Lawmakers probe barriers to access to online resources for people with disabilities

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Members of a Senate committee this week examined barriers to accessing online federal resources for people with disabilities, seniors, and veterans and discussed solutions for improving access.

Lawmakers pointed to a September 2021 report showing just 10% of websites for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) are accessible for people with disabilities, including blind, deaf, and paralyzed veterans.

“We wouldn’t ask someone with a wheelchair to walking up courthouse steps,” said Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA), Chairman of the Senate Special Committee on Aging. “But in a real sense, we’re doing something similar when we ask people with disabilities to use federal websites.”

Retired Navy Veteran Ronald Holmquest testified about the benefits he has experienced from VA telehealth services to highlight the urgency for the federal government to get it right.

“Telehealth and technology have made care more personal, not less,” said Holmquest. “I have five different cardiologists who treat me… It’s so important to have computers fully and properly used to benefit patients.”

Lawmakers focused on another key concern: making sure the flexibility of telehealth that was rolled out during the pandemic becomes permanent.

“Telehealth became a godsend for millions of Americans,” said Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC), Ranking Member of the Senate Special Committee on Aging. “Without Congressional actions, however, these emergency provisions will end and they will end soon like in mid-October of this year.”

Casey’s office said a group of bipartisan Senators also sent a letter to the Department of Justice (DOJ) demanding information on web accessibility across the federal government.

Lawmakers said the DOJ is supposed to provide a public report about the federal government’s compliance with accessibility standards for information technology every two years but hasn’t done so since 2012.