If you receive a web accessibility demand letter, there’s a good chance that it will look similar to other demand letters.
According to a recent report from Accessibility.com, more than 66% of all web accessibility lawsuits in 2022 were filed by five law firms. Many of these firms use virtually identical language in their demand letters; in some cases, the only major difference between different demand letters was the name of the defendant.
Demand letters don’t need to be original to be legally valid. There’s no penalty for self-plagiarizing an Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) claim — the details of the alleged failures are far more important than the language in the letter.
However, some demand letters may contain allegations of discrimination that have been copied from other letters. If the plaintiff hasn’t thoroughly investigated the business, the allegations may not be true.
To be clear, the Bureau of Internet Accessibility is not a law firm, and this article is not intended as legal advice. If you’ve received an ADA demand letter, you should inform your legal counsel, then determine whether the letter’s allegations have merit. Here’s how an experienced accessibility partner can help.
ADA demand letters typically contain specific examples of non-accessible content
Title III of the ADA requires “places of public accommodation" to make reasonable adjustments for people with disabilities. According to the DOJ, websites and mobile apps qualify as places of public accommodation.
However, the ADA doesn’t include technical criteria for web accessibility. Most plaintiffs cite failures of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), which is widely considered to be the international standard for digital accessibility.
“Copycat" ADA demand letters may include WCAG conformance issues that have been copied from similar letters, and they may not apply to all of your content. You’ll need to evaluate your website (or mobile app) to determine whether the complaint is valid.
Common examples of WCAG failures cited in ADA demand letters include:
- Poor color contrast, which can make content difficult to read for people with vision disabilities and color vision deficiencies (also called color blindness).
- Poor keyboard accessibility, which affects people who use a keyboard alone to browse the internet.
- Missing text alternatives (including image alternative text) for non-text content, which affects people who cannot perceive content visually.
- Missing captions and transcripts for multimedia content.
In total, WCAG 2.1 contains 78 success criteria (pass-or-fail statements for testing accessibility), organized into three levels of conformance: Level A (the least strict and most essential requirements), Level AA, and Level AAA (the most strict requirements).
Websites that meet all Level A/AA success criteria are considered reasonably accessible for most users and therefore compliant with Title III of the ADA. Learn more about the differences between WCAG Level A, AA, and AAA.
Test your content for ADA compliance issues
Some plaintiffs may use automated scans to find WCAG failures, and automated tests — while useful — aren’t perfect. To determine whether your content meets WCAG’s Level A/AA guidelines, you should start with an automated test, then engage in manual testing.
Manual tests can determine whether the alleged barriers actually impact the experiences of people with disabilities. More importantly, experienced human testers can provide guidance for remediation.
Make a good-faith attempt to remediate ADA compliance issues
If you’ve received a demand letter, it’s not too late to make improvements. In fact, remediating accessibility issues may demonstrate that you’re fulfilling your duty to make reasonable adjustments.
Of course, the vast majority of businesses do not fight ADA claims — settling lawsuits can be much less expensive, and even successful ADA defenses carry substantial costs.
But if a plaintiff has already notified you of potential compliance issues, making improvements generally won’t hurt your case. Some tips to keep in mind:
- Keep documentation of all accessibility improvements.
- Don’t rush through remediations. In some cases, accessibility “fixes" can create new barriers for people with disabilities — make sure you know why you’re making each change.
- Focus on the issues that you can fix quickly. Some barriers (such as missing image alternative text and poor color contrast) can be remediated easily, and the “simplest" fixes tend to be the most important.
- Review the Department of Justice’s Guidance on Web Accessibility and the ADA. The Department recommends testing content against WCAG or the government’s own Revised Section 508 Standards (which are virtually identical to WCAG 2.0).
Take ADA demand letters seriously, but take a thoughtful approach
An ADA compliance demand letter can be frustrating for business owners — particularly if the letter contains language copied from another claim.
However, it’s important to remember that ADA compliance isn’t optional. If a consumer points out alleged accessibility barriers, you may need to rethink your strategy.
The Bureau of Internet Accessibility can help. We believe our four-point hybrid approach provides the best path to sustainable digital compliance, and our experts are ready to help you take the first steps.