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.
ADA compliance means making your place of business fully accessible to persons with disabilities. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed into law in 1990, but it only covered brick and mortar businesses. Meaning your place of business had to accommodate people with disabilities. Now that technology has advanced, this law applies to your web site as well.
For instance, if you have a video that displays the benefits of your product, but it doesn’t have captions, then people who are deaf or hard of hearing will not get to find out how great your product is. The same goes for when you have images with no alternate text. The point of the alternate text is to allow screen reading tools to describe the image to someone who is blind, so if you don’t have that text, some of your audience will miss out. Similarly, it’s important to ensure your website is fully accessible without a mouse so that people with physical limitations can use it.
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.
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.
Every year numerous lawsuits are taken against businesses that fail to follow the ADA’s proposed requirements for web accessibility. This failure occurs because organizations, including state and local government entities, fail to read the ADA Best Practices Tool Kit.8 They also do not follow the most up to date version of the WCAG.9 These two failures are not only detrimental to people with disabilities who want to effectively browse the web, but they are also inexcusable in today’s digitally driven world.
That carousel or image slider on your site looks beautiful. That stunning video on autoplay may have cost thousands to produce. Users with cognitive limitations, however, may not comprehend your information quickly enough before the view changes or your video ends. Other users may want to start over, or go back and review something they saw or heard.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) also enforces Title II of the ADA relating to access to programs, services and activities receiving HHS federal financial assistance. This includes ensuring that people who are deaf or hard-of-hearing have access to sign language interpreters and other auxiliary aids in hospitals and clinics when needed for effective communication.
The U.S. Department of Transportation enforces regulations governing transit, which includes ensuring that recipients of federal aid and state and local entities responsible for roadways and pedestrian facilities do not discriminate on the basis of disability in highway transportation programs or activities. The department also issues guidance to transit agencies on how to comply with the ADA to ensure that public transit vehicles and facilities are accessible.
Any business that is considered a “place of public accommodation” is required to provide equal access to services under the nondiscrimination requirements of Title III of ADA. When you look at the guidelines closely, this includes hotels, entertainment venues, legal and accounting firms, retail stores, and virtually every business that is not a private club, including businesses that exist solely on the web.