What to Do if You Receive an ADA Demand Letter: Six Steps to Mitigate Risk
Feb 7, 2024
So, you’ve received an ADA demand letter claiming that your website, app, or other digital experience is inaccessible to people with disabilities.
You’re far from alone. The legal landscape surrounding digital accessibility remains active, with thousands of web accessibility lawsuits, and many more demand letters, filed under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) each year. In fact, 40% of the over 1,000 professionals we surveyed for our latest State of Digital Accessibility Report say their organization has faced digital accessibility-related legal action in the past 12 months.
Digital accessibility lawsuits tend to be costly and time-consuming, and they can erode consumers’ trust in your brand. While an ADA demand letter isn’t the same as a lawsuit, it may lead to one.
Here’s the good news: by taking the right path forward, you can not only secure the best possible outcome for your organization today, but also reduce your risk of future legal action, ensuring all customers are being fairly and equally served. Let’s cover the six steps you’ll need to take to effectively navigate a demand letter, safeguarding your organization’s reputation and resources.
1. Assess the ADA demand letter’s legitimacy
Before you take any action, you need to understand whether the ADA demand letter you’ve received is legitimate. Even if you have a legal background, it’s wise to consult with a third-party expert, such as outside legal counsel, to determine this. A strong accessibility partner can also help with this assessment, providing specific information from recent ADA filings.
With the help of an expert, review the letter closely, and ask the following questions:
- Is the law firm representing the plaintiff reputable?
- Does the plaintiff have standing to sue?
- Does the plaintiff’s law firm have a history of filing lawsuits?
- Are the claims described in the letter clear and specific?
The answers to these questions will inform whether, and how, you decide to respond.
Expert review of an ADA demand letter
2. Validate the accessibility issues identified in the letter
In addition to checking that the ADA demand letter itself is legitimate, validate that the claims made in the letter are technically accurate. Does your website or app contain all accessibility issues cited by the plaintiff?
This is an important step because, in some cases, a plaintiff’s law firm will send boilerplate letters to multiple possible defendants, citing the most common accessibility issues. Not all of these may be present in your digital experience.
It’s also possible that some of the issues cited in the letter have since been resolved. Noting this in a potential reply may lessen the plaintiff’s desire to continue to pursue legal action.
A reputable digital accessibility solution provider like Level Access can evaluate your digital experience and document findings for each claim made. The right partner will also help you understand the scope and severity of any valid findings, which may inform the strength of the plaintiff’s case.
3. Strategize with a legal expert on a response
Just because you’ve received an ADA demand letter doesn’t mean you need to respond. In fact, responding may not always be in your organization’s best interest. Be sure to discuss your situation with a legal expert, such as a third-party law firm, accounting for the legitimacy of the demand letter and validity of its claims, before making this complicated choice. You’ll also want to involve any other legal stakeholders within your organization.
If your team decides to respond, consider the following questions:
- Is there a strategic advantage to the timing of your response?
- Do you have evidence to rebut the claims made?
- Can you resolve any issues before responding?
- How much is a user’s experience impacted by the named issues?
A general counsel’s advice for navigating ADA lawsuits
4. Evaluate your digital experience—and take action on the results
It’s possible that your organization’s website, app, or other digital experience contains accessibility barriers not mentioned in the ADA demand letter, or that issues are present in additional digital experiences you own. These can leave you vulnerable to future risk. And it’s not uncommon for organizations to be repeatedly targeted by ADA demand letters and lawsuits: of respondents we surveyed who reported facing legal action in the past 12 months, 82% also anticipate facing legal action in the next 12 months.
To identify issues you may not be aware of, request a professional accessibility evaluation from an experienced accessibility solution provider. In this evaluation, an expert will assess how well your digital experiences meet the needs of people with disabilities. You’ll obtain the most accurate results by working with a partner that offers manual testing alongside automated scanning.
Rather than auditing your entire digital portfolio at once—which tends to yield an overwhelming list of issues that are difficult to prioritize—an actionable evaluation focuses on key user flows, or the paths users take to complete core tasks, like completing a checkout process.
By concentrating on the parts of your digital experience that are most important to users, you can swiftly remove the barriers that are most likely to put your organization at risk of a lawsuit. Then, move on to testing and fixing lower-priority areas of your digital experience once these critical problems have been resolved.
5. Communicate your commitment to accessibility
Once you’ve committed to fixing the issues identified in the ADA demand letter—and others that could invite future legal action—it’s a good time to clearly and publicly communicate the action your organization is taking to improve accessibility. You can do this by publishing an accessibility statement.
A well-crafted accessibility statement highlights your commitment to providing equitable, inclusive experiences, creating a welcoming environment for users with disabilities. It also offers a channel for users to alert you about the accessibility barriers they’re encountering without resorting to a demand letter. In fact, publishing an accessibility statement is a legal best practice based on the U.S. Department of Justice’s (DOJ) requirements in former private enforcement actions.
Support from experts in digital accessibility law
6. Adopt a digital accessibility policy
Fixing barriers across your digital experiences, and communicating this commitment publicly, are crucial first steps toward mitigating the risk of future legal action. Now, you’ll need to sustain the progress you’re making with issue remediation and prevent new barriers from emerging as your experience is updated with new content and features.
Establishing accountability for accessibility is key to achieving both goals. You can do this by adopting a digital accessibility policy that sets principles and guidelines for ensuring your organization’s digital experiences are free of accessibility issues. As it’s built out, your policy should be shared with every relevant department within your organization. It should also be accompanied by access to training for employees. In fact, accessibility training for web personnel is a consistent mandate in DOJ enforcement actions.
Start your journey toward ADA compliance
Receiving an ADA demand letter may be frustrating—but by taking the steps outlined in this article, you can maximize your organization’s chances of a favorable outcome. And you’ll be accomplishing more than protecting your organization from a lawsuit. You’ll also be providing better experiences for all users.
However, navigating the complex digital accessibility legal landscape can be challenging, and lasting compliance takes time. Our team of digital accessibility legal experts can provide the clarity and support you need to move forward from an ADA demand letter and create a plan for lasting compliance.
We’ll review your demand letter for accuracy and validity. Additionally, our professional testers will evaluate your key user flows for issues that may expose you to future risk and provide actionable guidance for remediation. We’ll also partner with you to create a public accessibility statement and stand up an organization-wide policy that keeps your team accountable for continued progress. Ready to get started? Connect with a member of our team today.