U.S. Senator Bob Casey, the Chairman of the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging, and Senator Rick Scott this week introduced the Veterans Accessibility Act to ensure that VA complies with federal disability laws and makes its programs accessible for people with disabilities. The bill would establish a 15-person Advisory Committee on Equal Access, which would consist of veterans with disabilities, disability experts, and representatives of advocacy organizations. The Committee would be responsible for evaluating and reporting on VA’s compliance with federal disability laws and would issue recommendations for how VA can improve its accessibility for people with disabilities. It would also examine the physical accessibility of VA facilities, as well as the accessibility of technology such as websites and apps.
“By federal law, VA is required to make its physical services and electronic resources accessible to veterans with disabilities. As Chairman of the Aging Committee, I have investigated VA’s efforts and found that they often fall short,” said Chairman Casey. “This legislation is an important step towards ensuring that veterans with disabilities and their families can access the VA resources they rely on for health care and other essential benefits. We must continue working to make sure that our Nation meets its obligation to every veteran, including those who are blind or have other disabilities.”
Senator Rick Scott said, “It’s absolutely unacceptable that any federal programs designed to support and assist our nation’s veterans would be inaccessible to so many who are living with disabilities and in need of critical resources. Our veterans deserve better and our government must do better. I’m proud to join my colleague on the Senate Aging Committee, Chairman Bob Casey, to introduce this important legislation and make sure the VA stands ready to provide every single one of our nation’s veterans with the care they need. Our men and women who served have sacrificed so much in defense of our freedoms and way of life—we should do everything we can to give back.”
In December 2020, Senator Casey led the passage of the bipartisan VA Website Accessibility Act, which required VA to report to Congress on the accessibility of its kiosks and websites. VA’s 2021 report indicated that fewer than ten percent of VA websites were fully compliant with Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act, which requires federal technology to be accessible for people with disabilities. In 2022, Senator Casey released Unlocking the Virtual Front Door, a report detailing an 11 month investigation into Section 508 compliance shortfalls across the federal government which found that VA has repeatedly failed to make its technology accessible for people with disabilities and recommended incorporating the perspectives of people with disabilities into technology planning and evaluation. The Advisory Committee established by the Veterans Accessibility Act follows through on that recommendation and would focus on ensuring VA complies with all federal disability laws, including the Rehabilitation Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act. It will also provide recommendations on how the agency can do so.
“Veterans with spinal cord injuries and disorders regularly encounter disability access barriers as they navigate their communities and in their efforts to receive needed health care and services,” said Heather Ansley, Chief Policy Officer for Paralyzed Veterans of America. “The Veterans Accessibility Act will help the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to identify and address such barriers in their facilities and online. We appreciate the efforts of Senator Casey and Senator Scott to improve disability access at VA for veterans with the greatest support needs.”
“While blind and disabled veterans have sacrificed so very much in service to our great nation, we should not have to also sacrifice our dignity and basic rights in order to receive equal access to VA information, services, and programs,” said Donald D. Overton, Jr., Executive Director of the Blinded Veterans Association. “It is truly ironic that ongoing Congressional oversight confirms that the very cabinet department responsible for the care of our blind and disabled veterans fails to make its websites, kiosks, and other technology accessible for people with disabilities as required by law. BVA salutes the tireless and steadfast commitment to our nation’s veterans of Senators Casey and Scott, who have recognized this failure and introduced the Veterans Accessibility Act of 2023, establishing a long overdue Veterans Advisory Committee on Equal Access at VA and affording blind and disabled veterans the opportunity to assist VA in improving its overall service delivery and compliance with disability laws.”
“To provide the best service to America’s veterans, the VA must be compliant with all disability laws to ensure the safety of those who have sacrificed for our nation while visiting a VA facility,” said Joe Parsetich, National Commander of Disabled American Veterans. “All VA facilities should meet the standards set by the Americans with Disabilities Act. The Veterans Accessibility Act of 2023 would pledge that VA facilities meet the standards necessary to keep our veterans safe while receiving the timely, world-class care and benefits they’ve earned. We thank Sen. Casey and Sen. Scott for their leadership in introducing this legislation.”
The Veterans Accessibility Act is also supported by Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, National Association of the Deaf, National Disability Rights Network, the United Spinal Association/VetsFirst, Vietnam Veterans of America, and the Wounded Warrior Project.
Read more about the Veterans Accessibility Act here.