Senate Leaders Call on GAO to Investigate Federal Government’s Compliance With Section 508

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WASHINGTON, D.C. — On Thursday, U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging Chairman Bob Casey (D-PA) led a bipartisan group of Senators in requesting the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) to investigate the federal government’s compliance with Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act, which mandates that government make its electronic and information technology accessible to people with disabilities. Chairman Casey was joined by Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), Chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee; Senator Richard Burr (R-NC), Ranking Member of the Senate Health; and Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Mike Braun (R-IN), both members of the Senate Special Committee on Aging.

Chairman Casey’s letter to GAO is the latest in a series of bipartisan efforts he has led to ensure effective federal oversight and enforcement of the mandated Section 508 requirements. Chairman Casey recently led a letter to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), urging the agency to improve VA web accessibility for disabled veterans, and to the Department of Justice (DOJ), demanding long-overdue information on web accessibility across the federal government. He called on DOJ to restart the government-wide reports evaluating the accessibility of federal technology. These reports have not been issued since 2012, despite a requirement in Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act that they be completed every two years.

“Recent congressional oversight leaves us concerned about the federal government’s efforts to meet its legal obligations to ensure that its electronic and information technology, including websites, is accessible for people with disabilities. Accessibility challenges appear to exist across the government, raising important questions about the effectiveness of accountability mechanisms intended to monitor the accessibility of federal technology and whether they are being properly carried out,” the Senators wrote. “Given these concerns, we ask the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to examine how the federal government is complying with laws requiring the availability of accessible technology and how it evaluates whether legal requirements are being met.”

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Below is a timeline of Chairman Casey’s work on the issue of federal government web accessibility:

  • March 2020: Senator Casey introduced the bipartisan Department of Veterans Affairs Website Accessibility Act alongside Senator Moran and Representative Luria directing the VA to report to Congress regarding the accessibility of VA websites to people with disabilities.
  • December 2020: Senator Casey’s Department of Veterans Affairs Website Accessibility Act became law (P.L. 116-213).
  • January 2021: Senator Casey sent a letter to then-VA Secretary Robert Wilkie to confirm the VA was taking steps to implement the VA Website Accessibility Act and ensuring robust enforcement of Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act after reports that the agency was not meeting standards of accessibility established by those laws.
  • April 2021: Senator Casey sent a letter following up on concerns on VA website accessibility with VA Secretary McDonough.
  • September 2021: VA transmitted a report to Congress regarding Section 508 compliance.
  • March 2022: Senator Casey received responses from VA to questions from his April 2021 letter.
  • June 2022: Senator Casey led a bipartisan, bicameral group of committee leaders in sending a letter to U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary Denis McDonough urging the agency to improve VA website accessibility for disabled veterans. He also released VA’s Section 508 report required by the VA Website Accessibility Act.
  • June 2022: Senator Casey led a bipartisan group of Senators in sending a letter to U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) Attorney General Merrick Garland demanding information on web accessibility across the federal government.
  • July 2022: Senator Casey held a hearing in the Special Committee on Aging examining the challenges facing seniors and people with disabilities when accessing crucial online resources from the federal government and pressing for answers as to why barriers to web access remain, and what federal government agencies are doing to meet accessibility standards. Testimony showed that a long list of federal agencies, even the White House, have entered settlements after being sued for failing to meet accessibility requirements outlined in Section 508.
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Read the letter to VA here.

Read the letter to DOJ here.

Read the letter to GAO here.

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