New Amendment to AB 1757 Encourages Bad Consulting

Three days ago, California's state senate amended AB 1757. The new amendments are quite sweeping and I've saved out a copy of today's changes in a separate PDF (although you can also see the same changes in the first link above). There are a number of problems with the new amendment, but I wanted to just write a quick post from my perspective as a web accessibility consultant. In a nutshell, the new amendments shine a spotlight on web accessibility consultants and encourages them to behave badly.

What is AB 1757 and What Changed?

I've blogged about AB 1757 quite a bit, In a nutshell, it requires that businesses can be sued if their websites aren't accessible. The bill creates a presumption of accessibility if the site conforms to WCAG 2.1 A/AA, but even if a company's site doesn't meet WCAG, a defendant can still win if they can show that they provide equally effective communication or access to goods and services. At first, I supported this idea because it encouraged companies to meet WCAG even if full compliance can be difficult or impossible to fully achieve, while also giving companies an opportunity to show that they provide equal opportunities to people with disabilities.

In order for a company to claim conformance to WCAG, the latest amendment to AB 1757 adds a role for "professional reviewers." If the site is reviewed by a reviewer who holds a CPWA certification from the International Association of Accessibility Professionals (IAAP) and that reviewer certifies that the site conforms to WCAG 2.1 A/AA, then the company's site is deemed to conform to WCAG.

The New Amendment to AB 1757 Encourages Bad Consulting

The California legislature seems pretty hooked on the idea that company websites can fully conform to WCAG. I think this is a fool's errand. In the 20+ years that I've worked on web accessibility, I've never truly seen a website that fully conforms to WCAG (except for minimal "hello world" web sites). On the other hand, I've seen (and often helped create) web pages that fully conform to WCAG 2.1 A/AA. The problem, of course, is that the sheer volume of websites makes it impossible or impractical to claim that an entire site conforms to WCAG. The W3C uses this same logic; a clear reason that we rarely see WCAG conformance logos on websites is because it is an impossibly high bar to meet. The W3C specifically notes that, "knowledgeable human evaluation is required to determine if a page is accessible" so every page on a website would have to be manually tested before an organization can truly claim that they conform to WCAG. Worse yet, the moment that a minor change gets made to a single page on the site, that site can no longer claim conformance until that page is tested again.

Any decent accessibility consultant, however, knows that this is exactly what "conformance" with WCAG means. If AB 1757 passes in its current form, it means that every business in California that wants to avoid liability will pester accessibility consultants to certify that their sites meet this virtually impossible bar. At the same time, no client would pay for every page on their website to be manually tested. This means that some unscrupulous consultants will certify sites conform with WCAG, even though they never manually tested every single web page on the site.

Can We Please Stop Talking About Full WCAG Conformance for Websites?

I am really tired of lawyers (granted, that could potentially include me) talking about requiring websites to fully comply with WCAG 2.1 A/AA. Given current technology, full compliance is unachievable and unnecessary. Yes, we should encourage organizations to meet WCAG, but setting them up for lawsuits because of tiny errors that may have minimal impacts on people with disabilities is just silly. Just manual testing alone (not including documenting issues or fixing them) costs anywhere from $100 to $300 per page-- this money would be far better spent by first ensuring that people with disabilities can actually access goods and services instead of ensuring that the code on a website meets specific code requirements that may or may not have any impact on their ability to use a web page.

How can we ensure that organizations make their websites accessible? Instead, we should be talking about ideas like maturity models (which encourage web sites to gradually become more accessible based on priorities). Or we should be talking about full WCAG manual testing on key use cases (e.g. searching for an item and adding it to a shopping cart). But please let's stop talking about making every page on a site fully comply with WCAG.


Nothing in this post should be interpreted as legal advice or as forming an attorney-client relationship. It is offered for educational purposes only. You should always contact a qualified attorney in your area to discuss your legal rights and responsibilities.

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