The Justice Department announced the release of its “Section 508 report to the President and Congress: “Accessibility of Federal Electronic and Information Technology.” The report, authorized under Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended (Section 508) provides findings based on a survey of federal agencies on the accessibility of their electronic and information technology (EIT) and the procedures used to implement the requirements of Section 508.
“Technology and technological innovations can improve everyone’s lives. However, if technology is not accessible, persons with disabilities can’t benefit from those improvements,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General of the Civil Rights Division. “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, firmware and similar products and services. Specifically, Section 508 requires federal agencies to ensure that EIT they develop, procure, maintain, or use allows employees with disabilities and members of the public seeking information or services to have access to and use of information and data that is comparable to that available to people who do not have disabilities. Section 508 also requires the attorney general to report and offer recommendations periodically on the state of federal agency compliance with Section 508, including actions regarding individual complaints.
Pursuant to this statutory directive, the department in 2010-2011 created survey instruments and solicited answers from federal agencies regarding their implementation of Section 508. The survey requested data in four important 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. In this regard, 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 finds that 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. They also face challenges ensuring their testing of products and websites is complete and robust.
The report recommends, among other things, that agencies 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, ensure accessibility of EIT used in federally funded programs, develop procurement policies and specific solicitation language for Section 508 requirements, perform accessibility testing of EIT products and web pages, establish specific Section 508 complaint processes including alternative dispute resolution, and improve inter-agency coordination on Section 508 compliance.
The Justice Department’s report and additional information is available on the department’s website at www.ada.gov/508 .