Imagine getting a 20-page letter via FedEx stating that you have 15 calendar days to respond to ADA violations or face legal repercussions. As people become increasingly internet savvy, it becomes easier for us to recognize scams in our inbox demanding our SSN or otherwise threatening leg action. It doesn’t take much to spot these faux accusations and discard the email to spam. But a real envelope mailed to your business address looks far more legitimate. Because of the increasing number of ADA violation scams going around, you should be aware of what ADA is, what to do if you receive one of these envelopes, and how to identify other common legal scams threatening website-based businesses.
What is ADA?
Ability, like people, comes in a diversity of variations. In recognition of this, President George H. W. Bush signed the American Disabilities Act into law in 1990 to people with varying abilities.
The American Disabilities Act is a Civil Rights Law that protects disabled people’s rights to participate in the same activities as more abled people. Its original intent was focused on physical access and public accommodation. However, new lawsuits allege that private company websites qualify as places of public accommodation and that websites have access barriers that deny equal access to all individuals. There is debate as to whether “public accommodations” is only applicable to physical space.
A client of The Dubose Web Group was one of the companies that received a legal threat stating that the ADA was applicable to websites and that their website was in violation. When the firm contacted other local web firms, they found out some of their customers had received an identical letter from the same law firm. But the Dubose Web Group was confident they had followed ADA law when constructing the client’s website. With this combined information, they knew it was a scam.
How to Avoid Accessibility Violations
Companies should follow The Dubose Web Group’s lead and ensure ADA law is followed when developing a website. Not only will it minimize any risk to the company, but it will be good for business. Accessibility will increase traffic to the site, improve service, and decrease dependence for disabled users.
Website Features to Increase Accessibility
People with disabilities use assistive technology to enable them to use computers. These may include the following:
- Screen Readers: Computer programs that turn written text into audio.
- Alternative Text: Text written for images that can be read aloud.
- Text Enlargement Software: Software that makes text larger and therefore easier to read.
- Computer Programs: Programs that someone to control the computer with their voice.
- Operating System: A system that solves the challenge of manual dexterity and allows a person to move the mouse pointer with key strokes vs. with a mouse.
- Refreshing Braille Display: The display translates text into tangible braille that can be felt.
- Text Equivalent Images: Images with detailed text descriptions are place adjacent to the image giving the user clarity about what image is present.
- Additional Document Formats: Documents available in either HTML or Rich Text Format (RTF) in addition to PDF so that they can be read out and make the user aware of an attachment ‘s presence.
Other considerations to make a website more accessible include providing audio descriptions and captions on any videos, minimizing distracting features like blinking or flashing, and refraining from having fixed colors and font settings as those with low vision may need to adjust them in order to see the info clearly.
It is important to stay on top of changing technology and be proactive in understanding and addressing things that could be additional challenges for people with disabilities. Check for accessibility before any updates are published. Establish and engage disability insight groups to test your website and provide feedback/suggestions. Provide alternative access to the info on your website (ex: brochures).
If you’re going to hire a 3rd party to develop or upgrade your website, make sure they are an ADA specialized agency. Run an audit on your site to review website codes and pages. You can utilize free tools such as Wave or AChecker.
Recognizing Legal Scams
There are many “drive-by-lawsuits” and ADA trolls. Minimize your chances of becoming a victim by knowing how to recognize signs indicating a scam. Start by educating yourself and your team. Google or search “ADA Website Trolls” to understand how the scam works.
Ask around to see if any other similar companies have received the same letter and/or phone call. Read through the letter, take notes from the call and assess the details. Most scams will not have any detailed information with respect to names, dates, or company processes. Do some research and learn about the plaintiff as well. Partner with legal counsel that has knowledge in ADA and internet or with the State’s Bar Association as soon as feasibly possible.
Responding to Website Violation Legal Threats
Be skeptical of any unsolicited or cold calls. But also, don’t ignore them. Do your homework. Review the allegations in detail to determine if the accusations are factual violations. In many cases, companies are actually in compliance but panic because of threats made in a formal-looking letter. For instance, if you have a business-to-business website, see if you are exempt from the ADA. This would be an indication that the notification is a scam.
Also, according to the Department of Justice, companies actually have 2 years to be deemed compliant, but these firms imply it must be completed within days to avoid risk. The fact that a firm conveys a much different timeframe lets you know it is not credible.
Companies don’t have clarity or guidance on how to make their websites legally compliant. As of 2019, courts are not all aligned as to the interpretation of the American Disabilities Act with respect to the internet and websites. Businesses should take proactive steps until Congress brings clarity to the law. Companies must minimize their own risk.
We know the constantly-changing rules of the internet can be discombobulating. But you know in the 21st century that your business needs a website, so don’t get frustrated and sell your domain name just yet. If you’re worried your website isn’t ADA compliant and aren’t sure how to fix it, give us a call for a 30-Minute Free Consultation!