What Is California’s AB 2123 And Why It Matters to Businesses Nationwide

Few business owners know that the ADA applies to websites, and that having a website that is not ADA compliant can result in lawsuits that cost in the tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages, penalties and legal fees. One of the reasons that relatively few business owners know about it is that the ADA itself doesn’t actually say that it applies to websites. However, laws are made in many ways: some by legislation, some by regulation, and some by case law. And it’s case law — including an action by the US Supreme Court — that has established that the ADA does apply to business websites. But because the ADA itself was not modified, there is a big gray area about what it means for the ADA to apply to websites. And because websites are not yet written into the ADA, many business owners ignore the ADA, much to their detriment. California’s AB 2123 seeks to change that.

Websites and The ADA

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was passed in 1990 in order to protect the rights of those with disabilities. Title III of the ADA relates to “places of public accommodation” — businesses and public places — and it requires that the owners or operators make adjustments to their businesses in order to serve those with disabilities. Back in the early days of the Internet, the DOJ has stated that the ADA applies to business websites, and helped define the term “Website Accessibility” (aka Web Accessibility), and in 2018 they re-affirmed that opinion.

Thousands of lawsuits since then — including a decision against Domino’s Pizza in 2019 — have gone on to create volumes of case law about website accessibility. But still, there is no definition of exactly how the ADA can be applied to websites. So it is still a big gray area.

California’s AB 2123 is currently being considered by the California State Legislature, and if it passes into law, it will do in California what the United States Department of Justice has failed to do Federally, which is to finally define what “Website Accessibility” really is.

Web Accessibility Defined — The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines

In 1999, the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C — the organization that defined HTML and HTTP) defined the first set of standards for website accessibility by creating the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) version 1.0. And since then, the general standard for Website Accessibility has always been the WCAG. That’s the standard we use in our business, too.

So AB 2123 for the first time puts into law that “Website Accessibility equals the WCAG”.

And that makes Website Accessibility a little closer to black and white and a little less gray.

The legislation also requires that government entities that issue business licenses be required to notify all applicants that their websites must comply with WCAG standards. In other words, every business owner in California will be notified about the requirement that their website be “Accessible” by complying with the current version of the WCAG, 2.1.

Why AB 2123 Might Be Good For California Businesses

I’m in favor of clarity.

The ADA already applies to websites, but most business owners don’t know about website accessibility, and many who know about it choose to ignore it until they are hit with a lawsuit. If clearer standards and better education help businesses know what they need to do, and then to defend themselves more effectively, then I am in favor of AB 2123.

There are too many bad people suing good businesses over website accessibility without being harmed. Professional plaintiffs are finding small, medium and large businesses to sue by actually looking for websites that are not in compliance with the WCAG, then documenting their manufactured “damages.” These plaintiffs are not actually damaged or harmed in their regular pursuit of the enjoyment of their daily lives…

…they’re out looking for trouble.

It’s as though the driver of the car in front of you slammed on their brakes, you tapped their bumper, and they crawl out of the car holding their neck and crying out for a doctor…and an attorney…and not in that order.

That’s how I think of these “professional plaintiffs.”

And that’s why Web Compliance Pro is trying to protect business owners from them in my business.

What AB 2123 Could Mean Nationwide

California’s new privacy law, called the California Consumer Privacy Act, protects the privacy of California residents. The law applies to all businesses that reach certain revenue or data thresholds. And that protection remains in effect no matter what qualifying website a California Resident might visit, or where that website happens to be based.

In other words, a California Resident might visit a website for a qualifying Michigan business, and the CCPA would still apply. Said another way: Qualifying business websites all over the country (and elsewhere) need to comply.

California’s AB 2123 does not specify the location of the websites that it covers. It only says that California Residents have the right to legal action against the operator of a business website that is not in compliance with the current WCAG standards.

In other words, California’s AB 2123 could finally establish in clear terms that business websites must be ADA compliant.

That all said, AB 2123 is not a perfect bill. It’s filled with flaws, which we’ll discuss in a later post.

Don’t Wait For California’s AB 2123. Get Compliant Now

Whether California’s AB 2123 becomes law or not, our Website ADA Compliance Service can help you become WCAG compliant in just a matter of days or weeks, and not the usual months that most web developers would require. And with our speed comes a much lower cost, too. And not only would your website be WCAG 2.1 compliant now, it would be ready for WCAG 2.2 as well. Reduce the risk of legal issues, both from the government and from private individuals and professional plaintiffs. Contact Us online to discuss your website’s potential exposure to a website ADA threat, or call our office at 818-592-6370.