Concerns Raised Over Federal Technology Accessibility Standards
The Justice Department’s release of its first Section 508 report since 2012 marks a significant moment in the push for greater accessibility in federal technology. The report comes after lawmakers raised bipartisan concerns about agencies’ continued inability to meet federal technology accessibility standards. It represents an important step toward making government services more accessible to people with disabilities.
Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act requires federal agencies to ensure that their electronic and information technology is accessible to people with disabilities. The law was enacted in 1998, but enforcement has been inconsistent. In 2017, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) issued a memorandum directing agencies to improve their compliance with Section 508. The memo required agencies to report on their progress and to designate a Section 508 coordinator to oversee compliance efforts.
Despite these efforts, progress has been slow. The Justice Department’s report found that only 38% of agencies were fully compliant with Section 508. This is a slight improvement over the 2012 report, which found that only 25% of agencies were fully compliant. However, it still represents a significant gap between the requirements of the law and the actual state of federal technology accessibility.
The report highlights several areas where agencies need to improve. For example, the report found that many agencies do not have a comprehensive plan for ensuring accessibility, and that testing for accessibility is often inadequate. Additionally, the report found that agencies often fail to provide accessible alternatives to inaccessible content, such as captions for videos or text descriptions for images.
The report also identifies several best practices that agencies can follow to improve their compliance with Section 508. These include engaging with stakeholders, such as disability advocacy groups, to understand their needs; training staff on accessibility standards and practices; and establishing clear accountability for accessibility.
Lawmakers have responded to the report with calls for greater action. In a joint statement, Representatives Jim Langevin (D-RI) and Don Young (R-AK), co-chairs of the Bipartisan Disabilities Caucus, called for “a renewed commitment to ensuring that people with disabilities have equal access to government services.”
They also expressed support for the recent introduction of the Accessible Government Procurement Act, which would require federal agencies to prioritize accessibility in their procurement of technology products and services.
The release of the Justice Department’s Section 508 report is a critical step in the ongoing effort to make federal technology more accessible. It shines a light on the areas where agencies need to improve and provides guidance on best practices. Lawmakers and advocates must now work together to ensure that the report’s findings are taken seriously and that agencies are held accountable for meeting the requirements of the law. Only then can we truly achieve equal access to government services for all.