Trends in Lawsuits and Relevant Laws
In recent years, we have witnessed a significant shift in the legal landscape related to web accessibility, with a notable increase in demand letters and lawsuits. Over the past few years, it’s estimated that hundreds of thousands of businesses have received demand letters related to web accessibility, and 3% of these letters resulted in lawsuits. As a benchmark, 2022 saw a historic high in web accessibility lawsuits under the ADA, with 3,250 cases filed.
This growing trend in legal claims against non-compliant businesses under the ADA underscores the importance of being aware of this trend and its potential legal consequences for your clients. It’s crucial that their websites are accessible and comply with the ADA to mitigate legal risks.
Relevant Laws in Web Accessibility
In addition to the ADA, there are several other laws focused on web accessibility that may be relevant to some of your clients, depending on their business activity and location:
Section 508: This section refers to a part of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. It sets rules for federal agencies and any organization that receives federal funding. According to Section 508, federal agencies and federally funded organizations must build and maintain all information and communication technology (ICT) in an accessible manner for people with disabilities.
Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA): The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005 (AODA), is an Ontario law that establishes standards by which organizations must become more accessible to people with disabilities. Under the AODA, private or non-profit businesses with at least 20 employees in Ontario must file an accessibility compliance report, which is done through a standardized form provided by the Ontario government every three years.
Unruh Civil Rights Act: The Unruh Civil Rights Act (California Civil Code Section 51): this law protects against discrimination in all California businesses, including housing and public places, based on age, ancestry, color, disability, national origin, race, religion, sex, and sexual orientation.
New York City Human Rights Law (NYHRA): New York has enacted state and city-level legislation that prohibits discrimination parallel to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). NYHRA protects individuals with disabilities from discrimination in employment, housing, and public spaces.
What to Do If You Receive a Web Accessibility ADA Demand Letter
It’s understandable that receiving a demand letter or, worse yet, being served with a lawsuit alleging that your website doesn’t comply with web accessibility regulations under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) can be an overwhelming and perplexing experience, especially for small business owners. In this section, we’ll explore what to do if you find yourself in this situation and how to properly address web accessibility-related demands.
Do Not Ignore the Notice:
The first thing to keep in mind is that it’s crucial not to ignore the notice, whether it’s a letter from an attorney or a notice of a lawsuit. Ignoring these communications can result in more serious legal consequences. In many cases, demand letters are the first step in a legal process, and it’s important to take any legal communication seriously.
Assess the Situation:
Before taking hasty actions, it’s essential to assess the situation on your website. Are there elements that might be contributing to the lack of accessibility? Has any accessibility audit been conducted previously? Taking the time to understand the nature of the allegations and any potential accessibility deficiencies is a key step.
Seek Legal Counsel:
Since web accessibility-related demands can be complex and vary by jurisdiction, it’s advisable to seek legal counsel. An attorney with experience in web accessibility laws can help you understand your rights and obligations and determine the best strategy to address the situation.
Not All Letters Are Equal:
It’s important to recognize that some of the letters sent may be generic templates sent en masse to multiple website owners. These letters may be modified only with your business name and some identifying details. If you suspect you’ve received such a letter, you should still take it seriously but also exercise caution and ensure it is specifically addressed to your site.
Avoid Quick Fixes:
It may be tempting to try to find a quick and inexpensive solution to resolve the situation. However, it’s essential to address accessibility deficiencies comprehensively and ensure that your website complies with the proper regulations. Seeking a quick fix may not protect your business in the long run and could leave it exposed to future claims.
Once you have a clearer understanding of accessibility deficiencies on your website, it’s important to prioritize addressing these issues. This may involve working with web developers or accessibility professionals to make necessary changes.
Maintain a Documented Record:
Throughout the process, make sure to maintain a documented record of all actions taken and correspondence related to the case. This can be valuable in future legal proceedings.