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Web accessibility laws in California

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the Unruh Civil Rights Act (UCRA), and Assembly Bill 434, are laws that prohibit discrimination against people with disabilities in California.

However, there are some key differences between these laws, especially when it comes to websites.

  • Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
  • Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973
  • The Unruh Civil Rights Act (UCRA)
  • California Assembly Bill 434 (AB 434)
  • California Assembly Bill AB 1757 (AB 1757, currently in draft)

Recommendation for compliance

It is recommended that all Californian websites should comply with WCAG 2.1 AA.

Law for public sector websites:

Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Title II

The ADA is a federal law that prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in all areas of public life, including employment, education, transportation, state and local government services, and telecommunications. The ADA requires all public entities, including state and local governments, to make their websites accessible to people with disabilities.

Applies to:

  • State agencies and government organizations

Requirements:

  • Comply with Level AA of WCAG 2.0

Potential cost of violation

The ADA is a private right of action, meaning that individuals who have been discriminated against on the basis of disability can file lawsuits against the entities that have discriminated against them. This includes state agencies.

If the US Department Of Justice finds that a state agency has violated the ADA by failing to make its website accessible, it can bring a civil action against the agency and seek a civil penalty of up to $75,000 for an initial violation and $150,000 for subsequent violations.

The ADA does not specify any specific fines for non-compliance. However, individuals who successfully sue a business for violating the ADA may recover the following:

  • Actual damages
  • Punitive damages (no cap)
  • Attorney’s fees (no cap)

Additional costs of ADA compliance may include:

  • The cost of making their website accessible to people with disabilities
  • The cost of expert witness fees and other litigation costs
  • The cost of implementing anti-discrimination policies and training

Recommendations

  • Ensure website compliance with WCAG 2.1 Level AA at a minimum

Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973

Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 requires federal agencies and state governments that receive federal funding to make their electronic and information technology accessible to people with disabilities. This includes websites.

Applies to:

  • All federal agencies and contractors.

Requirements:

  • Comply with Level AA of WCAG 2.0

Potential cost of violation

There are no specific financial penalties for non-compliance with Section 508. However, the U.S. Access Board, which is responsible for enforcing Section 508, can take a number of actions against non-compliant agencies, including:

  • Issuing technical assistance and guidance
  • Conducting compliance reviews
  • Mediating disputes between agencies and people with disabilities
  • Referring cases to the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) for further action

Individuals cannot sue under Section 508. Section 508 is an enforcement tool for the U.S. Access Board and the DOJ. Individuals who believe that a federal agency or state government’s website is not accessible to them can file a complaint with the Access Board. The Access Board will then investigate the complaint and try to resolve the issue with the agency. If the Access Board is unable to resolve the issue, the Access Board may refer the case to the DOJ for further action.

The DOJ can also bring civil actions against non-compliant agencies. If the DOJ is successful, the court may order the agency to make its website accessible and to pay the DOJ’s costs and attorney’s fees.

However, the DOJ typically only brings civil actions against non-compliant agencies after the Access Board has tried to resolve the issue through other means.

Recommendations

  • Ensure website compliance with WCAG 2.1 Level AA at a minimum

The Unruh Civil Rights Act (UCRA)

The UCRA is a California state law that prohibits discrimination based on a number of protected categories, including disability. It applies to all businesses and public accommodations in the state. The UCRA requires businesses to provide equal access to their goods, services, and facilities to people with disabilities. This includes making websites accessible to people with disabilities.

Applies to:

  • Public and private sector organizations and businesses

Requirements:

  • Comply with Level AA of WCAG 2.0

Potential cost of violation

The Unruh Act is a private right of action, meaning that individuals can file lawsuits against businesses that violate the law. The California Attorney General is also authorized to enforce the Unruh Act, but the Attorney General does not have to file a lawsuit in every case.

  • Actual damages
  • Statutory damages of $4,000 for each violation
  • Punitive damages (no cap)
  • Attorney’s fees (no cap)
  • Expert witness fees (no cap)

Recommendations

  • Ensure website compliance with WCAG 2.1 Level AA at a minimum

California Assembly Bill 434 (AB 434)

California Assembly Bill 434 (AB 434), which went into effect on July 1, 2019, requires all state agencies and entities to ensure that their websites comply with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 Level AA. This means that websites must be accessible to users with a wide range of disabilities.

State agencies are defined as any department, office, or other entity of the State of California, or any board, commission, or other agency established by the State of California.

Applies to:

Public sector state agency websites, examples of which include:

  • California Health and Human Services Agency
  • California Environmental Protection Agency
  • Business, Consumer Services and Housing Agency
  • Labor and Workforce Development Agency
  • Department of Food and Agriculture
  • Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation
  • Natural Resources Agency
  • Department of Veterans Affairs
  • Transportation Agency

Requirements:

  • Post a “signed certification from the state’s agency or state entity’s director and chief information officer” that demonstrates the website’s compliance with WCAG 2.0, “or a subsequent version”
  • Post the certification by 31st July 2019 and every 2 years thereafter
  • Comply with Level AA of WCAG 2.0

Potential cost of violation

There are no specific fines for non-compliance with AB 434. However, the California Attorney General has the authority to bring a civil action against any state agency that violates the law, but only after the agency has been given notice of the violation and has failed to take corrective action within a reasonable period of time.

If the Attorney General is successful, the court may order the agency to comply with the law and to pay:

  • Attorney’s fees (no cap)

Additional costs of AB 434 compliance may include:

  • The cost of making their website accessible to people with disabilities
  • The cost of expert witness fees and other litigation costs
  • The cost of implementing anti-discrimination policies and training

Recommendations

  • Ensure website compliance with WCAG 2.1 Level AA at a minimum

California Assembly Bill 1757 (AB 1757)

California Assembly Bill 1757 (AB 1757), currently pending in the state legislature, would require all websites in California to comply with WCAG 2.1 Level AA. This would be one of the strictest web accessibility laws in the United States. It applies to websites and mobile apps that can be accessed from California.

Applies to:

  • All websites and mobile applications accessible from within California

Requirements:

  • Comply with Level AA of WCAG 2.1

Potential cost of violation

As this law is currently pending, there are no details on costs or fines.

Recommendations

  • Ensure website compliance with WCAG 2.1 Level AA at a minimum

Law for private sector websites:

Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Title III

The ADA is a federal law that prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in all areas of public life, including employment, education, transportation, state and local government services, and telecommunications. The ADA requires businesses and organizations to provide equal access to their goods, services, and facilities to people with disabilities. This includes making websites accessible to people with disabilities.

Title III applies to businesses and nonprofits serving the public, like restaurants and retail stores.

Applies to:

  • Public and private sector organizations and businesses

Requirements:

  • Comply with Level AA of WCAG 2.0

Potential cost of violation

Fines for non-compliance with the ADA can be given by either a court or the DOJ. If an individual sues a business for violating the ADA and is successful, the court may order the business to pay a monetary judgment. In addition, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) may bring a civil action against businesses that violate the ADA. If the DOJ is successful, the court may order the business to pay a civil penalty of up to $75,000 for an initial violation and $150,000 for subsequent violations.

Both individuals and the DOJ are entitled to recover their attorney’s fees if they are successful in a lawsuit or civil action under the ADA. This means that businesses that are found to have violated the ADA may be required to pay the plaintiff’s attorney’s fees, in addition to any other damages or penalties.

The ADA does not specify any specific fines for non-compliance. However, individuals who successfully sue a business for violating the ADA may recover the following:

  • Actual damages
  • Punitive damages (no cap)
  • Attorney’s fees (no cap)

Additional costs of ADA compliance may include:

  • The cost of making their website accessible to people with disabilities
  • The cost of expert witness fees and other litigation costs
  • The cost of implementing anti-discrimination policies and training

Recommendations

  • Ensure website compliance with WCAG 2.1 Level AA at a minimum

The Unruh Civil Rights Act (UCRA)

The UCRA is a California state law that prohibits discrimination based on several protected categories, including disability. It applies to all businesses and public accommodations in the state, including restaurants, bars, shops, hotels, hospitals, and other places of public accommodation.

The UCRA requires businesses to provide equal access to their goods, services, and facilities to people with disabilities. This includes making websites accessible to people with disabilities.

Applies to:

  • All businesses in California, regardless of size or industry.

Requirements:

  • Comply with Level AA of WCAG 2.0

Potential cost of violation

The Unruh Act is a private right of action, meaning that individuals can file lawsuits against businesses that violate the law. The California Attorney General is also authorized to enforce the Unruh Act, but the Attorney General does not have to file a lawsuit in every case.

  • Actual damages
  • Statutory damages of $4,000 for each violation
  • Punitive damages (no cap)
  • Attorney’s fees (no cap)
  • Expert witness fees (no cap)

Recommendations

  • Ensure website compliance with WCAG 2.1 Level AA at a minimum

California Assembly Bill 1757 (AB 1757)

California Assembly Bill 1757 (AB 1757), currently pending in the state legislature, would require all websites in California to comply with WCAG 2.1 Level AA. This would be one of the strictest web accessibility laws in the United States. It applies to websites and mobile apps that can be accessed from California.

Applies to:

  • All websites and mobile applications accessible from within California

Requirements:

  • Comply with Level AA of WCAG 2.1

Potential cost of violation

As this law is currently pending, there are no details on costs or fines.

Recommendations

  • Ensure website compliance with WCAG 2.1 Level AA at a minimum

Web accessibility lawsuits in California

CVS Pharmacy

In 2022, the California Attorney General filed a lawsuit against CVS Pharmacy alleging that the company’s website and mobile app were not accessible to people with disabilities. The lawsuit alleged that the CVS website and mobile app had several accessibility violations, including failing to provide alternative text for images, using inaccessible color combinations, and not providing keyboard navigation.

Walgreens

In 2021, the California Attorney General filed a lawsuit against Walgreens alleging that the company’s website and mobile app were not accessible to people with disabilities. The lawsuit alleged that the Walgreens website and mobile app had several accessibility violations, including failing to provide alternative text for images, using inaccessible color combinations, and not providing keyboard navigation.

Home Depot

In 2019, the National Federation of the Blind filed a lawsuit against Home Depot alleging that the company’s website and mobile app were not accessible to people with disabilities. The lawsuit alleged that the Home Depot website and mobile app had several accessibility violations, including failing to provide alternative text for images, using inaccessible color combinations, and not providing keyboard navigation.

Netflix

In 2018, the American Council of the Blind filed a lawsuit against Netflix alleging that the company’s video streaming service was not accessible to people with disabilities. The lawsuit alleged that the Netflix video streaming service had several accessibility violations, including failing to provide audio descriptions for videos, using inaccessible color combinations, and not providing keyboard navigation.

Apple

In 2017, the National Federation of the Blind filed a lawsuit against Apple alleging that the company’s iOS operating system was not accessible to people with disabilities. The lawsuit alleged that the iOS operating system had several accessibility violations, including failing to provide a screen reader that could accurately read the contents of the screen and failing to provide keyboard navigation for all apps.

Web accessibility lawsuit trends

Overall, the number of ADA Title III federal lawsuits filed each year is steadily increasing, from 2,722 in 2013 to 10,982 by 2020.

Graph shows annual ADA Title 3 lawsuits rise from 2722 in 2013, to 10982 in 2020

In California, the number of ADA Title III federal lawsuits rose from 125 in 2013 to 2,238 in 2020.

Graph shows California ADA Title III Federal lawsuits rise from 125 in 2013 to 2238 in 2020.

If AB 1757 comes into law, it’s possible that these numbers will exponentially increase in California.

Next steps

Getting started with web accessibility can seem overwhelming, but Silktide has the tools and experience to help you understand and comply with Californian accessibility legislation.

We combine powerful automated web accessibility testing with in-depth expert manual auditing by trained accessibility professionals.

Learn more about Silktide’s range of accessibility services.

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