R&D notes

Do California lawmakers obey their own laws?

Jonathan Robert Pool

Inspecting legislators’ web pages


A new analysis reveals wide variation in conformity to web-accessibility standards by members of the California legislature, both on their official Assembly web pages and on the home pages of Assembly members’ political campaign websites. This finding contrasts with California statutes and regulations mandating that government websites be designed and built inclusively.


California legislators on their websites claim that they fight to help people who need help. People with disabilities fall into that category. California statutes and regulations require government websites (and other communications) to be designed and built so people with disabilities can benefit from them.

Concretely, this means that websites must conform to web accessibility standards. These standards ensure that websites avoid imposing user-unfriendly barriers that are annoying for most of us, but especially onerous for people with disabilities—such as tiny or faint text, disappearing information, confusing error messages, widgets that require precise control of a mouse, deadlines forcing users to act quickly, or motions that could provoke nausea or seizures.

Methods for making websites accessible are well known and widely agreed on. Website developers have access to documentation, training, and tools to ensure that the sites they build are accessible.

If legislators want their own websites to be accessible, they can insist on that when they have their sites designed. But do they?


In June 2023 I performed automated accessibility tests on official and campaign web pages of members of the California legislature. The tests produced detailed reports of accessibility problems, and I aggregated the results into a total accessibility score for each page. The results are shown below.

The tests of Assembly members were done first, and the tests of senators later. Between the two testing sessions, the tests were revised, so the scores are not strictly comparable. Therefore, there are two tables, one for each chamber.

The legislators’ political party affiliations are shown in parentheses (D = Democratic, R = Republican). To visit the web pages themselves, you can click their names. To read the detailed reports, you can click the scores.

Web accessibility scores of California Assembly members
PageScore (from best to worst)
Candidate Lisa Calderon (D)355
Candidate Dr. Joaquin Arambula (D)411
Candidate Eloise Gómez Reyes (D)527
Member Stephanie Nguyen (D)553
Candidate Pilar Schiavo (D)597
Candidate Ash Kalra (D)666
Member Avelino Valencia (D)674
Candidate James Ramos (D)691
Candidate Philip Ting (D)748
Candidate Tri Ta (R)759
Candidate Marie Waldron (R)815
Candidate Heath Flora (R)846
Member Diane Papan (D)858
Candidate Phillip Chen (R)874
Member Jasmeet Bains (D)876
Candidate Eduardo Garcia (D)883
Candidate Evan Low (D)885
Member Gail Pellerin (D)897
Member Pilar Schiavo (D)928
Member Dawn Addis (D)936
Member Juan Carrillo (D)953
Candidate Laurie Davies (R)968
Member Damon Connolly (D)969
Candidate David Alvarez (D)973
Member Gregg Hart (D)983
Candidate Al Muratsuchi (D)986
Member Josh Lowenthal (D)987
Member Phillip Chen (R)988
Member David Alvarez (D)1006
Member Mia Bonta (D)1011
Candidate Blanca Rubio (D)1020
Candidate Avelino Valencia (D)1027
Member Dr. Joaquin Arambula (D)1032
Candidate Matt Haney (D)1056
Candidate Brian Maienschein (D)1065
Member Blanca Pacheco (D)1071
Member Bill Essayli (R)1089
Candidate Sabrina Cervantes (D)1090
Candidate Dawn Addis (D)1092
Member Esmeralda Soria (D)1095
Member Eloise Gómez Reyes (D)1096
Reginald Byron Jones-Sawyer (D)1100
Member Mike Fong (D)1101
Candidate Juan Alanis (R)1107
Candidate Liz Ortega (D)1132
Member Lisa Calderon (D)1134
Member Carlos Villapudua (D)1135
Member Corey Jackson (D)1138
Member Anthony Rendon (D)1148
Member Liz Ortega (D)1158
Candidate Cecilia Aguiar-Curry (D)1167
Member Tasha Boerner (D)1171
Member Rick Chavez Zbur (D)1176
Member Luz Rivas (D)1179
Member Lori Wilson (D)1199
Candidate Anthony Rendon (D)1199
Member Juan Alanis (R)1208
Member Kate A. Sanchez (R)1212
Candidate Kate A. Sanchez (R)1223
Candidate Steve Bennett (D)1238
Member Tom Lackey (R)1244
Candidate Robert Rivas (D)1250
Member Philip Ting (D)1253
Member Diane Dixon (R)1273
Member Marc Berman (D)1279
Member Buffy Wicks (D)1283
Member Jim Wood (D)1283
Member Wendy Carrillo (D)1285
Candidate Jim Patterson (R)1288
Member Al Muratsuchi (D)1291
Candidate Gail Pellerin (D)1306
Member Matt Haney (D)1307
Candidate Buffy Wicks (D)1312
Member Laura Friedman (D)1338
Candidate Vince Fong (R)1344
Member Timothy Grayson (D)1350
Member Freddie Rodriguez (D)1350
Member Alex Lee (D)1368
Member Christopher M. Ward (D)1374
Member Akilah Weber, M.D. (D)1389
Member Sabrina Cervantes (D)1395
Candidate Tina McKinno (D)1395
Member Cottie Petrie-Norris (D)1406
Member Brian Maienschein (D)1412
Member Joe Patterson (R)1424
Member Ash Kalra (D)1427
Candidate Cottie Petrie-Norris (D)1434
Candidate Josh Lowenthal (D)1453
Member Miguel Santiago (D)1467
Candidate Miguel Santiago (D)1470
Candidate Jesse Gabriel (D)1494
Member Tri Ta (R)1504
Member Heath Flora (R)1504
Member Evan Low (D)1511
Member Jim Patterson (R)1511
Candidate Carlos Villapudua (D)1515
Candidate Juan Carrillo (D)1521
Candidate Isaac Bryan (D)1529
Member James Ramos (D)1533
Candidate Tom Lackey (R)1535
Member Jacqui Irwin (D)1540
Candidate Esmeralda Soria (D)1549
Member Chris Holden (D)1553
Member Tina McKinno (D)1556
Member Kevin McCarty (D)1605
Member Mike Gipson (D)1615
Member James Gallagher (R)1628
Member Vince Fong (R)1629
Candidate Mia Bonta (D)1631
Member Steve Bennett (D)1635
Candidate Chris Holden (D)1643
Candidate Jasmeet Bains (D)1647
Member Rebecca Bauer-Kahan (D)1654
Member Laurie Davies (R)1658
Member Jesse Gabriel (D)1669
Candidate Greg Wallis (R)1674
Member Blanca Rubio (D)1676
Member Megan Dahle (R)1679
Candidate Sharon Quirk-Silva (D)1693
Candidate Joe Patterson (R)1696
Candidate Mike Fong (D)1748
Candidate Mike Gipson (D)1751
Candidate Luz Rivas (D)1752
Candidate Blanca Pacheco (D)1754
Candidate Freddie Rodriguez (D)1914
Candidate Kevin McCarty (D)1914
Candidate Tasha Boerner (D)1914
Candidate Christopher M. Ward (D)1914
Candidate Josh Hoover (R)1917
Member Isaac Bryan (D)1935
Member Greg Wallis (R)1979
Candidate Akilah Weber, M.D. (D)2009
Candidate Bill Essayli (R)2047
Candidate Alex Lee (D)2080
Candidate Diane Dixon (R)2089
Member Cecilia Aguiar-Curry (D)2114
Member Marie Waldron (R)2119
Candidate Timothy Grayson (D)2134
Candidate Megan Dahle (R)2146
Member Eduardo Garcia (D)2244
Member Robert Rivas (D)2333
Candidate Devon Mathis (R)2397
Member Sharon Quirk-Silva (D)2494
Candidate Jacqui Irwin (D)2525
Member Josh Hoover (R)2894
Candidate Lori Wilson (D)3000
Candidate Jim Wood (D)3000
Candidate Diane Papan (D)3000
Candidate Corey Jackson (D)3002
Candidate Stephanie Nguyen (D)3003
Candidate Rebecca Bauer-Kahan (D)3003
Candidate Damon Connolly (D)3005
Candidate Marc Berman (D)3005
Member Devon Mathis (R)3193
Candidate James Gallagher (R)3586
Candidate Rick Chavez Zbur (D)3615
Candidate Gregg Hart (D)3726
Candidate Laura Friedman (D)3905
Candidate Wendy Carrillo (D)9936
Web accessibility scores of California Senators
PageScore (from best to worst)
Melissa Hurtado (D)878
Dave Cortese (D)939
John Laird (D)1021
Susan Talamantes Eggman (D)1026
Monique Limon (D)1133
Brian Dahle (R)1156
Brian W. Jones (R)1218
Janet Nguyen (R)1248
Steve Padilla (D)1258
Bob Archuleta (D)1261
Josh Becker (D)1266
Roger W. Niello (R)1313
Shannon Grove (R)1332
Rosilicie Ochoa Bogh (R)1335
Kelly Seyarto (R)1337
Caroline Menjivar (D)1359
Aisha Wahab (D)1372
Catherine Blakespear (D)1375
Angelique V. Ashby (D)1389
Mike McGuire (D)1409
Scott Wilk (R)1446
Josh Newman (D)1477
María Elena Durazo (D)1482
Marie Alvarado-Gil (D)1485
Lola Smallwood-Cuevas (D)1505
Benjamin Allen (D)1523
Anna M. Caballero (D)1572
Steven M. Glazer (D)1578
Dave Min (D)1681
Bill Dodd (D)1839
Scott D. Wiener (D)1950
Thomas J. Umberg (D)1981
Anthony J. Portantino (D)2061
Nancy Skinner (D)2064
Richard D. Roth (D)2161
Henry I. Stern (D)2272
Susan Rubio (D)2508
Lena A. Gonzalez (D)2626
Steven Bradford (D)3106
Toni G. Atkins (D)3702


Ten different testing tools were used, and in combination they conducted about 1350 tests.

Although the tests were developed by accessibility specialists, they still reflect subjective judgment and can make mistakes, so it is prudent to treat the scores as only approximate indicators of over-all accessibility. The detailed reports, however, catalog hundreds of accessibility issues meriting investigation.

In the Assembly, the median score of Democrats, 1350, was better than the median score of Republicans, 1508. The median score of official pages, 1307, was better than the median score of campaign pages, 1518. But these differences pale in comparison to the range of scores, from 355 for the campaign page of Lisa Calderon to 9936 for the campaign page of Wendy Carrillo.

Even the best-scoring Assembly member page has some accessibility flaws. Lisa Calderon’s campaign page contains a Skip to content link at the top, which is designed for users who cannot use a mouse, so they can press the Tab key and get straight into the page content. But that link is useless, because it takes you to the navigation bar that it is intended to skip over. The page also contains a Donate button that endlessly pulsates if you press the Tab key a few times; this could disorient visitors with attention limitations or vestibular disorders. The issues page on the site contains gray text on a white background that falls below the minimum standard for foreground-background contrast.

Skip to content link

On the other end of the Assembly table, Wendy Carrillo’s campaign home page contains three large blocks that automatically rotate among several images, and you cannot stop this movement. If you navigate with a keyboard, the page is confusing. It pops up a donation form that makes it difficult to see how to donate or to close the form without using a mouse. The Escape key should close the form, but it does not. After you close the form, your next press of the Tab key takes you entirely out of the page, instead of into it. To reach the navigation bar at the top, you need to press the Tab key with the Shift key (i.e. navigate backwards) dozens of times. The page also contains a SUPPORT WENDY button whose text disappears when you hover over it with a mouse, so a distracted visitor could click it by mistake.

Donation form

In the middle, the Assembly member page of Brian Maienschein has misleading heading codes and navigation barriers. Heading codes are invisible, but they help people with vision and other disabilities understand how the page is organized and navigate successfully. The top heading code, h1, should be the member’s name, because this page is about him. Instead, his name is coded as a link that uselessly goes to this same page, and an h1 code is attached to the sentence Pleased to meet you, which is not a heading. That h1 code is immediately followed by an h3 code, which is illogical, and that h3 is attached to Sign up to receive updates, which, likewise, is not a heading. The page also contains a navigation bar at the top, but you can’t get to it without a mouse, so most of the site is off-limits to people who use a keyboard to navigate.

text lines coded as h1 and h3

The picture is similar for the senators, except that Republican senators on average have better scores than Democratic senators. Even the page with the best score can be made more accessible. Senator Hurtado’s page has, for example, a vertical menu with options that appear when you hover over the menu items. That in itself can startle visitors. Moreover, suppose you hover over News and see that Videos is one of the options. Move your mouse straight from News to Videos, and suddenly the whole list of options disappears and is replaced by a lower menu’s list of options. To navigate from News to Videos, you must understand the need to move the mouse right and then down, and you must be able to do that without straying from the red path. Making such demands on users benefits experts at the expense of inexperienced or mobility-limited visitors. For users with limited vision, this design also creates a visual tracking problem. They may have magnified the display to see it. But then Videos may be so distant from News, with blank space in between, that they cannot see both at once, and thus may not understand that Videos is an option related to News.

menu with a flyout submenu

Assembly Members Carrillo and Maienschein both introduced bills in February 2023 to tighten the rules for making website accessibility claims. But the Carrillo bill would require telling businesses that Compliance with disability access laws is a serious and significant responsibility that applies to all California business owners with places of public accommodation, and the Maienschein bill would make it illegal for a website development contractor to build an inaccessible website for a customer.

Thus, website accessibility is a political issue for some California lawmakers, but for all the Assembly members and senators it is also potential achievement. Potential, because none of them can claim that achievement yet.