Yes, in time non-ADA compliant websites will be penalized in the search engines. It's already on their radar. But for now they are still negatively affected, just in an indirect way. Live traffic behavior (user experience) is now factored into Google's algorithm and is a ranking signal. Negative user interactions absolutely have negative affects on rankings.
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.
What’s the scope of the work? Will the website be basic with just a few pages about your company, its services, and contact information? Or will it also have an e-commerce section for online shopping, a blog, or content for visitors to download? Before you hire a web designer, make sure you have a thorough, specific list of the components you must have the designer include in the web design.
In an August 2016 case involving the University of California Berkeley, the DOJ ruled that the public university was in violation of ADA Title II (similar to Title III but it instead applies to government organizations) because their YouTube channel’s videos didn’t include captions for hearing impaired visitors. The DOJ found this to violate the ADA as deaf users did not have equal access to the online content.
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 gray area is a matter of scale and purpose. If you have a small business which serves as specific market it's a good idea to make the site as user and disability friendly as possible. If, however, your market serves segments with a likeliness to have various handicaps or disabilities you should address that with an ADA Compliance review of the site. Also consider the scale and purpose of an organization. Publicly traded large businesses need to concern themselves more than a single location family owned retailer and if someone sues your flower shop because the text was too small or didn't have "image alt tags" causing them distress... That's pretty frivolous and would likely not stand.
The consequences for ignoring ADA guidelines for your website and online reservation system can be costly. In California, each instance of non-compliance is punishable by minimum damages of $4,000, plus legal fees. Class action lawsuits can multiply the damages dramatically. Most states have multiple disability laws, so it only makes sense that your website meets ADA compliance immediately.
Ensure that in-house staff and contractors responsible for webpage and content development are properly trained. Distribute the Department of Justice technical assistance document “Accessibility of State and Local Government Websites to People with Disabilities” to these in-house staff and contractors on an annual basis as a reminder. This technical assistance document is available on the ADA Home Page at www.ada.gov.
Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in places of public accommodation, including restaurants, movie theaters, schools, day care and recreational facilities, and doctors’ offices. All public places, as well as privately owned commercial facilities, are required to comply with ADA standards.
The fact that an ADA compliant website can increase your target audience by millions is just one reason to make your site more accessible. Another benefit is that not only will you get more customers, but those customers will also know how valuable they are to your business. After all, they might have gone to a few other websites that were not ADA compliant, disappointed each time that they couldn’t access the content, until they got to your website.