Duckworth, Casey, Scott, Durbin Announce Department of Justice Commitment to Conduct Web Accessibility Report
[WASHINGTON, D.C.]—Today, U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), U.S. Senate Aging Committee Chairman Bob Casey (D-PA) and Ranking Member Tim Scott (R-SC), as well as Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Dick Durbin (D-IL) are announcing that the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has committed to prepare and submit to Congress a report on web accessibility across the federal government, after the Senators pushed for transparency. In June, Casey led a group of bipartisan colleagues who sent a letter to DOJ urging the Attorney General to restart federally mandated reports on the federal government’s compliance with accessibility standards for people with disabilities. This week, DOJ sent a letter to Senator Casey stating that it is currently preparing a Section 508 report based on the most recent data analysis conducted by the Government Services Administration (GSA) and that they “anticipate that report will be available in the coming weeks.”
“We welcome the Department of Justice’s pledge to restart its monitoring of federal websites and technology for compliance with accessibility laws and look forward to receiving a robust, comprehensive report in the coming weeks. Earlier this year, we called on the Department of Justice to take immediate steps to issue these statutorily required biennial reports that provide taxpayers with transparent information about the accessibility of federal technology for older adults, people with disabilities, and veterans. Despite legal requirements, these reports had not been issued for a decade, leaving Congress without critical information about how the federal government addresses accessibility of its technology. We have a long way to go to make all aspects of the federal government accessible for older adults, people with disabilities, and veterans, but getting this information from DOJ is a critical first step,” U.S. Senators Duckworth, Casey, Scott, and Durbin said in a joint statement.
Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act requires the federal government to make all its information technology accessible to people with disabilities and 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, and that report reflected serious gaps in accessibility across the federal government.
The letter to DOJ was sent along with U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Senate 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).
A full copy of the letter is available here and below:
November 14, 2022
The Honorable Robert P. Casey, Jr.
Special Committee on Aging
United States Senate
Washington, DC 20510
Dear Chair Casey,
This responds to your letter dated June 30, 2022, regarding reporting on the federal government’s Section 508 compliance with accessibility standards for information technology. The Department of Justice (Department) recognizes the critical importance of accessible technology to millions of Americans with disabilities. To that end, the Department has been working with the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the General Services Administration (GSA) to analyze and report on federal agencies’ compliance with Section 508. As explained below, we anticipate submitting a Section 508 report to Congress and the President in the coming weeks.
Under Section 508, the U.S. Access Board is responsible for issuing accessibility standards, and GSA is responsible for providing technical assistance to help federal agencies comply with the law’s requirements and ensure that covered information and communication technology is accessible to, and usable by, individuals with disabilities. The statute also requires the Department to collect and report information to the President and Congress concerning the state of federal agencies’ compliance with Section 508.
Following the last Section 508 report issued by the Department in 2012, OMB issued a Strategic Plan for Improving Management of Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act1 setting up a program to track federal agencies’ progress in complying with Section 508. The Strategic Plan, issued in 2013, requires federal agencies to report to OMB twice per year on their IT accessibility/Section 508 program maturity and effectiveness. It also tasks GSA with issuing an interagency data call every six months to Federal agency Chief Information Officers to gather information regarding the accessibility of their electronic applications and communications and analyze these reports to determine ways to improve agency coordination, reduce redundancies, and develop solutions and recommendations to improve the management of government accessibility programs. Pursuant to OMB’s Strategic Plan, GSA also produces a semiannual report analyzing agency-specific information across a variety of areas relating to Section 508 implementation, such as acquisition, training, testing, website accessibility, complaints, and Section 508 program resources and staffing. Based on this information, GSA makes recommendations to federal agencies on how to enhance compliance. This process has been ongoing since 2013, and GSA’s analysis includes the same types of information included in prior Section 508 reports prepared by the Department.
The Department and GSA are currently preparing a Section 508 report based on the most recent data analysis conducted by GSA. We anticipate that report will be available in the coming weeks.
The Department also continues to use its authority under the Americans with Disabilities Act to ensure that the websites of state and local governments and of public businesses are accessible to individuals with disabilities. In March, the Department issued guidance2 on Web Accessibility and the ADA to educate state and local governments and businesses open to the public on how they can make sure that their websites are accessible to people with disabilities as required by the ADA. On June 22, 2022, the Spring 2022 Unified Agenda of Regulatory and Deregulatory Actions3 was published by the Office of Management and Budget, and included an entry announcing the Department’s plans to issue a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) covering the accessibility of web information and services of state and local governments in Spring 2023.4 Through this NPRM, the Department is proposing to amend its ADA Title II regulation to provide technical standards to assist public entities in complying with their existing obligations to make their websites accessible to individuals with disabilities. This rulemaking is an important step in ensuring that people with disabilities can access public services, programs, and activities, including education programs, voter registration, health services, and many other key services.
Further, the Department continues to actively enforce the ADA’s requirements concerning the accessibility of websites used by public services and public accommodations. For example, in recent months the Department entered into five settlement agreements with major pharmacy and grocery chains to ensure that websites for scheduling vaccine appointments are accessible.5 The Department has also taken recent enforcement actions to ensure that websites of public transportation systems and higher education institutions are accessible to people with disabilities.
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