In 2020 alone, U.S. businesses received an estimated 265,000 demand letters citing website accessibility issues. In the accessibility space, the purpose of a demand letter is to cite alleged violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) — they’re the first step towards costly litigation, but they don’t always result in a lawsuit.
If you’ve received an ADA demand letter, here’s the good news: It’s not necessarily too late to improve accessibility and avoid litigation. Here’s what to do next.
Step 1: Take it seriously, but don’t panic
At the Bureau of Internet Accessibility, one of our core goals is to help businesses meet their obligations under the ADA and other digital accessibility laws. However, we aren’t a law firm (and to be clear, this article is not legal advice).
With that in mind, it’s a good idea to contact qualified legal counsel before taking any other steps. Don’t reach out to the potential plaintiff unless your attorney advises you to do so.
Likewise, you shouldn’t assume that the demand letter is baseless. While some demand letters aren’t based on good-faith arguments, most have some ground: According to one analysis from WebAIM (Web Accessibility In Mind), about 96.8% of the internet’s top 1 million home pages have detectable accessibility issues.
In other words, if you haven’t prioritized accessibility, there’s a good chance that your website has issues that could create barriers for people with disabilities.
Step 2: Evaluate your website for accessibility
After discussing the demand letter with your legal counsel, it’s a good idea to analyze your website’s current level of accessibility.
Most demand letters cite Title III of the ADA, which prohibits discrimination in “places of public accommodation,” but doesn’t contain technical standards for web accessibility. Fortunately, objective standards exist: The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), which is published by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C).
The Department of Justice (DOJ) cites WCAG as a useful tool for evaluating digital accessibility. While the ADA doesn’t explicitly require WCAG conformance (conformance means voluntarily following the guidelines), many demand letters cite specific WCAG conformance violations when making allegations.
WCAG is organized into three levels of conformance: Level A (least strict), Level AA, and Level AAA (most strict). Most websites should aim for Level AA conformance. Read more about the differences between WCAG conformance levels.
To evaluate your website against WCAG Level AA, follow these tips:
- Start with an automated analysis. Automated tools can identify many of the most common WCAG conformance issues such as low-contrast text and missing image alternative tags.
- Choose an automated tool that uses the latest version of WCAG. At time of publication, the W3C’s official recommendation is WCAG 2.1, with WCAG 2.2 expected for release in late 2022 or early 2023.
- Don’t rely on automated audits alone. Manual testing can identify issues that require human context and judgment. Read more about the importance of manual testing.
Finally, consider working with an accessibility partner. If you’re facing a potential lawsuit, a single accessibility issue can be a liability. A third-party accessibility expert can help you get an accurate overview of your site’s accessibility and make plans for remediation.
Step 3: Make a list of issues and start remediation
After auditing your website, you can begin remediation — but make sure you’re implementing fixes that will actually improve experiences for users with disabilities.
To fulfill that goal, you’ll need to understand why issues need to be fixed. For example, adding alternative text to images can make your website more accessible, but only if you write concise, accurate descriptions of each image.
Focus on remediations that will have the greatest impact on your users. Read through WCAG when addressing each problem, and be prepared for several rounds of remediation.
For more detailed guidance, read: Web Accessibility Remediation: A Quick Guide for Getting Started
Step 4: Have a long-term strategy for web accessibility
Web accessibility isn’t a one-time project. Even if you address all issues in the demand letter, you might introduce new accessibility barriers when updating or redesigning your website.
Your accessibility strategy should include:
- Regular audits including both automated and manual testing.
- Accessibility training for developers, designers, and other members of your team.
- An up-to-date accessibility statement, which lists your goals, known issues, and contact information for reporting barriers.
- Regular review of accessibility benchmarking metrics.
An experienced accessibility partner can make this process much easier. Remember, accessibility has a number of major benefits outside of legal compliance. When your website works for every user, you can enjoy higher customer retention rates, improved search engine optimization (SEO), and better interactions with your users.
If you’ve received an ADA demand letter — or you’d rather not wait for a lawsuit to enjoy the benefits of accessible design — we’re here to help. Contact us to speak with a subject matter expert or get started with a free, confidential web accessibility analysis.