On July 20th, Chairman Bob Casey (D-PA) of the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging conducted a hearing titled “Unlocking the Virtual Front Door: Ensuring Accessible Government Technology for People with Disabilities, Older Adults, and Veterans.” The hearing, held a week before the 50th anniversary of the Rehabilitation Act Amendments of 1973, focused on accessible technology’s significance for veterans, senior citizens, and individuals with disabilities in accessing government services and information.
During the hearing, Chairman Casey mentioned his report, “Unlocking the Front Door,” which identified accessibility issues within the Department of Veterans Affairs and the federal government’s technology. He also highlighted two bills: the Veterans Accessibility Act and the Federal Agency Accessibility Compliance Act. These bills aim to guarantee that federal government services, programs, and communications are accessible to all Americans.
Chairman Casey stated that accessible government technology, including websites and apps, is crucial for individuals with disabilities seeking access to veterans’ benefits, transportation schedules, or tax payments. He emphasized the importance of taking action to ensure accessibility through the Biden Administration’s efforts and collaborative legislative initiatives with Senators Rick Scott, Fetterman, Gillibrand, Blumenthal, Duckworth, and Sanders.
One of the witnesses, Chris Westbrook, who is blind and serves as the President of the National Federation of the Blind of Pennsylvania Deaf-Blind Division and an accessibility engineer for Allyant, testified about the daily challenges related to accessibility. He emphasized the necessity of ensuring accessibility in government websites to provide access to programs, services, and information for all constituents, regardless of disabilities. Westbrook highlighted the need to integrate accessibility from the design phase throughout the entire website development process to achieve accessibility in government technology.