The Department of Justice (DOJ) has specifically stated in rulings that websites should be designed so they are accessible to individuals who have vision, hearing, and physical disabilities. There’s a growing body of case law where the DOJ required companies to provide an ADA compliant website and levied hefty penalties when sites failed to measure up.
The WCAG guidelines were updated from version 2.0 to 2.1 in June 2018. The updates in 2.1 cover changes in technology that have occurred since the previous version, and also address areas that were underrepresented in 2.0. What does this mean for you? Not a lot right now. The compliance level targeted is still WCAG 2.0 Level AA, and the 2.1 success criteria are in addition to those already existing in 2.0.
Before you even begin designing your website, you should consider how you will use it to your advantage upon completion. Some owners make an event out of the launch of their website to create some buzz about their brand. Others line up their best customers to give testimonials on their new site via copy or video content so they, and these customers, have something to say and share on social media.
If you use outside resources for your web needs, or have a dedicated web person or company, call them immediately. If you have a department or staff, even better. But— if you are working on your own, you would do yourself and your business a favor to contact a reputable web developer to discuss how to make your site accessible and avoid possible lawsuits. The older your website, the more likely it is that it is NOT compliant. Take action now!
According to Creating an Accessible Presence for the Lodging Industry by the American Hotel & Lodging Association, “Many businesses don’t understand that the law actually requires them to make their websites accessible to individuals with disabilities. There is a common misperception that the Americans with Disabilities Act and similar state and local laws only deal with physical buildings and facilities, so-called “brick and mortar” establishments, and that non-building-related business operations—such as websites—are not covered by these laws. Nothing could be further from the truth—at least with respect to websites that have some sort of connection, or “nexus,” to physical places of business.”

UPDATE: Since writing this post in August 2017, several important changes have taken place in the laws regarding ADA compliance for websites. On December 26, 2017, the Department of Justice announced that they have withdrawn the Obama-era Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking mentioned in this article which intended to require ADA website compliance. The DOJ’s withdrawal announcement stated, “The Department will continue to assess whether specific technical standards are necessary and appropriate to assist covered entities with complying with the ADA.”
Jeremy I am an artist and designer. The business I would like to have a website for is painting pet portraits. I also paint them with their owners, kids, etc. The reservations I have about the (template choice) website plans is that none of the templates I have seen show what I do well enough. Is there a site where I can setup or design my own homepage image without using a prescribed template?
Web designers often design in such a way that does not allow the user to adjust font size or color. While they may be protecting their brand, they are also inhibiting some users. Many visually impaired need to use high contrast color settings or very large fonts to read a website. Don't design your website in a way that makes it impossible for them to do this. 
Your site would need to have a text only option, with all functionality accessible through a keyboard for visitors with mobility issues. Once you make these and other changes to meet ADA guidelines, your site would need to be tested by a website development company familiar with ADA compliance issues to be sure that visitors who use assistive technology such as screen readers are able to access your web content fully.
The ADA itself holds different organizations to more/less stringent standards based on a host of factors, government funding being a major one. Government agencies themselves are usually held to the most severe standards. That said, while ADA has adopted WCAG as the defacto standard, from what I’ve seen it appears they’re going with AA compliance as the most reliable one. That said, we’ve done work with some organizations who’ve chosen to comply with AAA in an effort to be as buttoned up as possible from an accessibility and experiential perspective. We’ve also worked with some who have tighter budgers and aim for level A compliance and have a more “react and repair” mindset when they discover anything in their site that is giving someone hardship from an accessibilirt standpoint.

You are correct, ADA defines an “employer” as any person who is 1) engaged in an industry affecting commerce; 2) employes 15 or more full-time employees each work day; and 3) for at least 20 or more calendar weeks in the year. In the context of physical spaces, ADA would not apply to companies with fewer than 15 employees. However, courts don’t seem to have come to a consensus on what digital compliance really should look like. Because websites can be accessed anywhere in the country, small business owners might potentially face lawsuits in unfavorable jurisdictions. If you are a small business owner, I would recommend consulting with an accessibility lawyer and ask what they recommend.
Just as you wouldn’t trust an overweight personal trainer or a skinny chef, you should probably never trust a designer with an ugly looking website or an SEO specialist who doesn’t rank well on Google or an “internet marketer” who uses direct outreach to generate leads. And by that I mean, if someone is selling you the idea of getting traffic through Google or Pay Per Click or Social Media, but they’re using cold outreach, like, they’re direct emailing you or they’re using word of mouth to get in contact with you, they’re really not practicing what they preach.
As I mentioned above, under each WCAG 2.1 principle is a list of guidelines, and under each guideline are compliance standards, with techniques and failure examples at each level. Some guidelines include only Level A items; others include items for multiple levels of conformance, building from A to AAA. At each stage, you can easily see what more you would need to do to reach Level AA or AAA. In this way, many websites include elements at multiple levels of accessibility.

While some might be tempted to do this if you understand anything about how Google indexes websites, someone who has thousands of pages on their site would lose rankings. The price of making your site fully accessible depends on how large your website is. Making the best decision for your specific situation is best done by consulting a professional.
Courts have essentially taken three positions when approached with this issue. Some courts take the position that the ADA applies to all commercial sites because the law was meant to protect disabled individuals from having a more difficult time than able-bodied individuals from doing business. That is why the website Scribd was unable to get a case summarily dismissed and ended up settling.
Various courts around America have ruled that commercial websites are places of public accommodation and thus subject to ADA rules. Other cases have concluded that websites are bound by ADA regulations if there is a close “nexus” between the site and a physical location, the most famous example being the ruling against the Winn-Dixie supermarket chain for not making its site accessible to users with low vision. Other courts have decided that the ADA as written simply does not offer any protections for online users. With no overarching federal rules in place, it’s difficult to make a definitive statement about whether or not any given website is governed by ADA accessibility rules.
Hey Casey, this is one of the areas where things get a little weird because the W3 doesn’t actually have any say over the ADA guidelines, it is more than the ADA guidelines adopted the WCAG 2.0 guidelines as just that, a guideline to help. As far as I know, the tool you’ve linked to hasn’t been used in any judgements I’m aware of. Usually when it comes down to making a decision on if something is/isn’t compliant they have people use the actual PAWS tools and show what elements do/don’t work as intended or are otherwise inaccessible. Hope this helps!
Web designers often design in such a way that does not allow the user to adjust font size or color. While they may be protecting their brand, they are also inhibiting some users. Many visually impaired need to use high contrast color settings or very large fonts to read a website. Don't design your website in a way that makes it impossible for them to do this. 
The Americans with Disabilities Act was instituted in 1990 in an effort to end discrimination based on differing abilities. Drawing heavily from the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964, which established protections against discrimination based on race, religion, sex or national origin, the ADA went a step further by requiring organizations to provide “reasonable accommodations” to employees with disabilities.
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