Casey Urges Agencies to Make Websites More Accessible

internet, computerImage by Steve Buissinne

WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging Chairman Bob Casey (D-PA) held a hearing Thursday entitled, “Click Here: Accessible Federal Technology for People with Disabilities, Older Americans, and Veterans,” which examined the challenges facing seniors and people with disabilities when accessing crucial online resources from the federal government. Many Americans with disabilities face significant barriers when accessing federal government technology, including websites and applications (apps), which are increasingly important resources for health care, employment and education. Senator Casey is pressing federal government agencies for answers regarding persistent barriers to web access.

Chairman Casey highlighted recent letters he has led 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.

“In a world that is already becoming increasingly digital, the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated a long-term shift of delivering government services using virtual front doors instead of physical ones. Unfortunately, over the years, the government has not prioritized ensuring that those front doors are accessible to everyone, especially those with disabilities. As we commemorate the 32nd anniversary of the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act, we must continue the work of guaranteeing that every American has access to the resources they need,” said Chairman Casey.

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In the United States, 26 percent of Americans live with a disability and 40 percent of adults aged 65 years and older have a disability.

Chairman Casey invited Jule Ann Lieberman, the Assistive Technology Program Coordinator with the Institute on Disabilities at Temple University’s TechOWL, to testify at the hearing about her experience living with progressive vision loss. Jule testified, “In my personal experience… when visiting the website to gather information such as the prevalence of COVID 19 in my state, county or community, the information was presented in a graph with no text description. Therefore, this information was not available for my screen reader to access and obtain the information I needed. I relied on others with vision to provide me with the graph’s information… In crisis times, all need access to trusted information and services. I encourage legislative action to ensure compliance and monitoring of accessibility on all federal websites.”

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.
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Read the letter to VA here.

Read the letter to DOJ here.

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