The Department of Justice this week released a report on the accessibility of the federal government’s websites and digital technologies for the first time in more than a decade—and the data shows that federal agencies still have work to do when it comes to making their electronic services available to all Americans.
Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act, which was last amended in 1998, requires that federal agencies make their “information and communication technology” accessible to people with disabilities. As part of the mandate, the DOJ is required to report to the president and Congress every two years about agencies’ compliance with online accessibility standards. But the DOJ’s last Section 508 report was released in 2012, spurring bipartisan congressional outrage about the department’s lack of adherence to oversight and transparency standards when it comes to meeting legally-required accessibility requirements for the roughly 26% of adult Americans living with a disability.
The latest Section 508 report, issued by the DOJ and the General Services Administration on Feb. 21, found that one in 10 agencies’ websites were not fully accessible for Americans with disabilities, and that several large federal entities—such as the State Department and the Department of Veterans Affairs—were found to have 50% or less of their tested websites in compliance with Section 508’s accessibility requirements.
Additionally, the report noted that “3 of 24 (12.5%) CFO Act agencies are not testing intranet pages,” raising questions about certain federal entities’ ability to maintain compliance with accessibility standards. And the report also found that some government agencies—including DOJ and the Department of Defense—did not have adequate “resources committed and/or staff trained to implement policies, processes and procedures” when it came to meeting and supporting Section 508 accessibility requirements.
The DOJ said the report is “based on data from February 2021 through August 2022 that was collected and analyzed by GSA.”
The release of the DOJ’s long-delayed Section 508 report comes after a June 2021 review by the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation found that, of the 72 most popular government websites, “30 percent did not pass an automated accessibility test for their homepage.”
Congressional lawmakers over the past year have also pushed for the DOJ to enhance its oversight of agencies’ compliance with Section 508, with much of this work being led by the Senate Aging Committee. In December, committee Chairman Bob Casey, D-Pa., released the findings of an 11-month investigation conducted by the panel, which found “widespread failure across the federal government to ensure that federal technology is accessible for people with disabilities, older adults and veterans.”
Casey and a bipartisan group of senators also wrote a letter to DOJ last June that called for the department to restart issuing its biennial Section 508 reports, noting that “without regular reports, Congress, taxpayers and agencies themselves lack a crucial source of feedback for identifying and resolving longstanding accessibility issues.”
Although DOJ’s latest Section 508 report is the first public review of agencies’ compliance with electronic accessibility standards in more than a decade, some lawmakers are already pushing for the agency to take additional steps in order to meet its legally-mandated duties.
A press release from Casey criticized the formatting of DOJ’s latest report, noting that the senator “is calling for 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.”
“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,” Casey added in a statement.