Telerik blogs

What will you do if a user reports an issue with your digital product’s accessibility? See the five steps to take to identify the issue, remediate and proactively protect your product from further complaints or legal action.

A lot of people depend heavily on the internet to get stuff done in their lives and businesses. So what happens when they encounter an app or website that they’re unable to use because of a permanent, temporary or situational impairment?

Some people will simply back out of the site or app and find a suitable and accessible alternative that caters to their needs. Others might not be content with that option. They might leave a bad review online—on Google, the app store, Yelp, etc.—in order to let their dissatisfaction be known and to warn off others.

Then there are those who will take it to the extreme. When it comes to accessibility, consumers now have legislation on their side (like the Americans with Disabilities Act in the U.S.) that enables them to move forward with compliance demands and lawsuits.

As a web designer, what should you do if one of your clients or employers receives a digital accessibility violation notice or if a lawsuit is brought against them? This post will walk you through the basic steps.

What to Do If Your Website or App Violates the ADA

Whether you’ve received a complaint from one of your users or your product has been formally accused of a serious web accessibility infraction, time is of the essence. Here’s what you’ll need to do:

Step 1: Review the Complaint

An inaccessibility complaint can come from a variety of places and in a variety of manners.

One person might fill out your contact form or feedback widget to let you know something’s wrong. Another might send a notice to inform you of the accessibility issue and a timeframe within which it must be fixed. And yet another might go straight for a lawsuit.

In whatever manner the complaint comes through, it must not be ignored. It’s similar to receiving negative feedback on social media or in one’s place of business. If you ignore it, dismiss it and don’t take it seriously, it’s likely to escalate.

So the second your client or employer catches wind of the issue (if it doesn’t come straight to you), read through the complaint carefully. You want to get a full understanding of where the accessibility issue is and who has been impacted before you do anything else.

Step 2: Confirm That Your Site or App is Required to be Accessible

The number of accessibility digital lawsuits rises with each passing year. It’s not just because consumers feel emboldened to sue companies over inaccessibility claims.

Websites and apps are getting more complex. This is something that the WebAIM Million tracks from year to year. Between February 2022 and February 2023, homepages went from having an average of 955 elements to 1050.

More elements and greater complexity opens the door for more issues if accessibility remains unchecked. In fact, each of the top 1 million website homepages have an average of 50+ accessibility errors on them.

Having an inaccessible product doesn’t necessarily open you up to the possibility of a formal complaint or lawsuit though. It’s important to check that your website or app is specifically targeted by your local accessibility legislation.

For instance, the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division explicitly stated in 2022 that the ADA is enforceable when it comes to two types of entities:

  1. Title II: State and local governments
  2. Title III: Businesses that are public accommodations

The latter category covers any business that offers goods and services to the general public. The DOJ gives the following examples:

  • Banks
  • Hospitals
  • Hotels
  • Restaurants
  • Retailers
  • Sports arenas
  • Theaters

Not only do these types of government entities and business establishments need to be physically accessible according to the ADA, so too do their websites.

That doesn’t mean that all other types of websites and apps are safe from accessibility-related lawsuits. Ideally, every digital product should be able to meet Level A compliance of the WCAG.

Step 3: Audit Your Digital Product

Once you’ve determined that your product does indeed have accessibility issues that need addressing, it’s time to do an audit.

You can perform the audit internally or hire an external accessibility expert to handle it. I’d say that the severity of the complaint should dictate who handles it. In other words, if a costly lawsuit is involved, outsource it to someone with experience in the matter.

As for what to audit, don’t assume that the consumer’s complaint covers the entirety of the issue. Even if the notice only calls attention to a lack of sitemap or the lawsuit states that a certain feature can’t be accessed by a screen reader, there could be other issues.

It’s best to perform accessibility tests of your entire digital product.

The Web Accessibility Initiative has a helpful list of accessibility evaluation tools that’s worth checking out. When choosing which ones to use, cover as many bases as you can. For instance, you should have tools that allow you to check things like color contrast, broken links, code, responsiveness, screen reader compatibility and more.

Step 4: Fix the Accessibility Issue(s)

Regardless of how the complaint came in, this step is all about remediation.

Your client or employer will need to acknowledge the complaint if they haven’t done so already. This process may take a bit longer if a lawyer needs to get involved. But in terms of engaging with the consumer or end user, that responsibility should fall on them so they can address the issue, acknowledge the fault and also provide a brief plan for remediation (i.e., what will be fixed and how long it will take).

It’s then up to you to go in and repair the inaccessible components of the digital product—ideally, in a staging environment.

First, make a checklist of all the issues as well as all the components and pages impacted. If any of the inaccessible elements play a critical role in the user journey (something like the checkout page or reservation form), you might want to put the site or app under construction while you repair it.

It’s not like you’re going to receive a barrage of accessibility lawsuits in the meantime. However, if you’re in the habit of putting the site under construction whenever you perform any maintenance or major updates, you should do the same with this.

Once you’ve implemented the changes, have another team member step in for quality control. Let them manually review the update and then have them use the same accessibility tools you used to initially detect the issues.

After restoring accessibility, remove the under-construction page and push the updates to the live site.

Step 5: Revise Your Web Design Process

It should never be the responsibility of your users to report issues with your product. For starters, it does terrible things to the trust and relationship that brands have to work really hard to establish with customers. Secondly, many users won’t report the issues. They’ll simply jump ship and find a product that works.

Customer trust and retention are critical to the success of brands today. Your digital products need to be built for both, so your web design process will need to become proactive if it isn’t already.

First, add a section for digital accessibility to your web design checklist.

Determine first which level of the WCAG 2.1 your product needs to comply with—Level A, AA or AAA. AA is the most common. Then add all the relevant accessibility tasks to your list so that they get addressed every time you design or redesign a product. Again, here’s the list of accessibility requirements and techniques.

Your design process should already have a section for quality analysis and testing. The set of tools you used to detect accessibility issues and audit your product should be added to that part of your workflow.

Next, schedule time for accessibility audits.

If you’ve built a product that will be susceptible to the ADA or other local regulations, these audits are essential.

If this is going to be necessary for your product, it should be determined before you even submit a proposal or contract to a client. It will require ongoing checks and maintenance after launch and, thus, it’ll impact the budget for the job.

One other thing to consider when it comes to audits is usability testing. I’m not saying that this is necessary. However, if you’re already doing user testing to optimize your products post-launch, then start factoring in accessibility as well.

Lastly, stay on top of the subject of digital accessibility.

Version 2.2 of the WCAG came out in 2023, so you’ll want to update your accessibility task list if anything major changed with that.

Outside of official accessibility guidelines and legislation, it’s also a good idea to watch for accessibility-related posts. You’ll find tons of useful guidance on tips and tools as it relates to building accessible digital products.

For instance, the Telerik blog has covered this topic from various angles:

Find sources that you trust and pay close attention to what they’re putting out in terms of accessibility. As the guidelines change and as techniques for building it into products evolve, you’ll be the first to know about it all.

Wrapping up

Even if there’s no threat of an accessibility lawsuit right now, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take this matter seriously. Accessibility is a critical part of what makes a digital product usable. It also has an impact on how well websites rank in search engines.

Whatever your goals and priorities are when building digital products, usability and rankability are likely high up there. So whether you know it or not, accessibility is a top priority for you as well, and your web design process and strategies need to reflect that.

The information provided on this blog does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal advice. Any reader who needs legal advice should contact their counsel to obtain advice with respect to any particular legal matter. No reader, user or browser of this content should act or refrain from acting on the basis of information herein without first seeking legal advice from counsel in their relevant jurisdiction.

About the Author

Suzanne Scacca

A former project manager and web design agency manager, Suzanne Scacca now writes about the changing landscape of design, development and software.

Related Posts


Comments are disabled in preview mode.