Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act requires federal agencies to ensure that their information and communication technology (ICT) is accessible to people with disabilities, unless certain exceptions apply.
Specifically, Section 508 requires federal agencies to ensure that ICT they develop, procure, maintain, or use allows employees with disabilities and individuals with disabilities who are members of the public to have access to and use of information and data.
This access should be comparable to that available to employees and members of the public without disabilities.
Role of the Department of Justice
Section 508 requires the Attorney General to submit to the President and Congress reports containing information on and recommendations regarding the state of federal department and agency compliance with Section 508.
On February 21, 2023, the Department of Justice and the General Services Administration (GSA) issued Section 508 Report to the President and Congress.
The Department of Justice and GSA have worked together to submit this report based on data from February, 2021 through August, 2022 that was collected and analyzed by GSA. This information sheds light on the degree to which federal agencies are making progress on compliance with Section 508.
The amendments in 1998 strengthened Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. The law requires federal agencies to ensure equal access to electronic and information technology to employees and members of the public with disabilities.
Here are a few other significant milestones:
- 2023 will be the 21st anniversary of the Section 508 standards becoming enforceable.
- The 21st Century Integrated Digital Experience Act (IDEA) (2019) re-emphasized IT accessibility.
- Executive Order on Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility in the Federal Workforce was passed in 2021.
The OMB Strategic Plan for Improving Management of Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act requires that CFO Act agencies assess and report semi-annually on the maturity of their Section508 Programs.
Semi-annually, Executive Branch agencies must self-report on:
- the maturity level of their Section 508 Program across five performance metrics.
- the number of Internet and Intranet websites that were tested for compliance.
- the percentage of those websites tested which were found to be conformant.
- the number of federal and contractor staff directly supporting their Section 508 Program.
How the Department of Justice is Prioritizing Accessibility of Electronic and Information Technology?
Webpage Conformance for CFO Act Agencies
The conformance of self-reported internet and intranet webpages was tested for CFO Act Agencies.
Risks as reported are:
- Agencies tested only 2.3% more Internet and Intranet pages since February 2022
- 3 CFO Act agencies (12.5%) are not testing Intranet pages
- Volatility of testing remains a barrier to accessible customer interactions and employee inclusion
- Data is not available to understand the testing sample size compared to the number of federal web pages
Webpage Accessibility Statements
In accordance with OMB’s Strategic Plan, federal agencies must maintain an accessibility statement that includes contact information, date of last update, and feedback mechanisms.
- Fifty-eight (58%) federal domains were recently audited for conformance with the requirements.
- 32 (55%) of the accessibility statements tested require remediation to meet requirements.
PDF Document Conformance
The General Services Administration tested PDF Document Conformance among CFO Act agencies between: February 2021-August 2022. A stark fact emerged from the report – 68% of PDFs do not meet PDF U/A and Section 508 standards!
This number is highly concerning because it demonstrates a lack of focus on the accessibility of digital documents uploaded on the federal agencies intranet and internet websites. The report also highlights the following issues with PDFs:
- 57% of all documents among the “top downloads” contain one or more accessibility issue.
- 74% of PDFs documents downloaded contain one or more accessibility issue requiring remediation.
- PDF documents are consistently non-conformant, with a high rate of untagged documents (73%).
- Volatility of PDF document conformance over time suggests poor policy and process controls.
77% untagged PDF documents did not have any kind of markup information that helps to make content accessible. This posed a challenge to people who rely on assistive technologies to access the written and visual information.
Improving the accessibility and conformance of PDF documents is essential for federal agencies to meet their legal obligations under Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act. Failure to comply with these requirements can result in legal action, fines, and damage to an agency’s reputation.
Standout Agencies complying with Section 508 standards
The following agencies have made great strides in Section 508 conformance:
- Department of Labor and Department of Education
- Department of Energy and Department of the Interior
- Office of Personnel Management and Department of Veterans Affairs
Recommendations to Agencies on Section 508 compliance
- Assess your Section 508 Program’s maturity
- Verify that policies and procedures ensure that accessible information is the default output
- Assess and train the right staff to support Program activities
- Evaluate all agency domains for accessibility statements that conform to requirements
- Identify and track the number of pages published on all agency website domains
- Revise guidance on testing web pages to improve consistency and standardization
- Identify and record conformance metrics for web pages, documents and other ICT
- Incorporate accessibility into executive and key workforce annual performance plans
- Require Accessibility Conformance Reports (ACR) for all ICT procurement
- Implement an agency-wide testing process for consistent, actionable results for all ICT
- Require agency-wide web testing processes align with the ICT Testing Baseline
- Require test results in decision making/change management and procurement reviews
- Require onboarding and annual Section 508 awareness training for employees and contractors
- Identify and train all individuals responsible for ensuring the accessibility of applications
- Increase the cadre of certified testers and subject matter experts within product teams
- Establish procedures for filing and processing of Section 508 complaints
The Section 508 Report focuses on ensuring that federal electronic and information technology (EIT) is accessible to all individuals, including those with disabilities. The report highlights the progress made in improving EIT accessibility in the federal government, but also identifies areas where further improvements can be made.
Overall, the report emphasizes the importance of accessibility in modern technology and the need for continued efforts to ensure that everyone has equal access to digital information and services.