New California Accessibility legislation: it even affects businesses with California Customers
California’s Unruh Civil Rights Act, enacted in 1959, protects people with disabilities from discrimination by most business establishments. This law is similar to the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), but with one key difference. The ADA doesn’t allow for plaintiffs to claim damages, only attorney fees. California’s Unruh law allows plaintiffs to claim damages and carries a $4,000 penalty for violations, along with a $25,000 civil penalty. The ADA and the Unruh Act both cover physical places of business as well as websites.
This law was recently expanded upon when California AB 2917 was signed into law on September 30, 2022. This new law requires lawyers who have filed lawsuits to submit a copy of the complaint to the California Commission on Disability Access (CCDA). The purpose of the new mandatory reporting requirement is to aid the CCDA in gathering data on the areas that businesses are falling short regarding accessibility compliance. 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.
The new law also 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.” This means that the CCDA must now help provide educational materials and guidance to assist businesses in complying with accessibility requirements. These materials will include tool kits and online modules among other resources.
The hope is that the additional guidance provided to businesses should decrease the number of lawsuits filed in California. 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 data the CCDA will now capture from these lawsuits will be instrumental in determining what guidance is needed for businesses to avoid lawsuits. Digital accessibility is poorly defined legislatively and not well understood by many organizations. Understanding what digital accessibility looks like is the first step in achieving compliance and avoiding a costly lawsuit.
What does this new legislation mean for your business? Businesses need to ensure they are compliant with digital accessibility laws at both the state and federal level. With both state and federal entities committed to enforcing digital accessibility, the pressure is on for businesses to comply sooner rather than later. Ensuring that your website is compliant is a great place to start. Websites must comply with the WCAG 2.0 Level AA guidelines. Doing this will make your website more accessible and usable for people with disabilities as well as the rest of your visitors.
Still need help with accessibility requirements? Check out these articles from our blog for more information on accessibility standards.
If you want help getting started with web accessibility, contact us! Accessibility is our passion. It’s not just the law, it’s the right thing to do!