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United States

Accessibility of Government information online (US0054)

Overview

At-a-Glance

Action Plan: Not Attached

Action Plan Cycle: 2015

Status: Inactive

Institutions

Lead Institution: NA

Support Institution(s): NA

Policy Areas

Marginalized Communities

IRM Review

IRM Report: United States End-of-Term IRM Report 2015-2017, United States Mid-Term Report 2015-2017

Starred: No

Early Results: Marginal

Design i

Verifiable: No

Relevant to OGP Values: Access to Information

Potential Impact:

Implementation i

Completion:

Description

Developing and adopting accessible, universally-designed programs and websites is critical to making sure every
American has access to public services. Additionally, Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act requires that people with disabilities have access to and use of information and data that is comparable to the access and use by
people without disabilities. The U.S. Access Board promulgates the Section 508 standards that specify what is required by Section 508 for websites. To increase accessibility of government information online, the United States will:

IRM Midterm Status Summary

For details of these commitments, see the report: https://www.opengovpartnership.org/sites/default/files/United-States_Mid...

IRM End of Term Status Summary

Commitment 2. Increase Accessibility of Government Information Online

Commitment Text:

Increase Accessibility of Government Information Online

Developing and adopting accessible, universally-designed programs and websites is critical to making sure every American has access to public services. Additionally, Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act requires that people with disabilities have access to and use of information and data that is comparable to the access and use by people without disabilities. The U.S. Access Board promulgates the Section 508 standards that specify what is required by Section 508 for websites. To increase accessibility of government information online, the United States will:

  • Implement and Improve Upon the U.S. Web Design Standards. In September 2015, the U.S. Digital Service[1] launched a set of design patterns and tools as best practices to improve design of the hundreds of websites across dozens of agencies to provide consistent, visually appealing, and easy-to-use government websites that are compliant with Federal disability access requirements. Focusing on the user experience, the U.S. Digital Service worked with an interagency team to create a common visual style that is applicable across a broad range of government platforms. The team will use open platforms to work to improve upon the design standards, making regular releases in the coming months.
  • Review and Report Accessibility Compliance of Federal Websites. By creating and implementing software code that can assist in evaluating the accessibility of websites across the government, the United States will increase the government’s ability to assess accessibility of Federal information for citizen consumers and Federal workers with disabilities. The General Services Administration will expand the transparent reporting platform pulse.cio.gov to measure performance of all Federal web domains against web policy requirements and industry best practices, while connecting domain owners to information and resources to better ensure that their sites comply with the requirements of Section 508.
  • Develop Limited-English-Proficiency Policies and Programs. The United States will ensure that public- facing programs and activities, including recipients of Federal financial assistance through the General Services Administration, have policies and practices in place to provide meaningful access to limited- English-proficient individuals. The General Services Administration will conduct outreach and training efforts with its employees and recipients of Federal assistance to inform these policies and programs.

Responsible Institution: General Services Administration

Supporting Institutions: All Federal Agencies, members of the public

Start Date: Not Specified End Date: Not Specified

Commitment Aim

This commitment aimed to make government websites more accessible for individuals with disabilities and limited English proficiency. With respect to the former, the commitment aimed to make government websites compliant with Section 508 of the 1973 Rehabilitation Act.[2] That law requires equal access to comparable information for individuals with and without disabilities. The commitment aimed more specifically to:

Improve upon the US Web Design Standards[3]—renamed the US Web Design System in January 2018—a set of user-centered design standards and tools for government websites;

Expand the pulse.cio.gov reporting platform to measure federal websites’ compliance with “policy requirements and industry best practices,” including Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act; and

Ensure that public-facing government programs and activities have policies and practices that facilitate equal access by individuals with limited English proficiency.

Status

Midterm: Limited

As described in the progress report, the government had made limited progress on this commitment at the midterm. With respect to the US Web Design System, the government released a series of eight updates through June 2016. However, it had not yet released the first official version of the standards (i.e., version 1.0.0).[4] Regarding pulse.cio.gov, at midterm, the platform reported only the number of federal domains that use HTTPS and participate in the Digital Analytics Program. It did not report any information on federal website compliance with Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act. Lastly, while the General Services Administration purportedly released a limited-English-proficiency action plan prior to the midterm,[5] the plan was not publicly available.

End of Term: Limited

The General Services Administration (GSA) released the first major version (version 1.0) of the US Web Design System (then known as the US Web Design Standards) on 23 February 2017.[6] Between then and the end of the reporting period in June 2017, GSA released seven updates on roughly a monthly basis. By the end of April 2018, there were 16 releases in all since the release of version 1.0, and releases are now biweekly.[7] The updates addressed bug fixes and incorporated additional technical features, as described on its website.[8] This milestone is therefore complete. The public can follow the work of the interagency team that is responsible for this system via a detailed roadmap.[9]

By contrast, the government has not incorporated additional website accessibility metrics into the pulse.cio.gov reporting platform relative to the midterm.[10] According to GSA:

“The Pulse accessibility program will use an open source technology to scan .gov domains against accessibility standards consistent with Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act. This effort will identify a subset of potential accessibility errors and display accompanying recommendations. This tool is intended to be used in conjunction with manual inspection and will not be a replacement for full accessibility assessments. GSA is working with the Chief Information Officers Council Accessibility Community of Practice, agency coordinators and web developers to devise a deployment strategy for agencies.”[11]

However, this program was not yet operational by the end of the action plan.

As for the development of limited-English-proficiency policies, GSA’s limited-English-proficiency action plan remains unavailable. According to GSA, it has developed a plan that consists of three pillars:

  • The development and deployment of an agency-wide language translation services contract and procedures;
  • Targeted outreach and education for recipients of Federal Financial Assistance; and
  • Meaningful LEP [limited-English-proficiency] access for GSA’s public-facing programs and in Federal buildings and locations under GSA custody and control.[12]

According to GSA, it has completed the first pillar whereas the second and third pillars are underway.[13] However, according to a federal interagency website on issues related to limited English proficiency—which was last updated on 30 March 2018—the GSA limited-English-proficiency action plan is “pending”.[14] Given that the plan is not yet publicly available, completion is limited. Given the lack of concrete results for two of the three milestones, the commitment’s overall completion is also limited.

Did It Open Government?

Access to Information: Marginal

The opening of government resulting from this commitment regarding access to information is linked entirely to the US Web Design System (USDWS), since the government did not make tangible progress on the two other milestones.

The USDWS Team reports that, by the end of the action plan in June 2017, roughly 142 million users—of which roughly 122 million were new users—visited government websites that use the system (via code and/or design).[15] By the end of March 2018, these numbers increased to roughly 179 million total users, of which roughly 155 million were new users.[16] Moreover, by the end of April 2018, 138 government websites and applications utilized the system.[17]

According to data from the Digital Analytics Program, the executive branch alone has more than 4,500 websites.[18] The number highlights the relatively small percentage of federal websites (approximately 2.8 percent) that currently employ the system. Among those sites that do employ it, it is unclear whether their implementation facilitated an increase in traffic.

Moreover, while the General Services Administration (GSA), using extensive user research, designed the system to be user friendly, the extent to which the system has directly improved access to information remains unclear. A series of interviews that GSA conducted with government agencies that employ the system speaks to this issue. For example, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) emphasized the importance of having “a ‘common look and feel’ for all CBP digital products” to help provide a more unified user experience. But the agency gives little indication of how the public has benefited from the visually unified sites.[19] The Lab in the Office of Personnel Management similarly notes that “the Standards . . . helped act as a catalyst for bringing along some user centered design thinking” for the USAJOBS website.[20] However, it does not clearly describe any positive impact on access to information.[21]

The most concrete example linking the system’s implementation to an improvement in access to information comes from an interview with Vets.gov. The interviewee described how users were initially confused by the site’s use of an asterisk to denote required fields on a web form. The system’s alternative indicator for required fields caused less confusion among users.[22] This example is nevertheless an isolated one and is limited in scope.

Two agencies explicitly linked their decision to implement the system to the Rehabilitation Act to better serve people with disabilities. These agencies include GSA’s Code.gov (the home of federal source code) and the Department of Agriculture. Olivier Kamanda, project manager for Code.gov, noted that “using the Standards we didn’t have to worry about ADA compliance, since those best practices are built into the package.”[23] The Department of Agriculture similarly noted that “we had some questions around 508 accessibility compliance, on how agencies can adhere to the accessibility guidelines when applying the Standards, and we were able to work quickly to ensure these needs were met, as well.”[24]

These isolated examples provide little indication of the extent to which similar concerns fueled the system’s adoption across the 138 government websites and applications that employ them. The examples also do not demonstrate measurable improvements in access to information. The IRM researcher therefore assesses this milestone to have marginally opened government.

Carried Forward?

As of early 2018, the US government had not yet published a fourth action plan. The government should aim to continue to make progress on improving the accessibility of government information for people with disabilities and limited English proficiency. The government could also consider building upon the activities carried out relating to the standards. In these efforts, it could broaden the standards’ adoption to include a larger percentage of government websites.


[1] During the pre-publication review of this report, GSA indicated that both the U.S. Digital Service and 18F launched this system. The commitment text above, however, was copied directly from the action plan and was therefore not revised. Comments received via e-mail on 30 April 2018.

[2] For more detailed information on Section 508, see US General Services Administration, “Section 508 Law and Related Laws and Policies,” Section508.gov, https://www.section508.gov/content/learn/laws-and-policies, consulted 2 October 2017.

[3] US General Services Administration and 18F, “U.S. Web Design Standards,” US Web Design System, https://standards.usa.gov/, consulted 2 October 2017.

[4] US General Services Administration and 18F. “Release Notes,” US Web Design System, 23 February 2017, https://standards.usa.gov/whats-new/releases/, consulted 2 October 2017.

[5] United States of America, Midterm Self-Assessment Report for the Open Government Partnership: Third Open Government National Action Plan, 2015-2017, September 2016, 5, https://www.opengovpartnership.org/sites/default/files/USA_NAP3_self-assessment-report_20160916.pdf, consulted 2 October 2017.

[6] US General Services Administration and 18F, “Release Notes: Version 1.0.0,” US Web Design System, https://standards.usa.gov/whats-new/releases/#version-1-0-0, consulted 6 September 2017.

[7] The IRM received this information from GSA during the pre-publication review of this report. The comment was received via e-mail on 30 April 2018.

[8] US General Services Administration and 18F, “Release Notes,” US Web Design System, 23 February 2017, https://standards.usa.gov/whats-new/releases/, consulted 2 October 2017.

[9] “Product roadmap,” US Web Design System, https://designsystem.digital.gov/whats-new/product-roadmap/, consulted 2 May 2018.

[10] See https://bit.ly/2Hh6shL, consulted 6 September 2017.

[11] The IRM received this information from GSA during the pre-publication review of this report. The comment was received via e-mail on 30 April 2018.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid.

[14] “Federal Agency LEP Plans,” Limited English Proficiency (LEP), 30 March 2018, https://www.lep.gov/guidance/fed_LEP_Plan.html, consulted 2 May 2018.

[15] “Q1 2017 Analytics Update,” US Web Design System, 27 March 2017, https://standards.usa.gov/whats-new/updates/2017/03/27/u-s-web-design-standards-exposure-analytics/, consulted 6 September 2017.

[17] The IRM received this information from GSA during the pre-publication review of this report. The comment was received via e-mail on 30 April 2018.

[18] “About This Site,” Analytics.USA.Gov, https://analytics.usa.gov/#explanation, consulted 6 September 2017.

[19] “U.S. Customs and Border Patrol Case Study,” US Web Design System, 31 March 2017, https://standards.usa.gov/whats-new/updates/2017/03/31/u-s-customs-and-border-patrol-case-study/, consulted 6 September 2017.

[20] See http://www.usajobs.gov, consulted 6 September 2017.

[21] “How the USAJOBS Team Uses the U.S. Web Design Standards,” US Web Design System, 19 June 2017, https://standards.usa.gov/whats-new/updates/2017/06/19/usajobs-case-study/, consulted 6 September 2017.

[22] “How the Vets.gov Team Uses the U.S. Web Design Standards,” US Web Design System, 10 July 2017, https://standards.usa.gov/whats-new/updates/2017/07/10/vets-case-study/, consulted 6 September 2017.

[23] “How the Code.gov Team Uses the U.S. Web Design Standards,” US Web Design System, 24 July 2017, https://standards.usa.gov/whats-new/updates/2017/07/24/code-gov-case-study/, consulted 6 September 2017.

[24] “How the USDA Team Uses the U.S. Web Design Standards,” US Web Design System, 6 June 2017, https://standards.usa.gov/whats-new/updates/2017/06/06/usda-case-study/, consulted 6 September 2017.


United States's Commitments

  1. Federal Data Strategy

    US0105, 2019, E-Government

  2. Grants accountability

    US0106, 2019, E-Government

  3. public access to federally funded research

    US0107, 2019, E-Government

  4. Workforce Data Standards

    US0108, 2019, E-Government

  5. Chief Data Officers

    US0109, 2019, Capacity Building

  6. Open data for public health

    US0110, 2019, E-Government

  7. Enterprise Objective

    US0111, 2019, Capacity Building

  8. Developing Future Action Plans

    US0112, 2019, OGP

  9. Reconstitution of the USA.gov

    US0053, 2015, E-Government

  10. Accessibility of Government information online

    US0054, 2015, Marginalized Communities

  11. Access to Educational Resources

    US0055, 2015, Open Data

  12. Public Listing of Every Address in the US

    US0056, 2015, Open Data

  13. Informed Decisions About Higher Education.

    US0057, 2015, Open Data

  14. new authentication tools to protect individual privacy and ensure that personal records go only to the intended recipients.

    US0058, 2015, Public Service Delivery

  15. Transparency of Open311

    US0059, 2015, E-Government

  16. Support Medicine research throught opening up relevant data of the field

    US0060, 2015, Health

  17. Access to Workforce Data

    US0061, 2015, Open Data

  18. Using evidence and concrete data to improve public service delivery

    US0062, 2015, Capacity Building

  19. Expand Use of the Federal Infrastructure Permitting Dashboard

    US0063, 2015,

  20. Consolidation of Import and Export Systems

    US0064, 2015, E-Government

  21. Improving Government Records

    US0065, 2015, Open Data

  22. Starred commitment Ammendments to FOIA

    US0066, 2015, Open Data

  23. Streamline the Declassification Process

    US0067, 2015, Capacity Building

  24. Implement the Controlled Unclassified Information Program

    US0068, 2015, Open Data

  25. Transparency of Privacy Programs and Practices

    US0069, 2015, Capacity Building

  26. Transparency of Federal Use of Investigative Technologies

    US0070, 2015, E-Government

  27. Increase Transparency of the Intelligence Community

    US0071, 2015, Capacity Building

  28. Starred commitment Open Science through open data

    US0072, 2015, Open Data

  29. Open Data Portal

    US0073, 2015, E-Government

  30. Increase Transparency of Trade Policy and Negotiations

    US0074, 2015, E-Government

  31. Develop a Machine Readable Government Organizational Chart 

    US0075, 2015, E-Government

  32. Improving public participation

    US0076, 2015, Public Participation

  33. Expand Public Participation in the Development of Regulations

    US0077, 2015, Public Participation

  34. Civic engagement in decision-making processes

    US0078, 2015, Public Participation

  35. Open Mapping

    US0079, 2015, E-Government

  36. Tracking OGP implementation

    US0080, 2015, OGP

  37. Strengthening Whistleblower Protection

    US0081, 2015, Capacity Building

  38. Transparency of Legal Entities

    US0082, 2015, Beneficial Ownership

  39. Extractive Industries Transparency

    US0083, 2015, Extractive Industries

  40. Spending transparency

    US0084, 2015, E-Government

  41. Enhance the Use of U.S. Foreign Assistance Information

    US0085, 2015, Aid

  42. Participatory Budgets and Responsive Spending

    US0086, 2015, Participation in Budget Processes

  43. Expand Access to Justice to Promote Federal Programs

    US0087, 2015, E-Government

  44. Starred commitment Build Safer Communities with Police Open Data

    US0088, 2015, E-Government

  45. Open Federal Data to Benefit Local Communities

    US0089, 2015, E-Government

  46. Support the Municipal Data Network

    US0090, 2015, E-Government

  47. Foster Data Ecosystems

    US0091, 2015, Capacity Building

  48. Extend Digital, Data-Driven Government to Federal Government’s Support for Communities

    US0092, 2015, Capacity Building

  49. Promote implementation of SDGs

    US0093, 2015, Open Data

  50. Starred commitment Promote Open Climate Data

    US0094, 2015, E-Government

  51. Air Quality Data Available

    US0095, 2015, E-Government

  52. Promote Food Security and Data Sharing for Agriculture and Nutrition

    US0096, 2015, Capacity Building

  53. Promote Data Sharing About Global Preparedness for Epidemic Threats

    US0097, 2015, Capacity Building

  54. Promote Global Interconnectivity

    US0098, 2015, Aid

  55. Open Contracting

    US0099, 2015, Capacity Building

  56. Harness the Data Revolution for Sustainable Development

    US0100, 2015, OGP

  57. Open Government to Support Global Sustainable Development

    US0101, 2015, Anti-Corruption Institutions

  58. Open Collaboration onf the Arctic

    US0102, 2015, Environment and Climate

  59. Support Capacity Building for Extractives Transparency

    US0103, 2015, Capacity Building

  60. Support Responsible Investment and Business Practices for Companies

    US0104, 2015, Private Sector

  61. Improve Public Participation in Government

    US0027, 2013, Capacity Building

  62. Modernize Management of Government Records

    US0028, 2013, Records Management

  63. Modernize the Freedom of Information Act

    US0029, 2013, Capacity Building

  64. Transform the Security Classification System

    US0030, 2013, Records Management

  65. Implement the Controlled Unclassified Information Program

    US0031, 2013, Security

  66. Increase Transparency of Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Activities

    US0032, 2013, E-Government

  67. Make Privacy Compliance Information More Accessible

    US0033, 2013, E-Government

  68. Support and Improve Agency Implementation of Open Government Plans

    US0034, 2013, OGP

  69. Strengthen and Expand Whistleblower Protections for Government Personnel

    US0035, 2013, Capacity Building

  70. Increase Transparency of Legal Entities Formed in the United States

    US0036, 2013, Legislation & Regulation

  71. Starred commitment Implement the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative

    US0037, 2013, Environment and Climate

  72. Make Fossil Fuel Subsidies More Transparent

    US0038, 2013, Extractive Industries

  73. Starred commitment Increase Transparency in Spending

    US0039, 2013, Fiscal Transparency

  74. Increase Transparency of Foreign Assistance

    US0040, 2013, Aid

  75. Continue to Improve Performance.Gov

    US0041, 2013, E-Government

  76. Consolidate Import and Export Systems to Curb Corruption

    US0042, 2013, Private Sector

  77. Promote Public Participation in Community Spending Decisions

    US0043, 2013, Infrastructure & Transport

  78. Expand Visa Sanctions to Combat Corruption

    US0044, 2013, Anti-Corruption Institutions

  79. Further Expand Public Participation in the Development of Regulations

    US0045, 2013, Capacity Building

  80. Open Data to the Public

    US0046, 2013, E-Government

  81. Continue to Pilot Expert Networking Platforms

    US0047, 2013, Public Participation

  82. Reform Government Websites

    US0048, 2013, E-Government

  83. Promote Innovation Through Collaboration and Harness the Ingenuity of the American Public

    US0049, 2013, Capacity Building

  84. Promote Open Education to Increase Awareness and Engagement

    US0050, 2013, E-Government

  85. Deliver Government Services More Effectively Through Information Technology

    US0051, 2013, E-Government

  86. Increase Transparency in Spending

    US0052, 2013, E-Government

  87. Reform Records Management

    US0001, 2011, Records Management

  88. Lead a Multi-Agency Effort

    US0002, 2011, Capacity Building

  89. Monitor Agency Implementation of Plans

    US0003, 2011, OGP

  90. Provide Enforcement and Compliance Data Online

    US0004, 2011, Environment and Climate

  91. Advocate for Legislation Requiring Meaningful Disclosure

    US0005, 2011, Legislation & Regulation

  92. Apply Lessons from Recovery Act to Increate Spending Transparency

    US0006, 2011, Fiscal Transparency

  93. Government-wide Reporting Requirements for Foreign Aid

    US0007, 2011, Aid

  94. Use Performanc.gov to Improve Government Performance and Accountability

    US0008, 2011, Public Service Delivery

  95. Overhaul the Public Participation Interface on Regulations.gov

    US0009, 2011, Legislation & Regulation

  96. Launch ExpertNet

    US0010, 2011, E-Government

  97. Launch International Space Apps Competition

    US0011, 2011, E-Government

  98. Launch “We the People”

    US0012, 2011,

  99. Open Source “We the People”

    US0013, 2011,

  100. Develop Best Practices and Metrics for Public Participation

    US0014, 2011, Capacity Building

  101. Professionalize the FOIA Administration

    US0015, 2011, Right to Information

  102. Harness the Power of Technology

    US0016, 2011, Right to Information

  103. Advocate for Legislation on Whistleblower Protection

    US0017, 2011, E-Government

  104. Explore Executive Authority to Protect Whistleblowers

    US0018, 2011, Legislation & Regulation

  105. Implement the EITI

    US0019, 2011, Extractive Industries

  106. Partnership to Build on Recent Progress

    US0020, 2011, Extractive Industries

  107. Promote Data.gov to Spur Innovation through open sourcing

    US0021, 2011, Open Data

  108. Data.gov: Foster Communities on Data.gov

    US0022, 2011, Education

  109. Begin Online National Dialogue with the American Public

    US0023, 2011, Public Participation

  110. Update Government-wide Policies for Websites

    US0024, 2011,

  111. Promote Smart Disclosure to ensure timely release of information

    US0025, 2011, Capacity Building

  112. Publish Guidelines on Scientific Data

    US0026, 2011, Capacity Building