The digital landscape is constantly evolving, and with it comes the need for inclusive and accessible online experiences. California has taken a significant step forward in this regard with the introduction of Assembly Bill (AB) 1757. This proposed law has the potential to reshape the legal landscape of web accessibility and place a greater responsibility on businesses and web developers to ensure their websites adhere to accessibility standards.
The Significance of AB 1757
AB 1757 aims to establish Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1 Level AA as California’s required standard for websites and mobile apps. This move would not only provide a clear and measurable framework for digital accessibility but also allow individuals with disabilities to take legal action against noncompliant businesses and third-party developers.
The proposed law builds upon the foundation of existing legislation, including the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and California’s Unruh Act. While the ADA requires websites and mobile apps to be accessible for people with disabilities, the Unruh Act extends beyond physical locations and covers discrimination based on various characteristics, including disability status.
Exploring AB 1757: Key Provisions and Implications
1. WCAG 2.1 Level AA as the Standard
AB 1757 would establish WCAG 2.1 Level AA as the technical standard for compliance. WCAG, developed by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), is widely recognized as the international benchmark for digital accessibility. Its Level AA requirements ensure that websites are reasonably accessible for most users with disabilities.
Compliance with WCAG 2.1 Level AA is currently voluntary, but AB 1757 seeks to make it a legal obligation for businesses operating in California. This shift would provide a clear framework for businesses to assess and remediate accessibility issues, fostering a more inclusive online environment.
2. Extending Liability to Third-Party Developers
One significant aspect of AB 1757 is the potential liability it places on third-party developers. Previously, businesses were primarily responsible for ensuring their websites’ accessibility. However, the proposed law enables individuals with disabilities to sue third-party developers who create non-compliant websites and mobile apps.
Developers may feel this law is unfair or even question its legality. However, the bill’s authors seem to feel the time has come for web developers to be responsible for their work. Furthermore, should businesses be solely liable? After all, shouldn’t developers know how to comply with accessibility laws by now?
This change serves as a wake-up call for developers, emphasizing the importance of incorporating accessibility into their design and development processes. Ignorance of accessibility requirements will no longer serve as a defense, as AB 1757 broadens the scope of liability to include negligent conduct.
3. Statutory Damages and Requirements for Plaintiffs
AB 1757 introduces specific requirements for plaintiffs seeking statutory damages. To be eligible, plaintiffs must personally encounter barriers that impede their access to a website or its content. They must demonstrate that the website’s failure to provide effective communication or facilitate equal enjoyment of goods and services deterred them from accessing it.
This provision aims to prevent frivolous lawsuits while ensuring that individuals with disabilities have legal recourse when faced with accessibility barriers. It establishes a clear threshold for plaintiffs to meet, ensuring that cases with genuine accessibility concerns are addressed.
4. Considerations for Businesses Operating in California
AB 1757 applies to all business establishments operating in California, regardless of their physical location. This means that even businesses based outside of California but conducting operations within the state must adhere to the proposed accessibility standards.
The law does not discriminate based on the size or type of business. Whether you run a small local business or a multinational corporation, ensuring digital accessibility will be essential to avoid potential legal action and create an inclusive online presence.
5. The Role of Web Developers
AB 1757 introduces a significant shift in the responsibility of web developers. While businesses have traditionally been the primary focus of accessibility lawsuits, this proposed law holds developers responsible for creating accessible websites. Developers can no longer plead ignorance, as AB 1757 broadens the criteria for liability to include negligent conduct.
Web developers need to recognize their work’s impact on digital accessibility and take proactive steps to ensure compliance. Unfortunately, accessibility training is not commonly included in web development programs and courses. However, developers can seek out additional training resources to learn how to design and develop accessible websites, address accessibility barriers, and use assistive technology like screen readers to test their work.
6. The Benefits of Accessibility
Beyond legal compliance, there are numerous benefits to having an accessible website. By designing and developing with accessibility in mind, businesses can create a more inclusive user experience and reach a wider audience. Accessible websites also tend to have better search engine optimization (SEO), improved user engagement, and increased customer satisfaction.
Furthermore, embracing accessibility fosters a positive brand image and demonstrates a commitment to inclusivity. By prioritizing the needs of individuals with disabilities, businesses can build stronger relationships with their customers and contribute to a more equitable society.
Taking Action: The Importance of Audits and Accessibility Training
In light of AB 1757 and the increasing focus on web accessibility, businesses should consider taking proactive measures to ensure compliance and minimize the risk of litigation. Conducting an accessibility audit of your website can help identify any barriers and guide the remediation process.
Additionally, web developers should invest in accessibility training to enhance their skills and understanding of inclusive design practices. Training programs can provide valuable insights into accessibility guidelines, assistive technologies, and best practices for creating accessible websites.
By auditing and remedying accessibility barriers and equipping web developers with the necessary knowledge and skills, businesses can navigate the changing legal landscape and create digital experiences that are accessible to all.
California’s proposed AB 1757 has the potential to impact the digital accessibility landscape significantly. By establishing WCAG 2.1 Level AA as the required standard and expanding liability to third-party developers, the proposed law aims to foster greater inclusivity in online experiences.
While AB 1757 is still not a law, it is expected to make it to the governor’s desk for signature this year. Per sources within the state of California, there does seem to be support for it from both businesses and the disabled community.
Businesses operating in California must prioritize accessibility, ensure compliance with the proposed standards, and seek opportunities for education and improvement. By doing so, they can create a more inclusive online environment and minimize the risk of facing accessibility lawsuits.
Not sure if your website is accessible? Contact our experts at Accessiblü and ask for our free discovery check of your website. We utilize manual and automated tools to help you understand exactly how accessible your website is. If you’re a web developer, download our WCAG checklist to help measure your current work.
The content within this blog is not intended to be legal advice. It is for educational purposes only. You should always contact a qualified attorney to discuss your legal rights and responsibilities.