Some surprises are great. A friend organizes a surprise birthday party for you, or perhaps your weekly lottery ticket wins big. But, when it comes to lawsuits that stem from one or more of your digital properties not being accessible, surprises take on an entirely different feel.
Today, it should go without saying that if your company wants to be exceptional for everyone, it needs to be fully digitally accessible. Yet, many organizations don’t seem to understand the basic requirements and are often caught off guard when issues arise – though there is little reason for such lack of awareness these days. There are a tremendous number of resources for firms that want to be fully accessible, and many role models, as major global brands have gone beyond accessibility to incorporate inclusive design into their product and services development processes.
This blog looks at some of the basic accessibility laws, the accessibility legal landscape and what to do if you receive notification that your digital properties are not accessible.
What does each law or standard do and why do they matter?
ADA – Prohibits discrimination and ensures equal opportunity for persons with disabilities (PWD) in local/state government services employment, public accommodations, commercial facilities and transportation. It also mandated TDD/telephone relay services.
Title III of the ADA – Prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in places of public accommodation. This extends to businesses and non-profit organizations.
Section 508 – Any vendors who wish to do business with the U.S. federal government must ensure that their websites and software meet accessibility requirements. Section 508 doesn’t mean all businesses must meet accessibility requirements, however, those that wish to do business with the federal government, must prove they are accessibility compliant to become an approved vendor.
WCAG 2.0/2.1 – Standards set by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). Through its Web Accessibility Initiative, W3C attempts to ensure all users have equal access to online information and functionality. A digital property is typically considered accessible when it is WCAG 2.0/2.1 Level AA (there are three levels – A, AA, AAA – but A is generally falls short of broad accessibility requirements and AAA is generally thought to be difficult to achieve for some, so AA is the typical goal for most organizations).
These are not all the laws relating to accessibility in the U.S., but they are the primary laws that relate to the topic I’m covering in this blog: accessibility and demand letters/lawsuits. For a comprehensive list of accessibility-related laws in the U.S., access the ADA’s Guide to Disability Rights Laws. Keep in mind that all countries around the world have their own accessibility laws at national and local levels. For example, as of June 28, 2025, the European Accessibility Act will mean that companies operating in Europe (whether based there or based in other countries) must ensure their products and services are accessible. Another example is the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA). This provincial Canadian accessibility law requires that if a company in Ontario owns and controls a website that displays content built by an international vendor outside of Canada, it must comply with local regulations.
The accessibility legal landscape today
Accessibility.com’s 2022 Website Accessibility Lawsuit Recap does a great job of summing up the legal landscape in which businesses and other organizations operate when it comes to accessibility. Here are a few key facts from that document for perspective:
There were 2,387 web accessibility lawsuits filed in 2022, almost 67% of which were filed by just five law firms out of New York and California.
There was a 143% increase in companies that received multiple lawsuits year over year.
Consumer goods, services and retail are the most targeted industries, followed by apparel, durable goods and beauty.
Cases can be filed in any state in which a company does business, and companies can and do receive multiple lawsuits from different states, even just weeks apart.
Law firms are raising lawsuits in states where laws tend to favor the plaintiffs; all that matters is that your firm does business in these states.
Most legal action does not go to court, but rather takes the form of an ADA Demand Letter, a “soft” legal action where a law firm represents an individual(s) claiming that a digital property is not accessible. These demand letters are typically settled out of court.
There are estimates that there are six to seven times more demand letters than lawsuits.
You have not received a demand letter and are not in a lawsuit…
Great. It’s always best to be proactive and prepared. And when it comes to accessibility, that’s particularly true. When other elements of your digital experience fall short, you typically have an unhappy customer(s) or prospect(s). That’s bad enough, but the legal component of an accessibility suit amplifies the potential losses.
When Applause works with clients around the world, we promote the fact that having fully accessible digital properties is not only good for all people, but very good for business. First, when you make all your products accessible, you tap into the approximately 16% of the global population that lives with some form of disability. Estimates suggest that friends and family of (PWD) account for another 3.3 billion potential consumers who act based on their connection to PWD. If that’s not enough motivation, consider that firms that focus on accessibility report a significant uptick in customer satisfaction and brand loyalty.
Accessibility efforts also improve overall search engine optimization through elements like page titles, site maps, alt text, overall readability, navigation and more. Finally, being accessible means you avoid the steadily rising tide of legal actions being brought against organizations. This trend supports the reality that most organizations have had years to consider and remedy outstanding compliance issues. This perspective is very hard to dispute.
If you do not have an accessibility plan or have not completed a VPAT, a document that allows your company or organization to provide a comprehensive analysis of your conformance to accessibility standards set by Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act, you risk aggravation and expense, as settling one claim without a clear plan for moving forward leaves your organization open to more claims. Making sure you are accessible – and if not – quickly developing a plan, either on your own or with a competent partner, should be the first order of business.
You’ve received an ADA demand letter, now what?
Though we work with many proactive companies who have been leaders in accessibility, we have also done a lot of work with clients who have received demand letters raising accessibility non-compliance issues. If the non-compliance accusations are accurate, whether or not a settlement is to take place, we often consult to help build a comprehensive accessibility plan. These programs can include accessibility conformance testing, VPATs, training needed personnel, and then – at the end – ensuring that accessibility issues have been remedied through comprehensive testing with a recurring cadence. At other times, we are called in to just test at the end of a remediation to ensure that the identified issues have been resolved. It runs the spectrum of individual organizational needs. After all, the goal is to be in compliance and prevent future legal issues.
Stepping through the non-compliance process: a typical flow
The following is a general flow of considerations organizations must address when remediating accessibility compliance issues.
Typically, an organization receives a demand letter to inform them of accessibility non-compliance. The demands may cover a few issues, such as a screen reader that doesn’t work and poor color contrast on your website. Some cases may present a much longer list of non-conforming issues. For larger organizations with multiple websites, these issues can be compounded, as the plaintiff’s attorney may raise accessibility issues across multiple digital properties.
Some law firms have filed hundreds of lawsuits. They may use a tool like WAVE, an accessibility evaluation tool that automatically checks for accessibility issues. However, WAVE has limitations. It should not be used as the sole testing method while performing an accessibility audit to discover barriers users with disabilities encounter while accessing a site. A manual expert check is needed to identify the majority of errors. It is also not advisable to fully rely on the result of the WAVE scan, as finding no errors really doesn’t mean the web page is accessible.
Organizations need to quickly assess the validity of the legal issues raised — through using their own accessibility team or a reliable third-party consultant. Moving carefully, confidently and quickly is important, as other plaintiffs can bring demand letters, even when you’re already dealing with one.
Some firms will resort to purchasing one of the many plugins or widgets that exist to remedy accessibility issues. These may fix a few issues, but they are not a generally reliable way to address all accessibility issues and, in some cases, can conflict with the tools that PWD use to navigate the web. Some will even impact your brand, as they enable users to adjust fonts and colors on pages. It’s important to leverage internal accessibility expertise if you have it, or enlist a qualified third-party consultant to help first validate the merits of the demand letter, and if valid, form a plan to move forward.
Choosing the right accessibility compliance partner
If you are not challenging the demand letter and plan on settling, then it is important to quickly develop an accessibility plan to show a formal intent to remedy issues. If your firm does not have the internal expertise to navigate the needed accessibility requirements, then searching for the right third-party consultant is the next step.
It’s critical that a prospective partner can demonstrate substantial knowledge of WCAG violations and how best to remedy issues. Many firms simply report issues, leaving internal engineering teams to sort out how to execute the fixes. For example, if there are 75 issues to be fixed, which should take top priority? And if you have multiple websites, how should fixes be prioritized across these digital properties? Are there a few key fixes that quickly remedy the most pressing issues?
Often, developers and QA require training around how to identify and test for these issues in the future. Designers may need training on inclusive practices, as issues can arise in the handoff from design to engineering. It’s very important that your compliance partner does bug fix verification to ensure that fixes actually work. In addition, the partner should be able to provide guidance around integrating improvements and checkpoints at different points in the SDLC.
Establishing a constructive outcome through remediation
Often, becoming accessibility compliant can be a multi-year process because it requires organizational change. However, this isn’t cause for concern. The key is showing that you are taking the accessibility issues seriously and developing a clear plan to remedy them. This is why consulting at the onset of remediation is so critical — you need a proven execution plan to avoid roadblocks during the process. When you have your plan in place – and perhaps an accessibility statement that lists how you’re prioritizing accessibility and the steps you’re taking to do this – you’ll have some degree of protection against further demand letters, as you are able to show that you are working toward accessibility in a formal way.
A strong partner can complete an audit in a few weeks. This important baseline gives organizations a comprehensive view of what needs to be fixed, and the critical issues to be prioritized. For example, if a feature is redesigned, it is better to fix the issue with development, address the root cause of the issue with the design team, or both. Issues preventing the use of screen readers are considered basic accessibility showstoppers and should be prioritized. The consulting firm should be able to quickly provide recommendations to remedy these issues, which may go a long way toward getting you closer to full accessibility.
Once bugs are addressed, you will need to execute a VPAT. If you’ve never completed a VPAT, you may wish to seek a partner’s help. This, combined with your accessibility statement, position you to move toward full accessibility compliance without further issues.
Accessibility compliance is an ongoing effort
Like so many things in life that require ongoing effort – fitness, education in your area of expertise, or keeping your home maintained – accessibility compliance is not something that you do once and check off the list. It requires regular testing of your digital properties and updating VPATs accordingly.
With the proper internal education and commitment to ongoing accessibility, testing using PWD for a real perspective on how your products and services work with assistive technologies, and a wisdom to know when you need outside help, organizations can be compliant and begin to innovate as a result of accessibility and inclusive design efforts.
Stay tuned for our next blog which will cover moving beyond WCAG toward inclusive design processes.