What is an ADA demand letter?

Dec 01 2022

Receiving a demand letter from a legal firm with the potential threat of legal action can be stressful. But it’s becoming an everyday part of running a business.

One of the demand letters you may receive relates to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), alleging that your website, app or other digital service is discriminating against people living with disabilities, because it is not accessible and therefore non-compliant with ADA.

An ADA demand letter needs to be taken seriously, but by taking prompt action you can reduce the associated risk and the corresponding threat of litigation. We’re going to explore what an ADA demand letter is, and the first steps you should take when receiving one.

What actually is an ADA demand letter?

An ADA demand letter will be sent out by a legal firm or legal representative alleging that your organization’s website, mobile app or other digital property does not comply with provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act, because it is discriminating against people with disabilities by not providing them with opportunities for equal access.

This usually means your website or app does not make content fully available to people who are visually or hearing impaired, or who have other disabilities, or rely on assistive technologies such as screen readers. Commonly this is because your website or app does not meet the technical standards.

What will the ADA demand letter say?

The ADA demand letter will usually contain something similar to the following:

  • It will highlight an element or elements of your website which violate the ADA and discriminate against disabled people.
  • Demand that corrective action take place as well as some kind of financial compensation, usually in the form of an out of court settlement or the need to hire a consultant.
  • Threaten to file a lawsuit against you in a federal court if the demands are not met.

Depending on your sector, you may receive an accessibility demand letter that relates to a different piece of legislation other than the ADA. For example, government agencies may receive demand letters relating to Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

How likely is it that I will receive an ADA demand letter?

ADA demand letters are not new. They stretch back to at least the Fall of 2015 when they started to be sent out by legal firms in the US. Since then, they have become increasingly common and now the numbers have started to grow exponentially. Sources estimate that there were approximately 265,000 demand letters sent in 2020 alone. (opens in a new window) This means that in 2022 there may be approaching 500,000 ADA demand letters sent out in the US; that number is going to be even higher in 2023. This means your business or organization, it is reasonably likely you will receive a demand letter at some stage.

Is my ADA demand letter a scam?

No, it’s unlikely to be a scam. You need to take the demand letter seriously. It is very likely that your website or app is not compliant with the ADA. There are thousands of businesses throughout the United States who do not have a compliant website. This is usually due to a lack of awareness about their responsibilities to make their site accessible or a lack of knowledge about what they need to do. Sometimes they may have been told erroneously by a CMS vendor or digital agency that their website is accessible and compliant, when this is not actually the case.

What should I do if I receive an ADA demand letter?

Firstly, don’t panic. There are steps you can take and we’ve written a post which outlines the main steps to take if you do receive an ADA demand letter (opens in a new window)including:

  • Call your attorney and seek their counsel for next steps and to craft a response. You will need to respond, as silence may constitute an admission.
  • Contact your insurance broker to see if you are covered or can arrange cover.
  • Preserve all documentation regarding your website and dig up any contracts with digital providers to check for liability, indemnity, warranties and other factors which could be relevant.
  • Consider a longer term solution to prevent further demand letters that will fix the accessibility issues on your website and drive better compliance with ADA, while also ensuring you have insurance cover against any potential action.

Taking a proactive approach

Taking a risk-managed approach is the best course of action. This proactive approach will prevent you getting future ADA letters as well as make sure your website does not discriminate against disabled people. It involves three main activities: taking time to understand the improvements you need to make to your website to make it accessible and taking appropriate action, using a technology solution to monitor your website to identify the actions required to keep it accessible, and taking out appropriate insurance cover.

Only until more businesses take this more proactive approach, will we start to see a corresponding fall in the number of ADA demand letters issued.

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