Calls on Federal Government to Prioritize Tech Accessibility for People with Disabilities
New data show 1 in 10 public-facing federal websites that have been tested are not fully accessible for people with disabilities
Dept. of Justice must report on federal technology accessibility every two years, but last report was over a decade ago, leaving Americans and federal workers with disabilities without access to information, services, tools to do their jobs
Washington, D.C. – Following ongoing bipartisan efforts led by U.S. Senator Bob Casey (D-PA), the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) 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.
Below is a timeline of Senator 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 group of Senators in sending a letter to 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. 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.
August 2022: Senator Casey 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.
October 2022: Senator Casey sent a letter to VA Secretary McDonough, urging the VA to do more to make the agency’s websites and information technology accessible to people with disabilities. The Members of Congress called on the VA to accelerate its efforts to remediate long-standing accessibility issues and provide consistent transparency into which of the VA’s websites are not yet accessible.
November 2022: In response to DOJ announcing its plans to prepare and submit to Congress a report on web accessibility across the federal government, Senator Casey issued a bipartisan statement calling on DOJ to promptly issue a “robust, comprehensive report.”
December 2022: Senator Casey released Unlocking the Virtual Front Door, a report detailing the findings of an 11-month investigation that found widespread failure across the federal government to ensure that federal technology is accessible for people with disabilities, older adults, and veterans. The investigation identified absence of DOJ reporting as a contributing factor to widespread accessibility shortfalls at the numerous federal departments and agencies.