As an online business owner, you’ve likely heard about the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). You understand its importance and that your website needs to be accessible to all users, including those with disabilities. However, when a website is found to be in violation of the ADA, its owner can face legal repercussions.
These may include receiving a demand letter.
But what should you do if you receive one? Who sends them? And how do you adequately address what is stated in the letter?
In this guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about ADA website compliance demand letters. We’ll explain what a demand letter is, who sends them, and how to respond.
What is ADA Web Compliance?
Before we dive into the specifics of ADA web compliance demand letters, let’s first explore what ADA website compliance means. ADA stands for the Americans with Disabilities Act, which was enacted into law in 1990. This Act seeks to prohibit discrimination against people with disabilities in all public and private places open to the general public.
Although the ADA law was enacted before the internet became widely used, U.S. court decisions have extended the law’s scope to include websites and online platforms. Unfortunately, the DOJ has failed to formally adopt a set of standards or legal guidelines for what constitutes ADA web compliance, which means there is no way to absolutely stay protected from these lawsuits and demand letters. However, the disabled community has widely recognized the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) as the best existing standard for web inclusivity. WCAG 2.1 Level AA is the most up-to-date version of this standard.
ADA Web Compliance Demand Letters
An ADA web compliance demand letter is a legal notice sent to businesses to rectify non-compliant areas of a website. The letter aims to inform business owners that their website is not fully accessible, giving them the opportunity to correct it.
In recent years, the number of businesses receiving these letters has increased exponentially. In 2022, more than 1,500 demand letters were sent per week. This rise is partly due to heightened awareness of accessibility rights and the growing number of people with disabilities using the internet. Until equal access is provided for people with disabilities, the rate at which ADA website compliance demand letters are sent will likely continue to grow.
Who Sends ADA Web Compliance Demand Letters?
Demand letters are typically sent by an attorney representing clients with disabilities or advocacy groups who have identified ADA violations on a website. However, anyone with a disability who has been denied access to a public-facing website or digital platform can send a demand letter. These violations can range from difficult-to-use navigation menus to missing alt text and keyboard navigability.
While demand letters primarily come from attorneys, the Department of Justice (DOJ) also plays a critical role in enforcing accessibility standards. If a person with disabilities finds that a website is not accessible, they can file a complaint with the DOJ. The DOJ may then investigate and enforce action if necessary.
Who is at Risk of Receiving an ADA Web Compliance Demand Letter?
All online businesses open to the public risk receiving ADA web compliance letters, including eCommerce website owners, small businesses, large corporations, and nonprofits.
However, websites heavily reliant on visual content, such as online retailers, are among those most commonly targeted. In 2022, 2,387 businesses faced web accessibility lawsuits, and the retail industry accounted for almost 77% of cases.
While visual content is stimulating for some, images and videos may be inaccessible to certain website visitors. In fact, 58.2% of home pages are missing alternative text for images for visually impaired users. If website owners do not take proper measures to adjust their online content, the likelihood of receiving a demand letter is considerably higher.
Breaking Down the ADA Web Compliance Demand Letter
Receiving an ADA demand letter may seem intimidating, but don’t panic. While the letter isn’t a formal legal complaint or lawsuit, it serves as a warning. However, failure to take action when receiving one can lead to further legal recourse.
A typical ADA web compliance demand letter may include the following sections:
The ADA compliance demand letter will typically begin by explaining that your website has been assessed and found non-compliant with ADA standards. It will outline in clear language what the specific violations are. This may include thorough descriptions of accessibility barriers, such as incompatibility with screen reader technology or lack of keyboard navigability.
Request for Modifications
After highlighting the violations, the letter will contain a request for modifications you need to make to your website to achieve compliance. It might include specific WCAG checkpoints your site fails to meet and suggest remedies. For example, your website lacks sufficient contrast between text and background. In that case, the request might demand an improvement in this area.
Timeline for Achieving Compliance
The sender will specify a reasonable timeline for you to make the requested modifications. This could range from a few weeks to several months, depending on the nature and extent of the violations. It’s crucial to note this timeline and make sure you comply within the given time frame. Remember, this timeline is legally binding, and any delay can escalate the situation to a full-fledged ADA lawsuit.
If you fail to meet the ADA web compliance demands within the stated timeline, you risk being subject to legal action. The consequences could include hefty penalties, court-ordered website modifications, and the stigma of a public ADA lawsuit. All of this could significantly impact your business’s reputation and profitability.
What to Do if You Receive a Demand Letter?
If you’ve received an ADA website compliance demand letter, it usually means someone has identified your website as ADA non-compliant. So what should you do?
Here are some steps to guide you:
- Understand the Requirements for ADA Web Compliance: Familiarize yourself with ADA website conformance standards and guidelines. WCAG 2.1 Level AA is the best measure for web accessibility.
- Seek Legal Advice: A knowledgeable attorney with experience in ADA website compliance can help you understand the legal requirements and guide you on the best course of action.
- Review the Letter and Evaluate Your Website for Compliance: Carefully review the demand letter and evaluate your website based on the violations outlined. Determine if the claims are valid and identify areas that need improvements.
- Get a Website Audit and Remediate: Hire a professional to conduct an accessibility audit of your website and make the necessary changes to achieve compliance.
- Communicate with the Plaintiff: Respond to the letter, outlining the steps you’re taking to address the issues raised. Proactive communication can help de-escalate the situation and avoid a lawsuit.
- Monitor and Maintain: ADA Web Compliance is not a one-time event. Regularly review your website to ensure ongoing compliance. This proactive approach can help prevent future demand letters.
Stay Ahead of the Curve with 216digital
ADA web compliance is not optional for online businesses. Demand letters pose a real risk and can lead to serious legal consequences if not appropriately addressed. However, with a clear understanding of ADA standards and the right support, you can take steps to rectify issues and protect your business from potential legal action.
At 216digital, we understand the complexities of web accessibility and are here to help. We offer comprehensive services that not only audit your website for accessibility but also provide solutions to meet ADA compliance requirements. Our experienced team thoroughly understands WCAG guidelines, and we can help your business implement the necessary adjustments.
Don’t wait for a demand letter to land on your desk. Get ahead of the curve and ensure your website is ADA-compliant today with 216digital by scheduling a complementary 15 minute briefing.