Yes, as of 2018 websites absolutely must be ADA compliant.  Its a new but very scary issue that has flared up over the last year and is set to cause a LOT of turmoil.  The Supreme court issued a judgement that opened up a loophole and opportunity-chasing lawyers are aggressively soliciting handicapped people and convincing them to sue unsuspecting website owners (pretty much every website owner on the planet, as not a single one of us were ADA compliant before now.)
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. 
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While the influx of the dot.com world eliminated the need for brick-and-mortar locations for all stores (think eBay or Amazon), all of the above categories typically had a headquarters, if not multiple locations where one could visit and interact.  This would ensure a unique experience, often depending on the individual needs of the visitor. For instance, when visiting a municipal building or institute of learning, a variety of methods are available to get to higher floors (stairs, elevators, ramps and escalators).
The good news for potential defendants is that the only remedies available in private ADA suits are injunctions that force you to come into compliance and attorneys’ fees. If the Department of Justice gets involved, they can seek civil fines and penalties. Hence, you need to do the risk/benefit analysis as to whether it is worth challenging the claim or not. This report says the lawsuits are on the rise.
So, without a clear set of accessibility regulations to comply with, how can you tell if your website is compliant? The best measure available is the aforementioned WCAG 2.0 Level AA guidelines. WCAG standards have been the guiding accessibility principle in the European Union and other countries since 1999, with the most recent update taking effect in Spring of 2018. While WCAG is a set of recommended actions rather than enforceable legislation, it forms the backbone of many online accessibility laws around the world and offers a strong model for any American organization striving to provide equal access for all users.

There are several phases to go through to make a website ADA accessible. First, it is important to have your existing website evaluated for ADA accessibility. Have this evaluation done by a company that specializes in ADA compliance for lodging properties. Most existing websites will not pass a detailed ADA evaluation. Depending on the results of your professional ADA inspection, you will either have to make necessary changes to your existing website, or have it redesigned to meet ADA accessibility guidelines. 
The DOJ is currently working to release new technical standards for digital accessibility. The latter updates to the ADA guidelines will be in conjunction with the latest version of WCAG 2.1, which includes the most widely accepted digital accessibility requirements across the globe. If organizations want to overcome the current limitations of ADA guidelines, then they should follow the WCAG 2.1 checklist,11 as well as the suggestions provided by the ADA. The latter two steps, combined with the help of a trusted digital accessibility compliance platform,12 can help organizations achieve digital accessibility best in class standards throughout all of their digital formats and across all media.

Videos need to incorporate features that make them accessible to everyone. Provide audio descriptions of images (including changes in setting, gestures, and other details) to make videos accessible to people who are blind or have low vision. Provide text captions synchronized with the video images to make videos and audio tracks accessible to people who are deaf or hard of hearing.
Thank you all for your comments.  In my world of space planning and design of commercial facilities of all types , job # 1 is to make sure you can exit a building in case of heavy smoke and fire and make sure that the space is handicapped accessible and that a disabled person can get out of a building in case of fire.  I have never heard of a handicapped accessible website, however the explanation of a website that refers to a physical space makes sense. Alt text to describe something on a website and /or possible audio enhancements also make sense.   That being said I am also very aware of real and let’s call them faux lawsuits and have concerns about opportunistic lawsuits.  They are already happening and to think that could morph into the web is frankly frightening,  
People with disabilities that affect their sight, hearing, or mobility may have difficulty accessing certain parts of websites and other online properties unless certain accommodations are made. Just as businesses may need to make adjustments to their physical location so that disabled customers have easy access to the premises, companies may need to adjust certain aspects of their websites so individuals with disabilities can take full advantage of all the features and services.

Many government services and activities are also provided on websites because the public is able to participate in them at any time of day and without the assistance of government personnel. Many government websites offer a low cost, quick, and convenient way of filing tax returns, paying bills, renewing licenses, signing up for programs, applying for permits or funding, submitting job applications, and performing a wide variety of other activities.
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.

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.”

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"Candyce's company has done work for me for close to 5 years and has done a superb job with everything from business card design, to marketing materials like case studies, sales proposals, PDF brochures, as well as updating our Website. Her designs are always fresh and new so it is not the same recasting of old designs. Very reliable, also at times when we have to complete...
The DOJ is currently working to release new technical standards for digital accessibility. The latter updates to the ADA guidelines will be in conjunction with the latest version of WCAG 2.1, which includes the most widely accepted digital accessibility requirements across the globe. If organizations want to overcome the current limitations of ADA guidelines, then they should follow the WCAG 2.1 checklist,11 as well as the suggestions provided by the ADA. The latter two steps, combined with the help of a trusted digital accessibility compliance platform,12 can help organizations achieve digital accessibility best in class standards throughout all of their digital formats and across all media.
Do all websites have to be ADA compliant? Technically, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Title III, which concerns public businesses, does not specifically address websites. Local and state government websites must be accessible under Title II of the ADA and Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act. However, ADA civil suits have been brought against businesses with inaccessible websites, and courts have ordered some businesses to make their websites accessible.

Webpage designers often have aesthetic preferences and may want everyone to see their webpages in exactly the same color, size and layout. But because of their disability, many people with low vision do not see webpages the same as other people. Some see only small portions of a computer display at one time. Others cannot see text or images that are too small. Still others can only see website content if it appears in specific colors. For these reasons, many people with low vision use specific color and font settings when they access the Internet – settings that are often very different from those most people use. For example, many people with low vision need to use high contrast settings, such as bold white or yellow letters on a black background. Others need just the opposite – bold black text on a white or yellow background. And, many must use softer, more subtle color combinations.
This past September marked the first time a judge ruled that the ADA applies even to businesses without a physical location. Scribd, an e-book subscription service is considered to provide "a place of public accommodation." Their services are not accessible to blind persons because they cannot be read with a screen reader. The judge reasoned, "Now that the Internet plays such a critical role in the personal and professional lives of Americans, excluding disabled persons from access to covered entities that use it as their principal means of reaching the public would defeat the purpose of this important civil rights legislation."
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.
WCAG guidelines break accessibility issues down into three levels. Level A issues are the most urgent and include problems that can severely limit a disabled visitor’s ability to navigate or use the website. Level AA issues tend to be more rooted in functionality, addressing areas where improvement is needed to give disabled users the full experience of a site. (Level AA is considered the target standard for most commercial websites.) Level AAA issues are the highest standard, fine-tuning and expanding on issues identified as Level A and AA. While it is an excellent goal, full Level AAA compliance is likely beyond the reach of most websites.

It makes sense that everyone should have equal access to websites and online properties.  The Internet has become an integral part of our lives, where we go to shop, learn, do our banking, and socialize. The DOJ hasn’t determined what the final set of regulations for ADA compliant websites will be yet, but there are established guidelines and standards of accessibility that can be viewed on the ADA website. Once a website meets these accessibility standards it qualifies as ADA compliant.
About the Speaker: Bill Mitchell is the co-founder and Chief Operating Officer of RezStream, a company dedicated to hospitality solutions, located in Denver, Colorado. Bill has over 30 years experience in the hospitality industry with extensive knowledge in consulting, sales, support, website design and Internet marketing.RezStream sells reservation software (RezStream Professional PMS), online reservation booking engine services (RezStream Rez2u Booking Engine), Global Distribution System services, custom website designs, and Internet marketing services. 
Thank you so much Jeremy for this article. it's a life saver. I was so lost on this issue. What I get from this article is clear. When you're small, focus on building your brand first then invest in a 'expert' website after you have proven you have a viable profitable business. I even had a look at some of the 'top' competitors in my field and boy Wix will just do guys. Your business is NOT your website. Business creates websites. Websites DON'T create business!

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.”

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in several areas, including employment, transportation, public accommodations, communications and access to state and local government’ programs and services. As it relates to employment, Title I of the ADA protects the rights of both employees and job seekers. The ADA also establishes requirements for telecommunications relay services. Title IV, which is regulated by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), also requires closed captioning of federally funded public service announcements.
Federal law isn't the only consideration for businesses. Additionally, each state interprets the law differently. Consider the case against Netflix in 2012. Lawsuits were brought in federal court in Massachusetts and California. Netflix was accused of violating the ADA by not offering "closed captioning" options for its Internet streamed movies. Illustrating the complexity of this issue, the courts reached completely opposite decisions. Massachusetts held that Netflix must comply with the ADA, while the California court found that Netflix did not fall under the ADA's definition of "public accommodation."
The web design company you choose must be able to interpret your company’s mission and identity and turn it into an appealing website that connects with potential customers. They must help you reach your target audience and meet your business goals. A web design agency should have on staff both talented web designers, with fresh ideas and extensive technical and creative skills, and a marketing team that knows how to drive traffic to your site, encourage visitor engagement, and convert visitors into customers. Web designers should be able to build in search optimization and integrate your site with a content management system and e-commerce tools. Look, too, for a website design company that understands responsive design and can optimize your website for mobile devices and desktop browsers. The right web design company understand current design and website trends, has experience building sites in a variety of industries (not just yours), and has an expansive portfolio of live websites. Finally, don’t simply hire the cheapest bidder — in web design, as in all things, you get what you pay for.
The web design company you choose must be able to interpret your company’s mission and identity and turn it into an appealing website that connects with potential customers. They must help you reach your target audience and meet your business goals. A web design agency should have on staff both talented web designers, with fresh ideas and extensive technical and creative skills, and a marketing team that knows how to drive traffic to your site, encourage visitor engagement, and convert visitors into customers. Web designers should be able to build in search optimization and integrate your site with a content management system and e-commerce tools. Look, too, for a website design company that understands responsive design and can optimize your website for mobile devices and desktop browsers. The right web design company understand current design and website trends, has experience building sites in a variety of industries (not just yours), and has an expansive portfolio of live websites. Finally, don’t simply hire the cheapest bidder — in web design, as in all things, you get what you pay for.
Please check the laws applying to the size of your company. This means number of employees. If you expect to hire persons with disabilities and/or have customers who may be disabled then I recommend that you provide a ramp opening in your sidewalk for easier access for wheelchairs. Bathrooms should include a larger area for a person with a disability and bars placed strategically for ease of movement on and off the toilet. Paper towels should be within reach. Please have someone research this in case I missed something. Having an employee who is attentive to opening the door is always a goo...
For most businesses, the need for ADA web compliance means they will need to make at least some adjustments to all of their online marketing strategies. For instance, if your company provides tax preparation services, all of the tax forms you provide for customers to download would need to meet accessibility standards. Any online tax preparation services that you offer would also need to be configured so they meet ADA standards, as would your mobile app.
Thank you so much Jeremy for this article. it's a life saver. I was so lost on this issue. What I get from this article is clear. When you're small, focus on building your brand first then invest in a 'expert' website after you have proven you have a viable profitable business. I even had a look at some of the 'top' competitors in my field and boy Wix will just do guys. Your business is NOT your website. Business creates websites. Websites DON'T create business!
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.

Do all websites have to be ADA compliant? Does yours? Though the legal definitions are somewhat unclear, it is clear that inaccessibility invites legal action and misgivings from customers. Web accessibility does not have to be complex, and it may not take much to test your site and make it accessible. Take web accessibility step by step and you can avoid stressful lawsuits, and invite all patrons to your website.
People with disabilities may interact with websites and online reservation systems differently than people not affected by disabilities. All types of disabilities need to be considered when setting up your website such as: visual impairments (blindness, low vision, color blindness), hearing impairments, physical disabilities, speech disabilities, cognitive disabilities, and multiple disabilities. Age-related disabilities such as arthritis, hearing loss, and vision loss should also be factored in when making your website ADA compliant.

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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