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DOJ issues report on accessibility of federal government electronic and information technology

September 26th, 2012  |  Deborah Hammonds

A report based on a survey of federal agencies’ accessibility of electronic and information technology (EIT) has been issued by the Justice Department. Section 508 report to the President and Congress: Accessibility of Federal Electronic and Information Technology, authorized under Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, also provides findings on the procedures used by the agencies to implement the requirements of Section 508.

While technology and technological innovations can improve everyone’s lives, Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General of the Civil Rights Division noted that persons with disabilities can’t benefit from those improvements if technology is not accessible. “It is not terribly difficult or expensive to ensure that technology is accessible, but accessibility has often been an afterthought. Modifying existing technology to make it accessible is much more difficult and much more expensive than designing technology in an accessible manner in the first place.”

Section 508 requires federal agencies to ensure that their EIT is accessible to people with disabilities, unless certain exceptions apply. EIT includes telecommunications products (such as telephones), information kiosks and transaction machines, websites, multimedia and office equipment, such as copiers and fax machines, computers, software and similar products and services. Section 508 also requires the attorney general to report and offer recommendations periodically on the state of federal agency compliance with the section, including actions regarding individual complaints.

The survey, created pursuant to this statutory directive, requested data in four areas:  procurement, general processes for implementing Section 508, administrative complaints and civil actions and website compliance. While the survey results indicated that a good deal of the EIT used by federal agencies is accessible, the department believes that there are simple steps that, if taken, can increase the extent to which federal EIT is more usable by people with disabilities. Many of the department’s recommendations are designed to improve an agency’s procedures and processes to better implement the requirements of Section 508.

The report found most agency components have general Section 508 policies (over 50 percent), as well as Section 508 Coordinators (nearly 70 percent). Most components (over 90 percent) incorporate Section 508 requirements into their procurements for EIT in some way. Few agencies have received Section 508 complaints. Most components (70 percent) have accessibility policies in place for websites and a majority (nearly 58 percent) perform some type of evaluation and remediation on their websites. Agencies reported facing challenges in ensuring accessibility of software or multimedia they develop, in providing training and support for all staff who need information about Section 508 compliance, and in identifying specific Section 508 requirements, as opposed to general standardized language, to be incorporated in their procurements.   

Among the report’s recommendations, agencies should establish and publish Section 508 and web accessibility policies and procedures, appoint Section 508 Coordinators and establish Section 508 programs, provide more Section 508 training to personnel, and ensure accessibility of EIT used in federally funded programs. The Justice Department’s report is available on the department’s website.