Many small Chinese restaurants in New York are being targeted by lawsuits brought against them under the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), and it’s a nationwide trend.(Sasima/Shutterstock)
A California bill intended to reduce website accessibility lawsuits—those against businesses with websites difficult to navigate for users with disabilities—will return to the California Legislature next year, as it undergoes amendments.
Introduced by the eight-member Assembly’s Committee on Judiciary, AB 1757 would help create a standard for businesses to follow that meets international World Wide Web standards as well as the state’s requirements, including those set forth under the American Disabilities Act.
The committee members said the bill could mean an end to many of such lawsuits bankrupting small business owners.
“In an effort to help small businesses comply with the law regarding website disability access and to ensure more websites are accessible, this bill seeks to encourage businesses to create websites that comply with a specified website standard,” according to an executive summary of the bill.
Examples of websites at issue are those that lack poor color contrast or use color alone to provide information, which can make it difficult for those with color blindness. Also at issue are websites that lack captions on videos for the deaf, or mouse or trackpad only navigation for disabled persons who require a keyboard to use the web, according to guidelines
under the ADA.
Currently, under state law, businesses that have non-compliant websites are subject to fines up to $4,000, according to the recent analysis.
Under the proposed bill, website developers would instead be responsible for inaccessible websites and could be sued directly, according to the bill’s text.
Those in support of the bill include the California Apartment Association, the California Restaurant Association, the Civil Justice Association of California, the California Council of the Blind, and others.
The California State Capitol building in Sacramento, Calif., on April 18, 2022. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)
“Unfortunately, litigious attorneys are abusing the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by suing businesses with claims of ADA violations for failure to make their websites accessible to the public,” the apartment association wrote in support. “By applying an objective standard for businesses to follow, AB 1757 strikes a balance between business interests and consumer protection in a commonsense manner.”
The Civil Justice and Restaurant associations, as well as others say the bill would give “clear direction” to business owners on such website design, and would help businesses avoid “needless” lawsuits.
“We believe in reforms that make the ADA more accessible and effective for those it was designed to protect, while also reducing the number of frivolous lawsuits that only serve to hurt businesses and consumers,” they wrote.
Those opposed argue that international guidelines, known as Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), set forth by the World Wide Web Consortium—the main international standards organization for the internet—fall short of what’s needed.
“The WCAG was not designed to be a testable, measurable standard, but instead was designed only as a set of ‘guidelines,’ with the understanding that compliance with ‘guidelines’ is often, if not always, a matter of opinion,” Tustin-based Karlin Law Firm—the largest ADA defense law firm in America, according to their website—wrote in a recent bill analysis.
EcomBack, a website accessibility development firm assisting small businesses, also opposes the bill stating an updated version of WCAG—falls short of what’s needed to meet accessibility standards under the American Disabilities Act.
“WCAG 2.1 has never been approved as a set of workable standards or guidelines for determining a website’s compliance with the ADA,” they wrote.
A woman uses her computer keyboard to type while surfing the internet in North Vancouver, B.C., on Dec., 19, 2012. (The Canadian Press/Jonathan Hayward)
In response, the bill’s authors refuted such claims.
“It is inaccurate to say—as EcomBack alleges—that WCAG guidelines have ‘never been approved as a set of workable standards or guidelines’ … In fact, courts and government entities repeatedly have relied upon WCAG guidelines as standards for compliance, including in consent decrees and court settlements,” the Assembly Judiciary Committee wrote.
A companion bill—AB 1404—authored by Assemblywoman Wendy Carrillo (D-Los Angeles), further seeks to protect small businesses by requiring a written advisory be sent to businesses sued for such website accessibility issues since some lack legal counsel to known when such lawsuits are received, she said in an Aug. 24 Senate floor analysis of the bill.
“The majority of small businesses do not have legal counsel to advise when they receive one of these ... lawsuits due to their website and often settle—paying thousands of dollars. Unfortunately, if they don’t remedy their website accessibility quickly and correctly they can be sued again and again. Thus, forcing them out of business,” Ms. Carrillo wrote in an Aug. 14 bill analysis.
She said requiring an advisory notice could help small businesses stay open and get into compliance faster.
The companion bill passed the Assembly floor unanimously in May. It was ultimately amended by its author and passed the Senate on Sept. 13, before passing a revote in the Assembly on Sept. 14. It now awaits a signature by the governor.