If a customer has accused you and your business of violating the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), you may be confused. Maybe you double-checked with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). Perhaps you’ve run your product through testing. Maybe you have no idea what accessibility even is. Whatever your situation, you most likely weren't expecting this result.
You’re also not the only small business in this scenario. Since 2017, the US has witnessed a steady and significant increase in digital accessibility lawsuits.
Accessibility is an important issue in the digital business world. It’s important to ensure your business knows what to do if presented with a legal matter. This piece will review some steps if you have been cited as not compliant with the ADA.
Please bear in mind that the following does not constitute legal advice. The next steps should only be followed after consulting an accredited legal professional.
Understand and respond to the allegations
The first step you should take is to understand the exact nature of the complaint filed against your company. The design of your website may contain the potential to trigger seizures. Maybe your app's screen reader compatibility isn’t working.
To further understand what may have gone wrong here, ensure you and your design team are familiar with the success criteria outlined in WCAG. Also, ensure that your business’s physical attributes align with the ADA standards.
Whatever the scenario, according to the National Federation of Independent Business, you need to take this complaint seriously. After fully understanding the contents of the complaint, respond to them as quickly as possible.
Do not dismiss the complaining party as someone making empty threats. Not only could this escalate if you aren’t careful, but this is someone whose experience deserves acknowledgment.
Get legal counsel
As we said in the disclaimer, your best move after understanding the allegations is to contact an attorney.
An ADA-versed lawyer can give you feedback and effectively guide you on your next steps. A lawyer can give you the proper perspective on some of the following scenarios:
- Whether the plaintiff has constitutional standing
- Whether you should settle quickly
- Whether there’s a chance that the case could see a court
- If you could file a motion to stay the case while you fix any ADA violations
- How much communication should you maintain with the plaintiff and/or their legal team
Consult with an Accessibility Expert
Having consulted with an attorney, it makes sense to examine the problem areas of your company or the offending product. Companies can do this with the help of an accessibility expert.
Accessibility experts have professional experience and credentials in the accessibility world. The expert will be able to evaluate your product through an accessibility audit.
In the audit, the expert will run through various features of your product and test them against standards outlined in accessibility standards like The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines.
The audit should give clear and actionable steps to fix whatever issues that may have incited the complaint. For instance, if the problem is illegible color contrasts, the audit will point this out, and your design team should be able to fix the color ratio following WCAG’s requirements.
Review your business practices (closing thoughts)
If this complaint is the first time you have heard of accessibility or the ADA, this may be an opportunity to get educated on the subject. Accessibility awareness has been steadily increasing in the last few years. So too, expects that businesses start to take the matter seriously. While less than ideal, this complaint may be the wake-up call to start taking this matter seriously.
If you have been careful about accessibility and received a complaint, understand that these things happen and that your efforts have not been in vain. Accessibility is a process, not necessarily an end goal. There will always be mistakes, and businesses should have room to learn how to better themselves.
These steps will hopefully reduce the potential long-term consequences of receiving an accessibility complaint.