Chairman Casey, colleagues: Reports on web accessibility from Dept. of Justice are required every two years, but the latest report is from 2012
Letter continues Casey’s push to improve accessibility for people with disabilities on the web, apps and beyond
Washington, D.C. - Today, U.S. Senate Aging Committee Chairman Bob Casey (D-PA) 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.
Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act requires the federal government to make all its information technology accessible to people with disabilities. The law also requires DOJ to publicly report on the federal government’s compliance with accessibility standards every two years. However, DOJ has not provided a publicly available report since 2012, leaving taxpayers in the dark about the progress government agencies are making toward meeting accessibility standards. That 2012 report reflected serious gaps in accessibility across the federal government and the Senators are demanding DOJ address these issues for people with disabilities.
The letter was signed by Senate Aging Committee Ranking Member Tim Scott (R-SC), Judiciary Committee Chair Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Ranking Member Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Chair Patty Murray (D-WA) and Ranking Member Richard Burr (R-NC), as well as Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL).
“On behalf of the 26 percent of Americans living with a disability, including the 40 percent of people over age 65 who have a disability, we write to urge DOJ to take immediate steps to meet its obligations and once again issue these biennial reports… Without regular reports, Congress, taxpayers, and agencies themselves lack a crucial source of feedback for identifying and resolving longstanding accessibility issues,” wrote the Senators.
The latest report on federal government accessibility compliance in 2012 included recommendations for federal agencies to meet accessibility requirements, including appointing “Section 508 coordinators” and establishing “[Section] 508 offices or programs” to ensure every agency is equipped to meet the accessibility standards set by the Rehabilitation Act. A recent third party report from 2021 found that 30 percent of the most popular federal website homepages did not pass standard accessibility test
Earlier this month, Chairman Casey sent 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 a recent report from the VA which showed only 10 percent of VA websites are fully accessible for people with disabilities, as required by law, posing barriers to deaf, blind and paralyzed veterans as well as tens of thousands of veterans with other disabilities. This report was required by Chairman Casey’s bipartisan VA Website Accessibility Act, which became law in 2020, and mandates that the VA issue reports to Congress on the accessibility of its websites, along with a plan to make them accessible. Because the report lacked key details, such as a detailed remediation plan and timeline, Chairman Casey and his colleagues are calling on the VA to resubmit its report with more information, including what the agency is doing to fix its websites.
In a separate letter to DOJ earlier this month, Chairman Casey called on Attorney General Garland to provide better guidance and regulations to help state and local governments better comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act’s (ADA) accessibility requirements on their websites, mobile applications and other forms of technology.
Read the letter to Attorney General Garland here and below.
June 30, 2022
The Honorable Merrick Garland
U.S. Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20530-0001
Dear Attorney General Garland:
It has come to our attention that the Department of Justice (DOJ) has not reported on the federal government’s compliance with accessibility standards for information technology over the last decade, despite statutory requirements for it to do so biennially. The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (herein the “Act”) requires government electronic and information technology to be accessible for individuals with disabilities. In addition, Section 508 of the Act states that, every two years, “the Attorney General shall prepare and submit to the President and Congress a report containing information on and recommendations regarding the state of Federal department and agency compliance.” On behalf of the 26 percent of Americans living with a disability, including the 40 percent of people over age 65 who have a disability, we write to urge DOJ to take immediate steps to meet its obligations and once again issue these biennial reports.
The last publicly available DOJ report on Section 508 compliance is from 2012. The 2012 report identified substantial gaps in Section 508 compliance across the federal government and included recommendations for agencies to meet their accessibility requirements. For example, DOJ reported “mixed levels of success” with general processes for Section 508 implementation and recommended that agencies increase training, appoint 508 coordinators, and establish 508 offices or programs. The 2012 report also found that agency components often used “basic contract requirements” during procurement instead of specific Section 508 accessibility standards. The report recommended the use of specific language along with the development of procurement policies for both Section 508 compliance and product testing for accessibility by agency officials. Furthermore, the report found that approximately 30 percent of agency components had policies and procedures for reporting Section 508 complaints. It recommended establishing specific procedures and widely distributing information on how to file a complaint.
The 2012 report’s findings provided an important examination of the progress the federal government made toward meeting its obligations under Section 508. It also provided crucial recommendations for improving federal compliance. Without regular reports, Congress, taxpayers, and agencies themselves lack a crucial source of feedback for identifying and resolving longstanding accessibility issues. While not a substitute for DOJ’s government-wide evaluations, a recent congressionally mandated report by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) showed that, as of 2021, just eight percent of VA internet sites and six percent of VA intranet sites fully complied with Section 508 requirements. The lack of fully accessible websites at VA is a potential barrier for the one-quarter of all veterans with a service-connected disability, and may well be a harbinger of similar shortfalls at other federal agencies and departments. Third-party groups also have identified ongoing accessibility concerns with federal technology, demonstrating the need for additional oversight. For example, a 2021 report found that 30 percent of the most popular federal websites did not pass an automated accessibility test for their homepage and 48 percent of those sites failed the test on at least one of their three most popular pages. Furthermore, one-third of those sites did not have easily discoverable contact information to report accessibility issues.
Accordingly, we ask you to resume your agency’s biennial reports on Section 508 compliance across the federal government. We also ask that you answer the following questions by July 29, 2022:
Thank you for your attention to this important matter.