California Suing Digital Design Agencies, Integrators, and Vendors for Inaccessible Websites?
California law AB 1757 (C. Garcia, Stats. 2022, ch. 341), also known as the California Internet Accessibility Act, went into effect January 1, 2023 and mandates all websites created and maintained by state agencies must be accessible to individuals with disabilities. That’s old news, but what’s truly remarkable about this legislation is that for the first time ever in the United States, the companies who design, build, and or maintain websites for California are legally responsible for the accessibility of those same websites!
This article first discusses threats and risks California law AB1757 puts on California digital service and product vendors before outlining the potential business opportunities of providing ADA compliant digital products, services, and solutions. The California digital service and product vendors directly impacted by California AB 1757 include but are not limited to design and development agencies for websites and mobile apps, system integrators and custom developers of Salesforce and Oracle, as well as IT professional service providers like Deloitte and Accenture.
Your Challenge-Don’t get lost in the weeds. Maintain conscientiousness of higher level implications, business impacts, and potential collateral damage each threat and risk bring to your company. For the opportunities, find the lowest hanging fruit with biggest impacts to capitalize on first. Then determine how to strategically dedicate the resources required for long-term change and integration of digital accessibility into your organizational DNA.
ADA Compliance Threats and Risks Under California law AB 1757
AB 1757 will result in cascading legal consequences and policy and process changes for the state of California with impacts for design and development agencies, system integrators, and professional service providers (California digital service and product vendors).
Up until December 31, 2022, California was exclusively and completely responsible for ADA compliance of their websites, mobile apps, and electronic files (digital assets). Meaning, if a California government agency hired a design and development agency and a systems integrator to build a custom application on Salesforce or a new website that violates ADA compliance, the California state agency or municipality would be the legally responsible party for non-compliance.
With California AB 1757 in effect as of January 1, 2023, this is no longer true. Both California citizens with disabilities and California government agencies have the legal right to sue and hold digital service and product venders responsible for the digital assets they have designed, built, and or maintain for California government agencies and municipalities if those digital assets violate the ADA and do not meet accessibility compliance standards.
For California digital service and product venders, shouldering ADA compliance legal risks will force two likely outcomes.
- Stopping all business development for California government agencies and municipalities; or
- Adopting new policies and procedures requiring all digital assets are designed, built, and maintained with digital accessibility in mind.
New and Renewal Business
Agencies, system integrators and professional service providers will not be able to acquire new or renewal business from California government agencies if they continue designing, building and or maintaining inaccessible non-compliant websites. ADA compliance violations dramatically increase total cost of ownership (TCO) for state and local agencies with already stretched budgets and political pressures.
In addition to legal risks, when a California government website is not compliant with the ADA, the government agency and digital service and product vendors will have additional costs to retrofit the site. Retrofitting can be complex, time-consuming, and expensive, especially if the original design and development did not consider accessibility requirements from the beginning.
Increasing TCO is driving change for how government buys digital services. No agency or elected official wants their constituents perceiving their leadership and government as inept or poor stewards of taxpayer resources.
California will change how and from whom they buy
Saying you’re ADA compliant, naming one type of assistive technology you use, and having a PowerPoint slide outlining your accessibility test methodology is not going to work anymore. Procurement policies and procedures for digital products and services will get much tighter. Mitigating vendor compliance risk and systematically validating a vender’s capacity for ADA compliance will be a top priority for procurement executives and commissioners. Vendor accessibility compliance management will become a core focus for procurement and vendor requirements will evolve to holistically include accessibility evaluation and validation before a proposal is even considered.
Vender agreements, requirements, and vender management for ADA compliance will continue getting stricter, but exponentially so in California with the passing of AB 1757. The California government contractors unable to adapt to this change and begin delivering ADA compliant solutions face historic risks and threats to their capacity to develop new and renewal business with California and other government agencies.
Accessibility is resource intensive, mistakes are common, training is required
Digital accessibility and ADA compliance technical expertise is not easy to come by. There are steep learning curves with serious time, resource, and bandwidth commitments that slow down digital service and product vendors’ ability to deliver services on-time at or under budget.
To adapt to this changing business need and develop internal ADA compliance capabilities, digital product and service vendors have two options.
- Procure accessibility training services for your technical talent and adopt the policies and processes to integrate accessibility into delivery team workflows.
- Hire a corporate partner with enterprise experience, who can integrate into your workstreams, turnaround fast sprint cycles, and deliver complicated digital accessibility services accurately.
In the era of Cancel Culture, no forward-thinking agency, system integrator, or professional services provider wants to be known as the company who discriminates against people with disabilities.
News travels fast. Especially with Millennials and Gen Z, negative publicity, social media backlash, and public criticism has weight. Your ADA lawsuit going viral will harm your company’s brand, credibility, and ability to win business from risk averse California government agencies.
Digital Accessibility Opportunities in California with AB 1757
Competitive Advantages of Digital Accessibility
Digital accessibility and ADA compliance has never been more important, had more awareness, nor legal and brand implications. Having confidence and the capacity to deliver ADA compliant websites that can be used by everyone will distinguish your company from other providers.
Opportunity is in the truth. Most companies claim to be accessible. Few are. Digital product and service vendors who can deliver accessible ADA compliant solutions will be known for getting the job done and doing it with accessibility in mind. For government agencies, cost of ownership and legal risks go down while accessibility, compliance, and user UX go up.
Strength & Sustainability
As accessibility becomes a legal requirement and expected by users, the digital product and service vendors who can guarantee their solutions are digitally accessible will be preferred choices for California government agencies. The strength and sustainability of a vendor’s ADA compliance in delivering accessible, usable government digital assets will pay longitudinal dividends.
Opportunities and Innovation Ahead of the Curve
Adoption legally, socially, and culturally as never been stronger for digital accessibility and disability rights. While legal requirements are important, it’s your customers, the culture, and our society that really matters.
Disability inclusion and digital accessibility will only become more mainstream as regulations become stricter and widely enforced. The opportunity is being perceived as an innovative solution that is ahead of the curve.
Threats & Risks are Opportunities
California government contractors and vendors designing, building, and maintaining websites and other digital assets that are accessible, usable, and meet all ADA requirements will gain market share by capitalizing on their competitors’ respective weaknesses. This includes winning more new and renewal business, building brand and customer trust for your ADA compliant products and services, reducing TCO, minimizing legal risks, and protecting California government agencies from ADA lawsuits.
Despite inherent problems and known ADA compliance violations, some providers continue Recommending the use of digital accessibility overlays. Accessibility overlays like AudioEye, Accessibe, and UserWay use artificial intelligence to automatically change a website’s Document Object Model (DOM), which is the user experience we have when engaging with a website. In other words, what is on the screen is the website’s DOM.
Digital product and service vendors who embrace the opportunity of becoming a disability inclusive and digitally accessible agency will dominate the California market.
What’s Next for Digital Accessibility and the ADA in California?
It is essential for design and development agencies, system integrators, and professional service providers to evaluate the risks and opportunities associated with California law AB 1757.
Bringing digital accessibility expertise internally is harder than many digital product and service vendors realize. This complexity often forces smart government digital product and service vendors to partner with a digital accessibility consultancy. A strategic partner with experience across private and public sectors delivering digital accessibility solutions and services to enterprise government agencies and online retailers being hammered with ADA litigation is the fastest way to ensure your solutions are ADA compliant and digitally accessible.
Whether developing digital accessibility expertise internally or leveraging a strategic partner who can meet all of your customer ADA compliance needs out of the box, California law AB 1757 will change the landscape for how California buys digital products and services.
This has created a tremendous opportunity for smaller, smarter agencies to build their accessible brand, develop relationships, and win more business from government agencies in California.
Go here to schedule a free digital accessibility consult and learn how AccessAbility Officer works directly with the largest government agencies and municipalities in the United States to ensure their websites, mobile apps, and electronic files are ADA compliant, accessible, and usable by everyone.