The Justice Department plans to file its first report in a decade on the accessibility of federal government websites, following a bipartisan push in Congress.
“The Department of Justice … recognizes the critical importance of accessible technology to millions of Americans with disabilities,” the DOJ said in a letter received Monday by Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.), who had written to the department in June to hold the government to account for its compliance with accessibility standards.
The DOJ added that it intended to submit the document “in the coming weeks.”
Under Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, federal agencies are required to make their electronic and computer technologies accessible to people with disabilities. The DOJ must also collect and report information to the President and Congress on federal agencies’ compliance with Section 508 every two years, and it must make the report publicly available.
“This is something that should have been done every couple of years, and now we’re over 10 years down the road,” said Glenda Sims, information accessibility manager at digital accessibility company Deque Systems. , at HuffPost. “But we have to do it. It monitors the health of our important government websites that people need to use and have independent access to.
The most recent report filed by the DOJ in 2012 showed “mixed levels of success” in making federal websites accessible. In his letter this summer, Casey and six other senators demanded that the department take back its reports and explain why it hadn’t tabled one for so long.
“On behalf of the 26% of Americans living with a disability, including the 40% of people over 65 who have a disability, we are writing to urge the DOJ to take immediate action to meet its obligations and republish these biennial reports,” the senators wrote in June.
“Without regular reporting, Congress, taxpayers, and the agencies themselves lack a crucial source of feedback to identify and address long-standing accessibility issues.”
The recent letter from the DOJ, which Casey’s office shared with HuffPost, did not provide an explanation for his decade-long lack of compliance. The department did not immediately respond to HuffPost’s request for comment on its renewed commitment to reporting.
“Despite legal requirements, these reports had not been released for a decade, leaving Congress without critical information about how the federal government is approaching the accessibility of its technology,” Casey told HuffPost. “We still have a long way to go to make all aspects of the federal government accessible to people with disabilities, but getting this information from [the] The DOJ is a critical step.
The US Access Board is responsible for developing federal accessibility standards, which include requirements to ensure the capability of assistive technologies. According to 2019 statistics from the Census Bureau, nearly 11.5 million Americans have hearing loss and 7.5 million have visual impairment. Website accessibility is important to these people because it provides equal access to information, Sims said.
But in a 2021 report, the nonprofit Foundation for Information Technology and Innovation found that many pages on popular federal websites failed an automated accessibility test. The report showed that 30% of homepages failed the test and 48% failed on at least one of their three most popular pages.
Sims believes that developers don’t intentionally build access barriers, but rather that barriers are easy to miss. She hopes that in the future, developers will be motivated to properly incorporate accessibility into their website design.
She pointed out that the design and development community needs automatic accessibility checkers in place. “I think making it mandatory to have these automated testing tools in place will help raise awareness,” Sims said.
She added that analyzing accessibility design in this way “would make it easy for developers, designers and content contributors to do checks so that we don’t always have to hire an accessibility expert to determine if it works or not”.