Congress enacted a portion of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, known as Section 508. The law requires federal agencies to make technology accessible, and made it mandatory in 1998. Don’t just order lunch. According to his 2021 report by the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, about 30% of his most popular federal government websites do not meet accessibility standards. Enforcement is virtually non-existent, and government agencies spend little effort or money to comply.
“Currently, my firm’s clients are dealing with training needed by Medicare and Medicaid Service centers that don’t work with blind screen readers or inaccessible Social Security reception kiosks,” says Eve Hill. says Mr. Lawyers for Brown, Goldstein and Levy, who testified before the Senate Aging Committee last month on the issue.
Hill worked with Anil Lewis, Executive Director of the National Federation of the Blind’s Blindness Initiative, and Jules Ann Lieberman, Assistive Technology Program Coordinator, Temple University Institute for the Disabled, to ensure federal compliance with federal disability legislation. I asked the senator to confirm.
Advocates say the most frustrating thing is that making technology accessible doesn’t have to be difficult. Just be careful in advance. And it matters. More than a quarter of her Americans have a disability.
For the past decade, DOJ has not released a biennial report that Congress mandated Section 508 compliance. As of his last DOJ report in September 2012, less than half of federal agencies had compliance plans in place. Those companies had an average annual operating budget of $35,000 for this task.
June, Chairman of the Senate Aging Committee Bob Casey (D-Pa.) and ranking members Tim Scott (RS.C.), along with other members of Congress, wrote to VA Secretary Dennis McDonagh and Attorney General Merrick Garland.
They asked McDonough to provide detailed information about the accessibility of the VA’s website and planned to comply with the law. Note that only 8% of public sites are law-abiding, and even fewer are intranet sites. “The VA’s lack of a fully accessible website is a potential barrier for his quarter of all veterans with service-related disabilities, and similar for other federal agencies and departments. could portend a shortage of ,” the senator wrote.
of letter to caseyAccording to McDonough, VA’s most-used websites have accessibility ratings of over 95%. The department now conducts daily accessibility scans to bring other sites into compliance, he said.
In a letter to Garland, lawmakers asked why the DOJ would not release more reports on agency compliance. The department said it is working with the White House Office of Management and Budget and the Office of General Services to relay that data to Congress and the president.
Carlos Montas, a blind former employee of the Veterans Benefits Administration in Nashville, Tennessee, can sympathize with Osman’s struggles.
When he got the job of calling veterans to explain their benefits in March 2020, his manager gave him digital audio workstation software and a braille display. This allowed me to read the on-screen text with my fingertips.
But neither technology was compatible with much of the software he needed to do his job. He found it impossible to perform simple tasks like attaching documents to emails.
He said the Department of Veterans Affairs set performance benchmarks and eventually fired him. He filed a discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and got his job back, along with unpaid wages. He quit after a few months for his job at the EEOC.
Hearing-impaired people also struggle with federal technology. Early in the Covid-19 pandemic, supporters of the National Association of the Deaf said HHS videos lacked proper captions and were not available in American Sign Language.
In their letter to McDonough, Casey and Scott highlight the VA’s own data to show that hearing loss is “the most common service-related disability ever.” Deaf and hard of hearing people struggle with training and instructional videos that don’t have captions, according to Hill.
Casey and Scott say the problem lies at the heart of the VA, which serves about nine million veterans a year. In March, the senator said the department admitted that “hundreds of thousands of Section 508 compliance issues remain unresolved.”
But accessibility issues pervade much of the federal government.
The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, a Washington, DC think tank that promotes the use of technology in policy solutions, audited federal websites in 2021. census.gov failed automated accessibility testing, with nearly half of its web pages failing the test.
The report notes that the General Services Administration, which supports the logistics needs of other federal agencies, has created accessibility test labs to ensure sites are compliant, and is expanding its existing digital analytics program. We recommend performing real-time accessibility testing. He also proposed that Congress require DOJ to publish a 508 accessibility report.
Eric Egan, a policy fellow at the foundation, said he was unaware of the steps taken by the GSA to implement the report’s recommendations. .
A GSA spokesperson said the agency collects self-reported data from agencies on their Section 508 compliance, analyzes it, and makes recommendations. The GSA is also involved in interagency efforts to update guidance on Section 508 compliance.
Disability advocates say it shouldn’t be expensive to fix accessibility problems. During his testimony before the Senate Aging Committee, Lewis attempted to mislead senators into thinking that accessible technology would cost a lot. “Accessible coding is just good coding,” he said.
he gave an example. If the federal government were to typewrite all documents and hand them off to contractors to digitize, it would be costly and inefficient. Instead of layering outdated technology onto new frameworks, governments should use technology designed around accessibility from the start, he said.
Some vendors offer such tools, said Sommer Panage, who manages a team of accessibility-focused engineers at instant messaging service Slack. She said Slack has long considered the needs of people with disabilities in product design and recently changed its internal practices to make its software more consistent and accessible.
Panage manages a team of engineers focused on accessibility, and her team now works with external accessibility tools to ensure that people with disabilities can use new features before they are released. He says he is trying to do so.
“There’s a huge matrix of combinations of different operating systems, different screen readers, different screen readers within each operating system, and Slack itself,” she told POLITICO. “What we are working on now is thinking holistically about that matrix.”
But disability advocates say the federal government is lagging behind. Doug George Towne, chairman and CEO of Access Ready, a disability rights advocacy group, said that if government contractors do not guarantee that people with disabilities can use their products, government agencies will not be able to use the technology before it is implemented. I don’t often test the accessibility of “It’s a flawed process,” he said.
Osman said the penny-pinch culture makes life worse for people with disabilities in the workplace. For example, when her office updated the copier, her agency was given the option to pay a small surcharge on her package of speeches. A lever attachment was also provided for employees in wheelchairs to raise the copier lid. But the agency chose neither.
After employees, including Othman, complained, Othman said he bought several packages instead of deploying the technology throughout the office.
President Joe Biden earned praise for prioritizing accessibility early in his administration. Interpreters regularly translate Biden’s speeches into sign language, and the White House provides captions for those watching online. White House press secretaries are always accompanied by sign language interpreters. and the Administration is providing live audio commentary of White House events for the visually impaired.
In June 2021, Biden issued an executive order calling on government agencies to “improve accessibility, enable requests for accommodations, increase promotion and employment opportunities, and reduce physical accessibility barriers.”
The Office of Management and Budget already requires 24 agencies to submit semi-annual reports on the accessibility of their technical infrastructure.
However, those reports have not been made public.Casey and four other senators Pattie Murray (D-Wash), Kirsten Gillibrand (DNY), Mike Brown (R-Ind.) and Richard Burr(RN.C.), alerted Comptroller Eugene Dodaro in an August 11 letter.
The senator asked Dodaro, who runs the Government Accountability Office, a congressional oversight body, to investigate, saying that “the lack of public reporting and accountability has forced Congress and taxpayers to take appropriate measures regarding compliance rates with disability access requirements.” We were unable to obtain information,” he wrote.