As businesses move more and more of their operations online, website accessibility has become a critical issue for many. While the intention behind Assembly Bill 950 (AB 950) in California is to improve website accessibility, the bill could have severe consequences for small businesses with customers in the state. It doesn’t just affect businesses IN the state, but businesses that do business with residents of the state.
AB 950 seeks to place the responsibility for website accessibility on small businesses and developers, which could result in costly lawsuits that could put small businesses at risk. Many small businesses rely on their websites to generate income, so a costly lawsuit could be catastrophic. Additionally, the bill does not provide any relief from abusive or frivolous claims of inaccessibility under the Unruh Act, which has statutory fines of $4000 per infraction.
The bill is also vague in its requirements, leaving small businesses unsure of what they need to do to comply with the law. The bill solely relies on the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.1 AA) as a legal standard for website accessibility, which was never created to be a legal standard. As a result, businesses could be fined for technical glitches that are not intentional and may not be feasible to fix.
For example, one of the criteria to pass WCAG 2.1 AA is the requirement of Audio Descriptions on all videos. The vast majority of video content does not contain a separate track for audio descriptions, which can be costly to create. This would result in websites having to remove all video content for fear of a lawsuit.
AB 950 could also have significant economic consequences and a chilling effect on the tech sector of California. The bill could increase the cost of creating, maintaining, and insuring a website, which would harm entrepreneurs, especially those who are minorities, people of color, the disabled, the elderly, and those who are just starting out. Furthermore, if this bill passes, there may be an organized effort to GEO block California by many out-of-state businesses, and many California-based businesses will opt to use third-party platforms to sell their goods and services instead of hosting their own websites.
In its current form, AB 950 is an ill-conceived bill that could have unintended and harmful consequences for small businesses. However, there is hope. California residents can contact their local representatives, including San Diego Assemblyman Brian Maienschein, and ask them to vote no on AB 950. Non-California residents can also help spread the word and share the petition on Change.org.
It’s essential to improve website accessibility for all, but it’s crucial to do so in a way that is fair and reasonable to all parties involved. The current version of AB 950 does not accomplish this goal, and instead, it could put small businesses at risk. Let’s work together to find effective solutions that improve web accessibility without harming small businesses.
What can you do?
Visit our Stop AB 950 Action Page to take steps to stop the bill and spread the word.