Understanding the New California Assembly Bill

Understanding the New California Assembly Bill

Web accessibility is a topic that’s gaining significant traction in the digital landscape. If you’re a website owner, it’s essential to be aware of the ongoing changes in legislation, particularly the New California Assembly Bill. Why? Because these changes have the potential to affect your online business directly.

The New California Assembly Bill is a groundbreaking law focusing on making the web more accessible, not just for California but for everyone. But what does this mean for website owners?

What is the New California Assembly Bill?

On June 12, 2023, the California Assembly’s Judiciary Committee changed a proposed law, Assembly Bill (AB) 1757. AB 1757 has been completely revised from its original content. Initially, it proposed changes to laws associated with the court system. However, its current version has replaced that content with the language from AB 950, a bill that previously didn’t pass the house.

This change introduces new requirements for all websites and mobile apps of “business establishments” to meet certain accessibility guidelines, known as WCAG 2.1 Level AA

The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines are internationally shared guidelines for improving web accessibility.WCAG included specific checkpoints and recommendations based on a principle-based approach to ensure all users can share the same experience regardless of disability or assistive software

But there is already well-established legislation for web accessibility. How is AB 1757 different?

Change in the Legal Landscape

While web accessibility has been a concern for many years, the new bill could profoundly change the legal landscape. By requiring conformance with WCAG 2.1, the bill would establish firm technical requirements for website accessibility. However, it would allow people with disabilities and businesses to sue third-party developers if they create non-compliant apps and websites.

People with disabilities could take legal action if a website stops them from getting the same access as everyone else. But these ideas aren’t new and already exist in legislation. So, businesses aren’t getting any unique advantages from this part of the bill. What’s really changing is that there will be more legal risks for companies and their website developers if they don’t follow the WCAG 2.1 AA guidelines.

A Supplement for California’s Unruh Act

California’s Unruh Act is a landmark civil rights bill that prevents businesses from discriminating against individuals based on sex, race, color, religion, and disability. If a company violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), it also infringes the Unruh Act. However, a recent court decision stated that the Unruh Act does not apply to online-only businesses.

With the introduction of the new California Assembly Bill, there is an extension in this space, but with a specific focus on web accessibility. The new bill supplements the Unruh Act by bringing digital spaces into the fold. It recognizes that, in today’s age, discrimination can also occur in online environments — regardless of whether those organizations have a physical office in the state. 

The Impact on Online Business Owners

If you’re an online business owner, especially in California, this new bill might impact you in more ways than one:

WCAG 2.1 AA Becomes the National Standard

The bill has adopted the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1 AA as the de facto standard. You might face legal implications if your website or mobile app violates these guidelines.

This is a tall order considering that federal government websites only need to meet the less demanding WCAG 2.0 Level AA requirements. But according to the DOJ, many websites don’t even do that. Moreover, because all websites in the United States can be accessed in California, WCAG 2.1 AA will become the legal national standard for website accessibility.

No Transition Period

Once the bill becomes law, businesses won’t have a ‘grace period.’ Immediate compliance will be expected, so companies should be proactive in ensuring their digital platforms comply with WCAG 2.1 AA, or you might be at risk.

No Specific Provisions for Small Businesses

While accessibility is crucial, the bill doesn’t necessarily consider the potential undue hardship on small businesses. Many need more money or know-how to update their websites to meet and maintain WCAG 2.1 AA standards. Even the DOJ acknowledges that some small businesses might need more time to make these changes. 

The threat of legal exposure might result in small businesses removing their websites, which could hurt their ability to drive customers to their business.

Potential Cost Increase for Web Development

One of the less-discussed implications is the potential liability for website and mobile app developers. If developers knowingly construct, license, distribute, or maintain a digital platform that fails to comply with WCAG 2.1 Level AA could be held accountable. 

While this will likely incentivize developers to create compliant websites, it will also drive the cost of website development higher. This increase in pricing is due to the need for specialized skills and tools to ensure that sites and apps meet the required accessibility standards.

While upfront costs might be higher, ensuring your website is accessible can save potential litigation costs down the road. Furthermore, a more accessible website means a broader audience can engage with your content, leading to potential growth in business.

What Does This Mean For Website Owners?

If you’re a website owner, especially one with a limited understanding of web accessibility, you might feel overwhelmed. But here’s the deal:

Web and digital accessibility isn’t just about compliance; it’s about inclusivity. By ensuring your website is accessible, you’re expanding your audience base, catering to a broader demographic, and reinforcing your brand’s commitment to equality.

Yes, the initial steps toward compliance might seem daunting. And while the bill might not explicitly factor in the undue hardship on small businesses, it’s essential to recognize that accessibility is an ongoing journey, not a destination. Start with small steps:

  • Educate Yourself: Understand the basics of WCAG 2.1 AA guidelines. They’re not as complex as they sound. Many online resources break them down into easily digestible recommendations.
  • Seek Expertise: If you’re unsure about your website’s compliance, consider getting an accessibility audit. These audits, conducted by professionals, provide actionable recommendations.
  • Developer Communication: If you’re in the process of building or revamping your website, communicate with your developers about the importance of accessibility. Remember, awareness is the first step.

Find Out If Your Website is WCAG-compliant

Recognizing the growing need for web accessibility compliance, companies like 216digital are at the forefront of web accessibility remediation. Leveraging years of experience and specialized tools, we can help you navigate the often complex waters of digital accessibility. 

We will help develop a strategy to integrate WCAG 2.1 compliance into your development roadmap on your terms so that you can focus on the other tasks on your to-do list. Not only will they ensure your website meets the required standards, but we can also guide you in maintaining this standard in the future.

If you need clarification on whether your site complies with AB 1757’s WCAG 2.1 level-AA criteria, contact 216digital for a complementary ADA Strategy Briefing. We can help determine if your website is at risk of a lawsuit and offer fast and effective ADA compliance solutions that ensure your site is accessible to everyone and reduce your risk of litigation — letting you focus on what you do best.