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California Unruh Civil Rights Act Compliance

Businesses in California don’t just have to comply with applicable federal laws related to website accessibility—they also need to meet state requirements. These include the Unruh Civil Rights Act (California Civil Code Section 51, often referred to as Unruh or the Unruh Act), which bans discrimination from California establishments. The Unruh Act has adopted the same standards for discrimination as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Title III of the ADA bans discrimination in “places of public accommodation,” and legal precedent has determined that places of public accommodation include the internet. That means that, if your website is not accessible, you’re in violation of the ADA. And because Unruh adopted ADA standards, you’re also in violation of the Unruh Civil Rights Act.

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The ADA and Unruh: A surge in costly accessibility lawsuits

The connection between the ADA and the Unruh Civil Rights Act has been the driving force behind a surge in website accessibility lawsuits in California, which is consistent with trends in ADA-related website accessibility lawsuits on the national level. And non-compliance with Unruh can be even costlier than non-compliance with the ADA. While a successful ADA lawsuit generally limits recovery costs to legal fees and expenses related to avoiding further harm (for example, website updates), Unruh entitles successful plaintiffs to a minimum of $4,000 and up to three times the cost of actual damages.

WCAG: The standard for Unruh and ADA compliance

To ensure compliance with Unruh and the ADA—and avoid a costly lawsuit—it’s a best practice to conform with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).WCAG is a set of technical standards that, when applied, make online content accessible for all users, including people with disabilities. These standards suggest a site should be perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust:

  • Perceivable: It’s important to present information that can be perceived in different ways, where a user can adjust color contrast or font size, or view captions for videos.
  • Operable: If someone can’t use a mouse, for example, they can use a keyboard or voice command.
  • Understandable: Information and instructions are clear and navigation methods are easy to understand and use.
  • Robust: Content must be robust enough so that it can be interpreted reliably by a wide variety of users and types of assistive technologies.

Updates to WCAG are reflected in the version number. For example, the first release was WCAG 1.0. Subsequent releases include 2.0, 2.1, and 2.2. There are also three levels of conformance with WCAG: A, AA and AAA.A representsthe minimum level of conformance, and AAA represents the maximum.WCAG is consistently referenced as the benchmark for accessibility standards. Conform with WCAG 2.0 AA, and you’re compliant with the ADA and the Unruh Act, as well as Section 508 and many international regulations.

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Boost brand loyalty and serve a wider audience with an accessible site

Organizations that choose to make their digital experiences accessible to people with disabilities do more than mitigate risk—they demonstrate that they value inclusion, which can positively impact consumer loyalty. With an accessible website, companies also make their products and services available to a much larger audience. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates one in four U.S. adults is living with a disability. These individuals control hundreds of billions of dollars in discretionary spending.

Get started with Unruh and ADA compliance

Level Access simplifies ADA and Unruh Act compliance with an unified digital accessibility solution. We combine advanced technology with manual testing, training, and legal expertise to help you meet compliance obligations and provide exceptional, inclusiveexperiences for all users.

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Our risk assessment will help you understand your digital accessibility health score and your current level of ADA compliance.

Frequently asked questions

Does the Unruh Civil Rights Act apply to all employers in California?

The Unruh Act applies to all businesses in California. This includes hotels and motels, restaurants, theaters, hospitals, barber and beauty shops, housing accommodations, and retail establishments. However, certain employers may not be considered a “business” under the law. A primary example is public school districts.

The law has been interpreted to include entities that engage in commercial activities. For example, even though a school is not considered a business under the law, it may be considered a business when engaging in commercial activities such as selling football tickets.

Under the Unruh Act, a business sued for violation can be required to pay a minimum of $4,000, as well as potentially three times the cost of actual damages.