On September 25, 2008, President George W. Bush signed the ADA Amendments Act of 2008 (ADAAA) into law. The amendment broadened the definition of "disability", thereby extending the ADA's protections to a greater number of people. The ADAAA also added to the ADA examples of "major life activities" including, but not limited to, "caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, seeing, hearing, eating, sleeping, walking, standing, lifting, bending, speaking, breathing, learning, reading, concentrating, thinking, communicating, and working" as well as the operation of several specified major bodily functions. The act overturned a 1999 US Supreme Court case that held that an employee was not disabled if the impairment could be corrected by mitigating measures; it specifically provides that such impairment must be determined without considering such ameliorative measures. It also overturned the court restriction that an impairment which substantially limits one major life activity must also limit others to be considered a disability. In 2008, the United States House Committee on Education and Labor stated that the amendment "makes it absolutely clear that the ADA is intended to provide broad coverage to protect anyone who faces discrimination on the basis of disability." Thus the ADAAA led to broader coverage of impaired employees.
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.
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 On December 26, 2017, the Department of Justice announced that they have withdrawn the Obama-era Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking mentioned in this article which intended to require ADA website compliance.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.”
Because of this, among the greatest drivers of website accessibility are usability improvements and the reputation boost that it brings—or, alternatively, the lost business that organizations want to avoid as a result of inaccessible websites. According to a survey by the National Business Disability Council at the Viscardi Center, 91 percent of customers say that they’d prefer to shop at a website that prioritizes accessibility.
In the context of employment, the ADA prohibits employers from taking disability into consideration in all aspects of the employment relationship—from hiring to firing and virtually everything in between. The law also requires employers to make reasonable accommodations for individuals with disabilities to help them do their job. Outside of employment, the ADA requires most public places, such as shops, restaurants, and movie theaters, to be accessible to those with disabilities. State and local laws can also provide further protections.
If you do get sued, if you immediately remediate your website, you may be able to get the lawsuit dismissed on mootness (there’s no longer anything in dispute, i.e. plaintiffs are arguing your website is inaccessible but you’ve already made it accessible). This definitely does not mean you should wait to fix your website but it does mean you may have an out.
The Department has assembled an official online version of the 2010 Standards to bring together the information in one easy-to-access location. It provides the scoping and technical requirements for new construction and alterations resulting from the adoption of revised 2010 Standards in the final rules for Title II (28 CFR part 35) and Title III (28 CFR part 36).