In-Depth: Rep. Elaine Luria (D-VA) — herself a Navy veteran — introduced this bill to require the VA to review its websites for accessibility to those with disabilities. In a press release upon introducing this bill, she said, “Disabled veterans sacrificed for America. They deserve equal access to the benefits they have earned, and I am honored to champion their cause.”
This legislation passed the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee by a voice vote with the support of three Republican cosponsors. Its Senate companion, sponsored by Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA), has one cosponsor, Sen. Jerry Moran (R-KS).
Of Note: The Blinded Veterans Association reports that there are over 130,000 legally blinded and 1.5 million low-vision veterans in the U.S. Despite current law requiring VA websites to be accessible to people with disabilities, the VA has a long history of saying that it’s “working towards compliance” with the law. The House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, in its committee report, observed that this “was especially concerning last year when the veteran crisis line was updated, and the chat feature became non-compliant—leaving blind veterans unable to access this life-saving resource.”
The House Veterans’ Affairs Committee further noted that “[b]linded veterans continue to face undue challenges accessing VA websites and mobile applications,” which are often the gateway to critical VA services and benefits. In its report, the Committee provided a number of examples of barriers that visually impaired veterans have encountered on VA websites, including:
- Tables that aren’t designed for cell-by-cell navigation to allow users of screen-readers and magnification software to use them;
- Buttons that are too small, or that are hidden among other items, which makes them hard to locate;
- Improperly labeled elements (such as checkboxes and buttons);
- Pop-ups that interfere with the user’s ability to navigate the web page by redirecting a screen-reader’s focus;
- Forms that aren’t designed to allow a screen-reader or magnification program to be used while filling them out; and
- Password requirements that exceed industry standards, creating major challenges for seniors and others with cognitive challenges who need to create and remember unnecessarily complex passwords.
Summary by Lorelei Yang
(Photo Credit: iStockphoto.com / alexsl)