California Unruh Act for accessibility
California legislation called the Unruh Act protects people with disabilities by making it unlawful to discriminate against people on the basis of disability. This law is similar to the federal Americans with Disabilities Act. However, this California law carries a $4,000 penalty for violations, along with a $25,000 civil penalty. Many private “enforcers” are targeting places of businesses using “tester” plaintiffs, filing lawsuits under the Unruh Act and the ADA. The Unruh Act covers physical places of business as well as websites. Not only do these laws apply to California businesses, but also to any organization doing business in the state, even if they are not California-based.
Expansion of California accessibility law
California AB 2917 was signed into law on September 30, 2022. This law expands on the Unruh act by requiring lawyers who have filed lawsuits to submit a copy of the complaint to the California Commission on Disability Access (CCDA). This reporting will help the CCDA capture data on where businesses are falling short in their accessibility compliance.
The new law also specifically expands the CCDA obligations. It requires the CCDA to “work with other state agencies, including the Division of the State Architect and the Department of Rehabilitation, to develop educational materials and information for use by businesses to understand their obligations to provide disability access and to facilitate compliance with construction-related accessibility standards, including, but not limited to, accessibility standards for internet websites.” Notably, the legislation specifically mentions websites.
This means CCDA must provide educational materials and guidance to assist businesses in making new and existing facilities and websites accessible to persons with disabilities. These materials include tool kits and online modules.
Digital accessibility guidance deters lawsuits
The additional guidance should, in part, decrease the number of lawsuits filed every year. California currently has the highest number of accessibility lawsuits in the nation by a wide margin, with 1,366 digital accessibility lawsuits filed in 2021 alone. The legislation aims to capture reporting data on filed lawsuits. This data will inform the CCDA on what guidance is needed for businesses to be compliant and avoid lawsuits. Digital accessibility is poorly defined legislatively and not well understood by many organizations, and is the most in need of guidance. Understanding what digital accessibility looks like is the first step in achieving compliance.
What businesses should be doing about digital accessibility
Businesses need to ensure they are compliant with digital accessibility laws at both the state and federal level. With the Department of Justice committed to enforcing digital accessibility, the pressure is on for businesses to comply sooner rather than later.
Not sure where to start with digital accessibility? Here are a few articles about handling digital accessibility compliance:
- 3 Steps for Prioritizing Digital Accessibility in 2022
- Website Accessibility: Whose Job Is It?
- Why you need an Accessibility Coordinator
- 3 Tips for Tackling PDF Accessibility in Large Companies
If you want help getting started with PDF accessibility, contact us. We’re here to help.
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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."