In the State of California, Assembly Bill No. 434 (AB 434) requires state agency websites to demonstrate compliance with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0.
The bill’s requirements:
- State agency websites must post a “signed certification from the state’s agency or state entity’s director and chief information officer" that demonstrates the web site’s compliance with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0, “or a subsequent version.”
- Sites must meet a minimum Level AA success criteria conformance level.
WCAG establishes three levels of conformance: Level A (least strict), Level AA, and Level AAA (most strict). Most websites aim for Level AA conformance, which is generally considered accessible for most internet users.
Under the law, state agencies in California must meet this level of conformance, which ensures that websites don’t have major accessibility barriers like keyboard traps or poor color contrast ratios. These barriers can make websites unusable for some people with disabilities.
AB 434 applies specifically to California’s 234 state agency websites — not private companies, although we’ll address private organizations later in this article. Even so, it’s an important piece of digital accessibility legislation.
AB 434 Compliance with WCAG 2.0, 2.1, and 2.2
The legislation officially took effect on July 1, 2019. Since the bill was written, WCAG has been updated to version 2.1, and version 2.2 is scheduled for official release in late 2021. Subsequent versions of the guidelines have added new success criteria.
It’s important to note that new versions of WCAG 2 are backwards-compatible with previous versions — all of the accessibility standards in WCAG 2.0 are listed verbatim (word-for-word) in WCAG 2.1. However, per the text of the bill, California agencies only have a legal requirement to comply with WCAG 2.0. Conformance with subsequent versions of the standards is optional.
How Does California AB 434 Affect Private Companies?
The bill doesn’t place accessibility compliance requirements on private companies — at least, not directly. But ABA 434 is another example of a statewide accessibility law that uses the WCAG framework as its basis for compliance.
Other laws that use WCAG 2.0 as a framework include:
- Section 508 of the US Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (as amended) (United States)
- Policy on Communications and Federal Identity (Canada)
- The Equality Act of 2010 (United Kingdom)
- The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) (Canada)
This is not a comprehensive list. As accessibility becomes more of a priority for legislators, we expect other laws and policies to use WCAG as a framework.
Currently, the United States does not require private organizations to follow WCAG, but conformance with the guidelines may help website owners demonstrate a good-faith attempt to accommodate users with disabilities. That’s an important consideration for US businesses: Courts have generally accepted arguments that websites must be accessible under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
WCAG Provides the Standards for Accessibility Compliance
WCAG is the most widely cited set of standards for digital accessibility, and with good reason: The document, which is published by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), uses a principle-based approach to provide guidance. If a website conforms with WCAG, most people with disabilities should be able to use it.
We say “most people" because people with disabilities aren’t a monolith — people use a variety of technologies and browsing techniques to access digital content. Website accessibility is somewhat subjective, but WCAG provides the most comprehensive framework available for standardizing the best practices of accessibility. For lawmakers, WCAG offers a roadmap for ensuring that websites make reasonable accommodations for all web users.
And for private businesses and public organizations, WCAG conformance provides significant benefits — regardless of whether an enterprise has a legal requirement to earn a certain level of conformance. Accessible websites can enjoy more visitors, better customer retention rates, and even improved search engine positioning.
As we’ve discussed on our blog, prioritizing accessibility early in the development process helps to limit costs while ensuring the best possible results. Laws like AB 434 may not apply directly to your operation, but the legislation has a clear takeaway: Accessibility is a crucial consideration, and the WCAG framework offers the most effective guidance for building accessible digital content.