DOJ reports on federal IT accessibility

Federal information technology isn’t as accessible to those with disabilities as it’s required to be, aside (maybe) from web sites


Last week the U.S. Department of Justice released a new report on Section 508 compliance amongst federal agencies and divisions. What is Section 508, you may ask? Well, it has nothing to do with Area 51, the FBI, or the cone of silence. No, it refers to the Section 508 amendment, enacted in 1998, of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 which requires federal agencies (or any organization that receives federal funding) to make electronic and information technologies (EIT) accessible to people with disabilities. This means making EIT accessible to people that work for the federal government, as well as making any information resources provided by the federal government (such as web sites) fully accessible to the public.

Section 508 mandates accessibility for a whole lot of things, such as software applications, websites, telecommunications, multimedia products, etc. It specifies standards for things like captioning and audio descriptions for video content, HTML markup (so web sites will function well with screen readers), and alternative input methods for desktop and portable computers. In short, it requires that any EIT funded by the federal government is accessible to everyone, no matter what disabilities they may have.

The DOJ is required by Section 508 to periodically survey federal agencies to assess compliance levels, and last week’s report is based on the recent responses of 318 participants from 89 federal agencies. The main takeaway from the report, as well summarized by the Coalition of Organizations for Accessible Technology, is that, 14 years after the enactment of Section 508, most agencies have a ways to go to achieve true compliance. For example, only 40% of respondents developed software with a process to ensure its accessibility.

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