2021 Congressional Round-Up

Mar 08 2022

2021 was a year unlike any other. As the world came together to respond to the pandemic that was devastating human life as we knew it, politics pushed people further apart. In the U.S., 2021 began on a somber note.

A country devastated by political divisiveness and plagued by politically motivated insurgency came together to witness the transition of power from one president to another (albeit, coming together isn’t apt when thinking about a spiritual coming together). And yet, this year was like any other when referring to the political agenda of the U.S. 117th Congress. Fewer bills were enacted into law than in any term in recent memory (about 1%), and most of the important pieces of legislation were stonewalled by partisanship.1

For years, members of the federal government have attempted to draft legislation that would make strides towards making the internet a more accessible place for all users. Like 99% of all pieces of legislation, all measures that would effectively control web accessibility failed to be enacted in 2021. In February of 2021, Rep. Ted Budd [R-NC13] re-introduced H.R. 1100 (“Online Accessibility Act”) which would “amend the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 to include consumer facing websites and mobile applications owned or operated by a private entity, to establish web accessibility compliance standards for such websites and mobile applications, and for other purposes.”2 Much to the same vein as its predecessor legislation, this attempt failed to reach the desk of the president.

This is not first time a bill that would potentially alleviate some of the conflict between the law and legal practice surrounding web accessibility has failed to pass. It’s not even the first time that this piece of legislation failed. In 2020, the House failed to pass a previous iteration of the Online Accessibility Act (H.R. 8478). Such failures on the part of Congress are indicative of their ambivalence to the issue at hand. Such is evident by the failure of their own websites at being digitally inclusive. AAAtraq’s congressional inclusivity report routinely evaluates the digital inclusivity of the homepages for the members of the 117th Congress and all the Congress’ committees; and its data has consistently shown the horrific failures of an overwhelming majority of the members’ homepages.

The failures of the members’ pages come in the wake of renewed and increased internal pressure to make Congressional digital infrastructure accessible to disabled users. At the beginning of the 117th Congress (1st Session), the Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress included web accessibility (and thus extending to digital inclusivity) as one of its top 20 priorities for that calendar year. While most members pages consistently demonstrate failure, the data does signal a trend towards improvement. Both the House and Senate demonstrated significant (in the thousands and hundreds respectively) decreases in the instances of noncompliance.

Nobody knows what the future might bring, however we are optimistic of the trends demonstrated at the end of the year towards internal compliance. Legislatively, as we inch closer to the mid-term elections, it is unlikely 2022 will be any different than 2021. While it is unlikely to happen, we remain hopeful that the necessary statutory amendments can be made this year.

1 “Statistics and Historical Comparison,” GovTrack.us, accessed January 5, 2022, https://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/statistics (opens in a new window)

2HR 1100

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