advise that you send this table to your current accessibility provider, so they can tell you genuinely, what they cover, and what they don't. We can almost guarantee that if you are using such a plugin, you’ll get back an almost empty table or excuses. And, again, these are just 10 requirements out of hundreds (!).

1The keyboard focus moves to within a popup right when it appearsKeyboard NavigationYes/No
2Popups and dropdowns can be closed using the Esc keyKeyboard NavigationYes/No
3The keyboard focus loop within a popup or a dropdown and doesn’t let it escapeKeyboard NavigationYes/No
4Failed form submissions move the keyboard focus directly to the error.Keyboard NavigationYes/No
5Quick navigation/skip links are provided to help users skip blocks, sections, and pages. For example, to quickly focus on the navigation, the footer, or the main content of the websiteKeyboard NavigationYes/No
6Popups are being described to screen-readers using aria-modal=true and role=dialogScreen-readerYes/No
7All menus are tagged for screen-readers using role=navigation or the nav tag, and dropdowns are tagged for screen-readers using aria-haspopup=true, and their dynamic state is announced using aria-expanded=true/falseScreen-readerYes/No
8Deleted prices, bold and emphasized texts that are visually decorated using CSS are tagged appropriately to screen-readersScreen-readerYes/No
9Images receive Alt attributes describing both the objects and the text that is embedded within themScreen-readerYes/No
10All form fields receive a proper field description using a connected label or an aria-labelScreen-readerYes/No

Okay, so that was our say! Hopefully, this post was helpful for you and we were able to shed some light on what is going on in the industry and why so many articles pop up against these plugins nowadays.

We do, of course, understand that small businesses cannot pay thousands of dollars for compliance, so they sometimes turn to such solutions in hopes of making it through okay. In this situation, doing so is much more harmful than it is beneficial.

One of the reasons we created accessiBe is to be able to provide website owners with a full solution, that is affordable for any business. accessiBe is a solution that achieves a win-win for both your business and for people with disabilities. You achieve compliance and your business is protected from litigation, while people with disabilities can browse through and use your website effectively.

If $490/year is a price that your business still cannot afford, please contact us and we’ll try to help as much as we can. Just don’t expose yourself to tens of thousands of dollars of potential litigation and put your business at risk.

accessiBe is the web accessibility market leader that is trusted by tens of thousands of small businesses and industry-leading enterprises alike. We have helped thousands of businesses with their litigations, and we’ll be happy to help you achieve compliance too. 

Just make sure it is beforeyou get the lawsuit, so it is not too late.