Casey, senators press Justice Dept. for answers on web access for disabled people | Friday Coffee

The federal government is supposed to file biennial reports on its web accessibility efforts. The last one was a decade ago.

July 1, 2022 7:15 am

(*This post was updated at 8:38 a.m. on Friday, 7/1/22 to reflect the change in the state Senate’s schedule)

Good Friday Morning, Fellow Seekers.

Today is Friday, July 1, 2022. The 2022-23 budget year starts today. The Republican-controlled General Assembly and the Democratic Wolf administration have yet to agree on a new state budget. Talks are ongoing, and lawmakers currently are scheduled to work through the weekend.

Happy Fiscal New Year … or something. Here’s what else is going on today.

U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., is among a bipartisan group of lawmakers who want the Justice Department to explain why it’s been a decade since the agency last filed a mandatory, biennial report on efforts to make access to federal government websites easier for people living with disabilities.

“To have no reporting in a decade is just … unacceptable,” Casey, the chairperson of the Senate Aging Committeetold NPR on Thursday.

“It’s critical because of the barriers that people with disabilities face all the time, when it comes to the full access that they should, to have the resources of the federal government, and the resources, especially that are provided online,” he said.

About a quarter of all Americans (26 percent) live with a disability. And 40 percent of Americans aged 65 and older live with a disability, Casey’s office said in a statement.

But about 30 percent of the most popular federal websites are difficult for the disabled to use, according to an inventory by the independent Information Technology and Innovation Foundation.

Under Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act, the Justice Department is supposed to file reports every two years on efforts to improve access to technology across the federal government.

The last such report, filed in 2012, recommended, among other things, that federal agencies could meet their obligations by appointing “Section 508 coordinators” and establishing “[Section] 508 offices or programs” to make sure every agency was meeting the standards set under the statute, Casey’s office said in its statement.

But “without regular reports, Congress, taxpayers, and agencies themselves lack a crucial source of feedback for identifying and resolving longstanding accessibility issues,” the senators wrote in their letter to the DOJ.

It’s wasn’t immediately clear why the DOJ stopped compiling the reports, NPR reported. Nor is it clear whether the agency has resources and personnel it takes to compile them, according to NPR. The lawmakers are looking for answers by July 29, NPR reported.

U.S. Sen. Bob Casey questions witnesses at the Senate Special Committee on Aging hearing Feb. 12 (Screen Capture).

While it wasn’t a substitute for the DOJ’s government-wide reports, the senators said a recent, congressionally mandated report by the U.S. Dept. of Veterans Affairs found that just 8 percent of the agency’s internet sites and 6 percent of VA intranet sites fully complied with Section 508 requirements.

“The lack of fully accessible websites at VA is a potential barrier for the one-quarter of all veterans with a service-connected disability, and may well be a harbinger of similar shortfalls at other federal agencies and departments,” the lawmakers wrote in a copy of the letter obtained by The Capital-Star.

“Third-party groups also have identified ongoing accessibility concerns with federal technology, demonstrating the need for additional oversight,” they added.

In addition to Casey, the letter also was signed by U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, of South Carolina, who is the ranking Republican on the Aging Committee, as well as Senate Judiciary Committee Chairperson Dick Durbin, D-Ill., the panel’s ranking Republican, Sen. Chuck Grassley, of Iowa; Sen. Patty MurrayD-Wash., Sen. Richard Burr, D-N.C, and Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill.

Our Stuff.
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Pennsylvania’s Republican-controlled Senate approved legislation on Thursday proposing reform to the state’s existing fireworks law, including restrictions on when they can be set off, Marley Parish reports.

President Joe Biden on Thursday said he supports an exception to the U.S. Senate filibuster in order to enshrine Roe v. Wade in federal law, after the Supreme Court last week struck down the case that established abortion as a constitutional right. Capital-Star Washington Reporter Ariana Figueroa has the story.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Thursday the Environmental Protection Agency does not have the authority to regulate greenhouse gases as pollutants, siding with a group of Republican attorneys general and coal companies in a major blow to the executive branch’s power to curb climate change. Capital-Star Washington Reporter Jacob Fischler and Associate Editor Cassie Miller have the story.

New Jersey is one step away from providing refuge to millions of people living in other states that have restricted abortion access in light of the U.S. Supreme Court overturning Roe v. WadeSophie Nieto-Munoz, of our sibling site, the New Jersey Monitor, reports.

On our Commentary Page this morning: Veteran advertising executive Sheldon Clay says we should treat guns the same way we treat cigarettes — by making them culturally repellent. And we should celebrate Title IX’s anniversary, but also keep working to fulfill its promise, opinion regular Fletcher McClellan writes.

En la Estrella-Capital: Los millennials representan casi una cuarta parte de la población en seis de las áreas metropolitanas más grandes de Pensilvania. El candidato Republicano a la gobernación Doug Mastriano destacó el lunes una legislación para atacar a los traficantes de drogas que venden los peligrosos opioides y requeriría que los socorristas informen todas las sobredosis.

Members of the Pennsylvania House applaud newly elected Speaker Bryan Cutler on June 22, 2020. (Capital-Star photo by Stephen Caruso)

Spotlight PA has the latest on budget negotiations (via the Inquirer).

And former President Donald Trump has decided to inject himself into the budget debate for some reason. City & State Pa. explains why.

The U.S. Supreme Court could give the Legislature more power over elections. The Post-Gazette runs down what you need to know.

Democratic U.S. Senate candidate John Fetterman will take a pass on campaigning this long holiday weekend, but hopes to be back soon, PennLive reports (subscriber-only).

The U.S. Senate contest remains a toss-up, while Democrat Josh Shapiro is favored in the gubernatorial campaign, PoliticsPA reports, citing a new analysis.

From the York Daily Record: Here are the most influential members of York County’s business community (subscriber-only).

Pennsylvania State Police are investigating a homicide in Northampton County, the Morning Call reports.

GoErie explains why movie and television producers are making their shows and movies in Erie.

Delaware Gov. John Carney has signed a ban on assault-style weapons into law, along with other gun reforms, WHYY-FM reports. Pennsylvania, meanwhile … Not so much.

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The U.S. Senate is drafting a last-minute drug pricing reform bill ahead of the midterms, Roll Call reports.

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What Goes On
*The House comes in at 11 a.m. Senate session has been canceled for today.

As of this writing, Gov. Tom Wolf has no public schedule today.

Heavy Rotation
We’ll go out this week with a ’90s gem from The Wannadies. It’s the ‘You & Me Song.’

Friday’s Gratuitous Soccer Link
The Guardian runs down the eight up-and-coming stars to watch in the Women’s Euro 2022 tournament this summer.

And now you’re up to date.

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John L. Micek
John L. Micek

A three-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's former Editor-in-Chief.