After 10 years, limited maturity of agencies’ Section 508 programs ‘largely unchanged’

The departments of Agriculture, Labor, State and Veterans Affairs reported that 50% or less of their public-facing websites comply with Section 508 accessibilit...

After a decade, the Justice Department finally offered some more clarity on how well federal agencies are meeting website accessibility requirements.

Several agencies are still missing the mark when it comes to compliance with Section 508, according to a DOJ report published in February. Section 508, a provision of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, requires agencies to make electronic information and data accessible to individuals with disabilities.

Although some agencies are meeting the accessibility web standards, the departments of Agriculture, Labor, State and Veterans Affairs reported that 50% or less of their public-facing websites comply with the requirements.

DOJ, along with the General Services Administration, released the latest compliance report as part of a requirement to regularly publish updates on federal website accessibility. Despite a mandate to release a new report every two years, it has been over a decade since the Justice Department published its last report.

In the previous report, from 2012, DOJ said agencies had “mixed levels of success” for website accessibility, and recommended increasing training and establishing Section 508 compliance offices to make improvements. But over 10 years later, agencies’ ability to meet the Section 508 requirements “remains largely unchanged,” the report said.

Several agencies do not have enough staffing, resources or training to implement changes for web accessibility, according to the report. Over the last decade, six agencies saw a decrease in staffing, while seven had an increase and 11 had no change in staffing, for their Section 508 programs. The lack of resources may lead to ongoing challenges with compliance.

Notably, Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.), who has led the charge in Congress on pressing DOJ to release a federal accessibility update, said the data in the new report is “insufficient and incomplete,” in a Feb. 22 press release. He urged DOJ, and all agencies, to prioritize improvements to web accessibility and transparency.

“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. It’s clear that the federal government has a lot more work to do to make technology accessibility and transparency a priority and fulfill our promise to Americans with disabilities, older adults and veterans,” Casey said in a Feb. 22 press statement.

Casey, who is the chairman of the Senate Special Committee on Aging, called on the department to issue more comprehensive reports, similar to the 2012 report, going forward.

Despite the “abridged” data, Casey said, the findings still provide at least some insight into the current scope of federal website accessibility.

10% of agencies’ public-facing websites were not completely accessible to individuals with disabilities, the report said. Overall, agencies’ webpages had 86% compliance with Section 508 requirements.

But some of that data can be easily distorted, the report added, which leads to a limited ability to effectively analyze the information.

“90% of Internet webpages tested are reported as conformant, but with the removal of only one agency’s automated test results, conformance drops to 70%,” the report said. “Current guidance does not stipulate testing methods nor sampling approaches, which decreases our confidence and ability to draw conclusions about governmentwide accessibility performance.”

Just 41% of internal agency websites are fully accessible to people with disabilities. Four agencies are simply not conducting tests or collecting data on internal website accessibility, the report said.

Two-thirds of PDFs that agencies publish are also not easily accessible for people with disabilities, the report said.

“Despite over a decade of technological evolution, many federal government agencies have not made efforts to improve and better integrate Section 508 compliance and ensure the federal government’s resources are available for people with disabilities, including taxpayers and federal workers,” Casey said.

There were a couple of positives that came from the report, though. Despite overall limited PDF accessibility, DOJ said the Office of Personnel Management and the Department of Veterans Affairs had the highest accessibility compliance specifically for PDFs.

Additionally, the departments of Labor and Education are able to effectively measure compliance in all areas that DOJ tracks. And the departments of Energy and Interior significantly increased the total number of webpages that they are testing for compliance, the report said.

DOJ offered 21 total recommendations for agencies to improve Section 508 compliance. The report said, for instance, that agencies should assess their program’s maturity and develop a clear plan to make progress on measurability. Agencies should also require onboarding and Section 508 awareness training for all employees and federal contractors.


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