#UserWay Will Get You Sued

Thanks to a comment on my post #accessiBe Will Get You Sued, I found UserWay had taken the meat of that post, re-cast as its own effort, and was using it as a marketing effort to frame its overlay as a better product than accessiBe.

Screen shot from UserWay site with a header of UserWay versus accessiBe, and the text “accessiBe Will Get You Sued”. A quote from my post about accessiBe, but it is only the table of contents as one run-on sentence.
Excerpts from the post that directly quote mine.

I promptly captured the page in the Wayback Machine, because I have no interest in linking to the live version, and asked UserWay to remove my name and any references from its post. Twice.

For some reason, in its response UserWay decided linking to Gareth Ford Williams’ post What are accessibility overlays good for? somehow validated it and its overlay.

Unlike my post #accessiBe Will Get You Sued, I am not going to give UserWay free technical or business advice. I learned that lesson when accessiBe used it to attenuate its messaging (but, interestingly, not fix its product). I am going to paint with some broad strokes, however. I am also skipping some of the claims that I cannot validate (because I have non access to their servers or the statements are fluff).

Lie: Makes your site ADA compliant

This statement misrepresents the ADA. UserWay is taking advantage of ongoing misunderstandings with what the ADA covers, what case law says it covers, and what people buying these products thinks it covers.

If we take ADA at face value, this is similar to saying UserWay makes your site FDA compliant. If we take ADA as interchangeable with WCAG, then a quick automated check will demonstrate otherwise.

UserWay image criticizing the accessiBe widget with alt text naming it as the UserWay widget.

Axe, which prides itself on no false positives, finds 3 WCAG issues tied to testable WCAG Success Criteria on that page. ARC Toolkit finds 4, matching Axe and adding another valid problem. WAVE finds none, but does raise 202 alerts, including 111 cases of suspicious image alternative text. My favorite example of this is the image of the accessiBe widget that has the alternative text Picture of UserWay widget.

Lie: Strong reputation with the disabled community

Nearly 600 people in and supporting the disabled community have said very much the opposite. They have signed on to the Overlay Fact Sheet which includes this statement:

  1. More specifically, we hereby advocate for the removal of accessiBe, AudioEye, UserWay, User1st, MK-Sense, MaxAccess, FACIL’iti, and all similar products and encourage the site owners who’ve implemented these products to use more robust, independent, and permanent strategies to making their sites more accessible.

Questionable: Privacy by design, data minimization

I cannot look into UserWay’s systems to understand what it does with the data it captures. I can, however, look at how it presents privacy and compliance to users. It has an alphabet soup of related and unrelated laws linked from its footer: HIPAA, GDPR, COPPA, FERPA (it also lists ATAG and WCAG, which are outside the scope of privacy). I was surprised PCI-DSS wasn’t in there just for more letters.

Following each link brings you to a page describing the law but not how UserWay conforms — let alone how it is relevant. HIPAA, for example, has no bearing on UserWay (egad, I hope no patient portals are using it). Just like anti-vaxxer claims that asking for proof of a vaccine is a HIPAA violation, UserWay is happy to capitalize on that same misrepresentation.

UserWay is, however, happy for you to contact it instead of telling you how any of these apply: To learn more about how UserWay’s Accessibility Widget complies with HIPAA regulations, please contact us. The contact us link is the same destination as the free trial link that immediately follows.

Lie: Loved by Disabled Community

As its sole piece of evidence, UserWay references (but does not link) one tweet from 2018. A 3½-year-old tweet. I suppose all I need to do is find a single tweet critical of UserWay and I have disproven it.

Maybe I can find a member of the disabled community who took more time than a casual tweet, though.

Haben Girma has been advocating on behalf of the disabled community for years. She wrote about being the first Deafblind person to graduate from Harvard Law School. When she weighs in on overlays, it is not just from personal experience but also based on her recognition of the harms the tool is creating.

Criticism from Twitter Users

I am a bit amused that UserWay thinks users critical of accessiBe automatically equates to support of UserWay. I mean, I get it, for the people they are targeting that is probably more than adequate.

But half of the people behind the tweets quoted on that page are signatories to the Overlay Fact Sheet. They have explicitly stated UserWay is one of the bad options. UserWay is intentionally misrepresenting their statements as a result. And they are not cool with that.

Anti-accessiBe Press is Critical of UserWay Too

UserWay makes it a point to reference articles that are critical of accessiBe explicitly. More accurately, it references two news pieces and two opinion pieces. One opinion piece is my post #accessiBe Will Get You Sued, which I have updated to include a note about UserWay.

Remember, these are pieces critical of accessiBe that go out of their way to note that all overlays are a problem.

But over the past several months in particular, as AccessiBe’s footprint has spread, many people with disabilities have grown increasingly angry at it and other automatic web overlay companies. The tools often make websites less usable than they were before, and the companies’ marketing strategies, they say, emphasize the need for business owners to avoid lawsuits rather than actually make their websites usable.

Greco, at the University of California, Berkeley, said other companies have similar products that have many of the same technical issues AccessiBe does. But AccessiBe stands out because of its rapid growth, heavy marketing and defensive style of engagement with blind people who claim it hasn’t worked for them.

The other opinion piece is a Forbes Sites piece (these are written by people who pay to host their articles under the Forbes banner, they are not Forbes writers) that says:

First and foremost, there remains one key principle to keep front of mind — currently, there exists no overlay technology on the market that can, by itself, render a website fully accessible and protect it from ADA lawsuits.

This Is Just UserWay’s Marketing Response

Post on the accessiBe site titled “Using a free plugin like UserWay? You are at risk of litigation” dated 29 May 2020.
That gray bar under the breadcrumb? Just accessiBe’s developers thinking making it into a clipped scrolling area is somehow better than just letting text wrap.

This post from UserWay is just a response to accessiBe’s own claim that UserWay will put you at risk, except in this case UserWay uses the title of my post (ostensibly to reduce its legal exposure). Obviously, there is evidence that sites with accessiBe still get sued, but UserWay’s argument is that accessiBe’s overlay is somehow unique for that.

UserWay has removed the abstract and link to my post, but it has not removed the title of my post. That title, accessiBe Will Get You Sued, still lives on the UserWay page in an <h2>. The heading suggests they like the link juice too much and the quotes imply some level of distance should accessiBe’s lawyers come calling (by claiming they are simply quoting me).

Olympics and #WeThe15

UserWay proudly advertises its use on the Tokyo Paralympics web site. Another site from the Paralympic Committee, #WeThe15, was launched to promote disability awareness and end discrimination. It also had the UserWay overlay.

But as the #WeThe15 campaign got traction on Twitter and the community it was claiming to support went and looked at the site, the response to that overlay was swift. Folks were surprised, called it out, shared their frustration, and even gave them the benefit of the doubt.

#WeThe15 fixed it by removing UserWay from its site, along with a couple tweets acknowledging and apologizing.

I am not surprised the Paralympic folks have done nothing. Partly because they were not directly engaging the community, and partly because between taking the inspiration porn angle and failing to make its videos accessible (that it borrowed from WeThe15), it seems fair to assume they were not really invested in the message.

Wrap-up

Will UserWay get you sued? Maybe. We already know that users can disable overlays, scripts can fail, connections can be dropped, and features can collide. Even if the product itself performed as it claims, there is always a chance it will not function. As such, it is a poor substitute for building your thing the right way the first time.

I cannot say if UserWay is as bad as accessiBe on the technical side, because I am not giving away free reviews anymore. I cannot even say if UserWay is as amoral as accessiBe, simply because UserWay has less money to spend. I can say, however, that the trends are clear — UserWay lies about its offering and lies about community support. I doubt it is in any way better, no matter how low the bar is that accessiBe has set.

UserWay and accessiBe are two rotten peas in a dirty dirty pod.

Update: 19 September 2021

UserWay made a smart call and removed the page from its site. If you go there now you will get a 404 page. Had you gone there Friday, you would have seen they had removed my name (as I noted above).

UserWay has made no apologies nor explanations. I leave it to the reader to decide why UserWay decided now to remove it, and wonder how many other false claims and stolen material UserWay is passing off as its own truthful content. If nothing else, UserWay has demonstrated it has a credibility problem.

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