OMB finalizing policy to ensure federal technology meets accessibility standards

The Office of Management and Budget is finalizing guidance to ensure federal technology meets governmentwide accessibility standards for individuals with disabilities.

Federal Chief Information Officer Clare Martorana said Wednesday that OMB is finalizing guidance to agencies that will ensure all federal software, hardware and digital services — “both public-facing and within our own organizations” — meet Section 508 standards set by the U.S. Access Board.

“Building these considerations in from the beginning is necessary to foster a culture of inclusion and respect,” Martorana said at the Interagency Accessibility Forum (IAAF) in Arlington, Virginia.  “It’s 2023. This is an expectation for our government to be able to deliver a digital experience that is on par with consumer brands.”

Martorana said OMB’s upcoming guidance has been in the works for more than a year.

According to data collected by OMB and the General Services Administration, more than 62% of federal websites have at least one accessibility issue.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 61 million adults in the U.S. live with a disability.

“They deserve better, and we are up for the challenge,” Martorana said.

The Justice Department in March provided a long-overdue snapshot of how agencies are meeting the requirements of Section 508, a provision of the 1973 Rehabilitation Act that requires agencies to make electronic information accessible to individuals with disabilities.

DOJ’s update found less than 50% of the public-facing websites at the Departments of Agriculture, Labor, State and Veterans Affairs comply with Section 508 requirements.

DOJ’s update in March was the first time it provided new accessibility in more than a decade, despite its mandate to provide new data every two years.

Senate Special Committee on Aging Chairman Bob Casey (D-Pa.), who has pressed DOJ to provide regular federal accessibility updates, said the data in the new report was “insufficient and incomplete.” 

Martorana said OMB is “laser-focused” on measuring Section 508 compliance and accessibility across government.

“You can’t manage what you can’t measure. So, in order to ensure we’re meeting those standards and providing equal opportunities for all users to interact with digital content in a meaningful way, we must test and measure our work,” she said.

Martorana said a governmentwide Section 508 assessment, mandated the fiscal 2023 comprehensive spending bill passed by Congress, is also “well underway,” and will be completed by Dec. 29.

Martorana said the results of the assessment will serve as a baseline for how agencies are already implementing Section 508 and prioritizing digital accessibility.

She said the governmentwide assessment will also “enable agencies to demonstrate their progress and advocate for additional resources dedicated to improving accessibility.”

“I cannot stress enough how big a step this is. This assessment is holding our federal government accountable for providing an accessible technology to the public and to our federal employees,” Martorana said.

Martorana said OMB’s upcoming federal accessibility guidance will build on top of its recent memo on delivering a “digital-first public experience.”

The memo states a majority of the public accesses government services online, and a growing segment of that traffic comes from mobile devices, but 45% of .gov websites have not been designed to work on mobile devices and only 2% of government forms are currently digitized.

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