Following ongoing bipartisan efforts led by U.S. Senator Bob Casey (D-PA), the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) this week released data on the accessibility of federal government technology for the first time in a decade. DOJ is required by Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act to provide a report to Congress and the President every two years on federal technology accessibility. Despite this mandate, the latest report was from 2012, leaving taxpayers in the dark for over a decade about the accessibility of government technology, including websites, for people with disabilities. While the new data confirmed the findings of Senator Casey’s recent investigation that exposed widespread accessibility barriers to federal technology, Senator Casey criticized the data as insufficient and incomplete, and is urging DOJ and the entire federal government to prioritize technology and web accessibility and transparency.
Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act requires the federal government to make all its information technology accessible to people with disabilities. Unfortunately, because of ongoing barriers to federal website and technology access, many people with disabilities—including older adults and veterans—are being barred from key government resources, facing barriers to accessing information about COVID-19, filing claims and accessing health care, using Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) kiosks, and more.
“The data released this week following repeated calls for transparency confirm what my investigation first exposed: people with disabilities are being locked out of government services and are not given a level playing field in federal workplaces due to inaccessible technology. Unfortunately, after a decade of keeping the public in the dark, the Department of Justice has not provided Americans with disabilities insight into what progress has been made over that time period—which will make it harder for the federal government to remedy these issues and ultimately improve web and technology accessibility. It’s clear that the federal government has a lot more work to do to make technology accessibility and transparency a priority and fulfill our promise to Americans with disabilities, older adults, and veterans,” said Senator Casey.
Casey is calling on DOJ to improve transparency around Section 508 compliance by returning to their mandated biennial reporting and ensuring their reports are modeled more closely after the agency’s 2012 web accessibility report instead of an abridged data set that DOJ released this week.
The data issued by DOJ, in partnership with the General Services Administration, showed:
- One in 10 public-facing websites at major federal departments and agencies are not fully accessible for people with disabilities. Three in five internal websites at major federal departments and agencies are not fully accessible to people with disabilities.
- The Department of Agriculture, Department of Labor, Department of State, and Department of Veterans Affairs reported that 50 percent or less of the public-facing websites that were tested comply with federal accessibility requirements.
- Some departments and agencies did not report conducting any accessibility testing of internal websites. It not clear what steps departments and agencies are taking to test other types of technology covered by Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act.
- DOJ found that key government agencies, including DOJ itself, as well as the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Defense, and the Environmental Protection Agency did not have adequate “resources committed and/or staff trained to implement policies, processes, and procedures.” These shortfalls in staffing were reflected in data regarding the low number of federal and contract employees directly supporting Section 508 programs in many agencies.
- DOJ also found that “[a]gency maturity remains largely unchanged from prior reporting,” raising concerns that, despite over a decade of technological evolution, many federal government agencies have not made efforts to improve and better integrate Section 508 compliance and ensure the federal government’s resources are available for people with disabilities, including taxpayers and federal workers.
DOJ’s recommendations underscore many of the recommendations Senator Casey made in his report, Unlocking the Virtual Front Door, which called for enhanced oversight and transparency from DOJ regarding Section 508 compliance as well as better integration of accessibility into everyday oversight efforts at every federal agency.
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