Aloha Tatiana! I wish your questions had straightforward easy answers – and if you are government funded it kind of is. (See here: https://www.ada.gov/websites2_prnt.pdf) if you are not government funded, this is something that is currently being debated in the legal system. That being said, the WCAG 2.0 guidelines are a good set of guidelines to help protect yourself if you feel you should. (You can see more on WCAG here: https://www.yokoco.com/find-out-how-to-make-your-website-compliant/)
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While new companies might not prioritize web accessibility simply because of price, it can be seen as a great insurance policy. Even if you don’t fall into one of the categories mentioned above, if you want to prepare for the future and ensure no lawsuits, becoming web accessible is the way to go. Not to mention being available to persons with disabilities is very important and says that you care.
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.
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.
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.
Level AA is a little more significant, and makes sites accessible to people with a wider range of disabilities, including the most common barriers to use. It won't impact the look and feel of the site as much as Level AAA compliance, though it does include guidance on color contrast and error identification. Most businesses should be aiming for Level AA conformity, and it appears to reflect the level of accessibility the DOJ expects.
The ADA is the Americans with Disabilities Act, passed almost 30 years ago in 1990. This act was originally put in motion pertaining solely to physical location. It requires establishments to provide people with disabilities easy access to various levels throughout the business. This act was set to achieve an equal experience to all people, handicapped or not.