California AB 1757 Suggests WCAG 2.1 as a National Standard

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Current California digital accessibility requirements

California has had strict digital accessibility laws for years. California plaintiffs have filed more digital accessibility lawsuits in the past few years than any other state– as many as 4 times the next-highest state. This is largely due to its strict Unruh Act, which protects its citizens from discrimination by imposing a $4000 (or more) penalty per occurrence on defendants, regardless of the state in which the defendant company is located. 

AB 1757- All websites must be WCAG 2.1 compliant

But while the Unruh Act refers to digital accessibility only as an item under the umbrella of accessibility in general, new laws are being proposed that create clear guidelines for businesses to follow. California Assembly Bill 1757 (AB 1757) proposes unprecedented changes to digital accessibility standards for websites and mobile applications. The bill mandates compliance with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1 Level AA, a set of criteria designed to make digital content accessible to people with disabilities. This legislation marks a significant shift in the legal landscape for businesses operating online, particularly within California, but with potential national implications due to the state’s substantial market influence.

Like the Unruh Act, AB 1757 would serve to protect California residents, so while this would be a California law, it will impact any company doing business in California. In an age where most businesses have websites through which they sell their products and services nationwide, this potential law will apply to businesses anywhere in the country.

Overview of AB 1757

AB 1757, originally addressing court consolidation, has been adapted to enforce strict digital accessibility standards. This bill, if passed, will require websites and mobile applications of “business establishments” that are public-facing to comply with WCAG 2.1 Level AA. This includes businesses covered by California’s Unruh Civil Rights Act, which mandates non-discriminatory practices in all business operations.

Compliance requirements

The proposed legislation imposes rigorous compliance requirements. Businesses must ensure that their digital content meets WCAG 2.1 Level AA standards, including synchronized captions for live audio content, audio descriptions for prerecorded video content, and accessible documents found on websites. Additionally, businesses will need to integrate accessibility considerations into their development processes, conducting routine accessibility testing and auditing.

The bill also requires professional reviewers to certify compliance with WCAG 2.1 Level AA annually and each time the website undergoes significant revisions that impact accessibility. This certification process ensures continuous adherence to accessibility standards, reducing the risk of non-compliance.

Legal and financial implications

Non-compliance with AB 1757 can result in severe legal and financial consequences. Businesses that fail to meet the stipulated standards could face statutory damages of $4,000 per occurrence, along with attorneys’ fees and injunctive relief. These penalties emphasize the critical need for businesses to prioritize web accessibility, not only to avoid legal repercussions but also to foster an inclusive digital environment.

No transition period and shared liability

One of the most challenging aspects of AB 1757 is the absence of a transition period for businesses to achieve compliance. If enacted, businesses must immediately align their digital content with WCAG 2.1 Level AA standards. This urgency underscores the importance of proactive digital accessibility measures for organizations affected by this bill.

The bill also introduces shared liability, holding both business owners and third-party developers accountable for accessibility issues. This provision extends the responsibility to “resource service providers,” broadly defined to include anyone who constructs, licenses, distributes, or maintains online resources for a fee. This shared liability model ensures that all parties involved in digital content creation and maintenance are vigilant about accessibility.

Broader implications beyond California

The implications of AB 1757 extend beyond California’s borders. Given the global reach of the internet, any website accessed in California could fall under this legislation’s purview, effectively making WCAG 2.1 AA a national standard. This development raises questions about the interplay between AB 1757 and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which currently does not mandate specific digital accessibility standards but requires “effective communication” with individuals with disabilities. As of June 2024, only federal, state, and local government entities are required to meet specified digital accessibility standards including WCAG 2.0 or Section 508. 

The ADA’s flexibility in compliance could be challenged by the stringent requirements of AB 1757, potentially leading to a more uniform national standard for digital accessibility. This potential shift underscores the importance of businesses across the United States taking steps to ensure their digital content meets the highest accessibility standards.

Context of AB 1757 and related developments

The introduction of AB 1757 is part of a broader trend towards enhancing digital accessibility. In the summer of 2023, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) to require online video conferencing services to be accessible to individuals with disabilities. These parallel actions by California lawmakers and the FCC highlight a growing emphasis on ensuring digital accessibility across various platforms and services.

The DOJ has also been active in this space, issuing guidance on website accessibility and signing a Final Rule on Digital Accessibility for Title II of the ADA to establish WCAG 2.0 AA as the standard for digital content provided by state and local governments. These efforts indicate a significant push towards standardizing digital accessibility requirements across the United States.

Potential outcomes and industry response

As AB 1757 progresses through the legislative process, businesses need to stay informed and prepared. The bill’s current status as a “2-year bill” means it will be reconsidered in the next legislative session, potentially being enacted in 2024. Businesses should anticipate these changes and begin integrating WCAG 2.1 Level AA standards into their digital content strategies.

The industry response to AB 1757 has been varied, with some stakeholders expressing concern over the stringent requirements and potential for increased litigation. However, there is also recognition of the need for more robust accessibility standards to ensure that all individuals can access digital content equally.

Evolving digital accessibility standards

California Assembly Bill 1757 represents a pivotal event in the development of digital accessibility standards. By mandating compliance with WCAG 2.1 Level AA, the bill aims to create a more inclusive digital environment for individuals with disabilities. The broad application, stringent compliance requirements, and significant legal implications of AB 1757 highlight the importance of proactive accessibility measures for businesses. As the bill moves through the legislative process, businesses must prepare for these changes and adopt the principles of digital inclusivity.

Make PDF accessibility the easiest part of your digital accessibility journey with Equidox. Equidox uses AI powered technology to make PDF accessibility easy, efficient, and scalable whether you have one PDF or thousands. Call us at 216-529-3030 or contact us to learn which solutions will meet your PDF accessibility needs.

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Tammy Albee

Tammy Albee | Director of Marketing | Equidox Tammy joined Equidox after four years of experience working at the National Federation of the Blind. She firmly maintains that accessibility is about reaching everyone, regardless of ability, and boosting your market share in the process. "Nobody should be barred from accessing information. It's what drives our modern society."

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