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California AB 1757 May Lead to New Web Accessibility Lawsuits

Jul 14, 2023

On June 12, 2023, the California Assembly’s Judiciary Committee amended Assembly Bill (AB) 1757, introducing language that would effectively require all California websites to follow the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1 Level AA. 

The law could profoundly change the legal landscape. By requiring conformance with WCAG 2.1, the bill would establish firm technical requirements for website accessibility — but it would also allow plaintiffs to sue third-party developers that create noncompliant apps and websites.

Below, we’ll address some of the important features of AB 1757. First, a quick reminder: Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), all websites and mobile apps must be accessible for people with disabilities. To learn more about ADA compliance, download our free eBook: Essential Guide to ADA Compliance for Websites. 

AB 1757 would supplement California’s Unruh Act

California’s Unruh Act, a landmark civil rights bill, allows plaintiffs to sue businesses that discriminate against the public on the basis of race, gender, ethnicity, disability status, and other characteristics. 

Any violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is considered a violation of the Unruh Act, though a recent court decision indicates that the Unruh Act’s web accessibility requirements do not apply to online-only businesses.

Crucially, the Unruh Act applies to all organizations that do business in California — regardless of whether those organizations have a physical office in the state. 

AB 1757 would both limit and extend the Unruh Act. Here’s an overview of the proposed changes.

The bill establishes WCAG 2.1 Level AA as the technical standard for compliance.

Published by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), WCAG is widely considered to be the international standard for digital accessibility. Content that follows all Level AA requirements is considered reasonably accessible for most users with disabilities.

Under the Revised Section 508 Standards of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the U.S. federal government requires its agencies and contractors to follow most of the requirements of WCAG 2.0 Level AA, and the Department of Justice (DOJ) recommends testing content against WCAG to improve ADA compliance. 

But while WCAG enjoys strong support, it’s a voluntary standard — AB 1757 would effectively change that. Businesses would have a legal obligation to test content against WCAG 2.1 and remediate issues as quickly as possible. 

Related: DOJ Announces Title II Web Accessibility Regulations Are Coming: What’s It Mean?

The bill codifies requirements for plaintiffs. 

Under the bill, plaintiffs with disabilities may only recover statutory damages if a website “fails to provide equally effective communication or facilitate full and equal enjoyment of the entity’s goods and services to all members of the public.” 

Plaintiffs must “personally encounter" a barrier to access and must demonstrate that they were “deterred from accessing all or part of the website or the content of the website because of the website’s failure to provide equally effective communication or to facilitate full and equal enjoyment of the entity’s goods and services offered to the public.”

Related: Why More Businesses Are Facing Multiple ADA Website Lawsuits

The bill establishes requirements for third-party content developers.

AB 1757 would make it unlawful for any resource provider to “intentionally or knowingly construct, license, distribute, or maintain for online use, an internet website that fails to comply with [WCAG 2.1 Level AA].”

This could dramatically increase web accessibility litigation in California. Developers may face lawsuits from both businesses and plaintiffs with disabilities.

For businesses, WCAG conformance provides the best path to compliance

Whether or not AB 1757 becomes law in California, Title III of the ADA applies to all “places of public accommodation.” Websites and mobile apps qualify as places of public accommodation — and with the number of digital accessibility lawsuits rising each year, it’s important to have a plan for compliance.

However, digital accessibility is about much more than compliance: When content is accessible for a wide variety of users, everyone wins. 

The business case for digital accessibility is exceptionally strong. Accessibility can help businesses attract more visitors, increase engagement, and build stronger search engine optimization (SEO) strategies. 

If you’re ready to build a digital compliance strategy, the Bureau of Internet Accessibility can help. By combining powerful automation with manual audits, we provide a comprehensive solution for WCAG conformance.

Get started with a free automated analysis or send us a message to connect with an expert. 

Use our free Website Accessibility Checker to scan your site for ADA and WCAG compliance.

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