DOJ Releases Long-Awaited Sec 508 Report: It's Almost as Bad as You Thought

September 12, 2012. Today, the USDOJ released a lonq-awaited report on Section 508 -- accessibility of electronic and information technology used by the feds -- that is based on its survey of federal agencies and divisions. The report, "Section 508 Report to the President and Congress: Accessibility of Federal Electronic and Information Technology,” confirms what many have suspected; that implementation is not that deep and wide in the federal government, although it's clear that some have done a fair job. The full report is available online here.

The report provides some findings from a survey DOJ conducted in 2010 and 2011 of federal agencies. The survey looked at accessibility of electronic and information technology and the procedures used to implement the requirements of Section 508. Eighty-nine federal agencies responded providing survey data in four areas: general processes for implementing Section 508, procurement, administrative complaints and civil actions, and website compliance.

Despite the longtime Sec 508 requirements, only just over fifty percent of agencies or agency divisions had a general policy to implement and comply with Section 508, the report says.  More discouraging is the finding that only about 40% of respondents developed software with a process to ensure the accessibility of software, and only about 30% that developed videos or multimedia productions had included a process to ensure the accessibility of training or informational videos or multimedia productions. (So that’s why there’s little captioning and next-to-no video description!).  

On the brighter side, nearly 70% had appointed a Section 508 coordinator, but only 35% had a Section 508 office or program. Where there was a Section 508 office or program, on average it was staffed with 2.5 full time equivalents (FTEs) and allocated a median budget of $35,000.  Only 40% reported providing Section 508 training. Where they had such training, it was only to the tune of less than one hour for their agency acquisition workforce and just over an hour for EIT developers.

Apparently seven civil actions were filed with only one resolved. And of all the respondents, there was less than 200 complaints filed. Of interest to many is the minimal level of administrative approval for an undue burden exception for an EIT procurement: 46% of the survey respondents reported requiring approval at the top agency or top component level, with 20% reporting that the requiring or procurement official could make the undue burden determination without additional approval.

In its report, DOJ recommended steps agencies and their component divisions can take to improve this rather sorry state of affairs, such as the following -- and there's nothing new to implementation here:

  • Establish Section 508 Policies and Procedures (duh!)
  • Appoint Coordinators and Establish Section 508 Offices or Programs
  • Provide More Training to Agency Personnel (!)
  • Ensure Accessibility of EIT Used in Programs or Activities Receiving Federal Financial Assistance
  • Develop Procurement Policies for Section 508 Compliance (duh!)
  • Use Specific Language of the Section 508 Requirements in All Solicitations (duh!)
  • Perform Actual Product Testing (aha!)
  • Establish Procedures to Document Section 508 Procurement Decisions (!)
  • Establish Procedures Specifically to Process Section 508 Complaints (Yes!)
  • Have a method for tracking the complaints and to ensure a timely response and resolution (Yes!)
  • Incorporate Alternative Dispute Resolution Into Section 508 Complaint Process
  • Disseminate Widely Information About the Section 508 Complaint Process (duh!)
  • Establish Web Accessibility Policies and Procedures (duh!)
  • Ensure that Web Accessibility Policies and Procedures Include Special Topics
  • Test Accessibility of Agency Web Pages (duh!)
  • Publish Web Accessibility Statements (!)
  • Publish E-Mail Address on web page so person with disability can advise of problem right away (!).

As we all know, Section 508 of the Rehab Act requires federal agencies to make their electronic and information technology (EIT) accessible to people with disabilities, unless certain exceptions apply.  EIT includes telecommunications products (such as telephones and cell phones), 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 to the President and Congress on the state of federal agency compliance with Section 508. This most recent survey and report appear to have fulfilled this obligation.

Please read the whole report if you have time. Please also comment below on this report about Sec. 508. Do you think DOJ captured adequately the state of affairs or is it better or worse than this?