Accessibility at VA

What is this toolkit? This outreach toolkit for VA Accessibility has helpful information and a variety of media you can download and freely share with your Veteran stakeholders about what VA is doing to ensure VA electronic information, software, websites, documents, and applications are usable by all in the Veteran community, including those with vision, auditory, physical, and cognitive impairments. It also includes information about how the Veteran community can participate in VA product research feedback sessions to enhance accessibility for all (see social media and blog elements), and how to report accessibility issues.

This page shows a sampling of the elements of the information toolkit. Individual portions can be downloaded from here — or you can download the entire kit in a single file and use any of the items within it.

To enhance Veteran awareness, feel free to use the social media, images, blog posts, and other products from this toolkit on your channels and at outreach events when your offices and facilities are hosting town hall meetings, or social, informational, and educational events.

What is VA doing related to accessibility? VA’s Office of Information and Technology is committed to inclusive design and accessibility to ensure VA products, websites, digital documents, and applications can be used by all VA stakeholders and are usable by as many people as possible.

To this end, VA continuously educates its employees about the importance of making all VA information and products accessible and useable by all and complying with the federal Section 508 law. This includes training sessions, accessibility how-to videos, a DigitalVA Accessibility Guide that provides practical, high-level instructions for making digital content accessible, accessibility checks, and testing.

Contact Information

  • Office of Communication
  • Office of Information and Technology

Videos

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  • Accessibility Starts With You

  • Proper Spacing for Accessibility

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Social Media Posts

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Long-form Content

  • Unlocking Inclusion: Enhancing Accessibility and 508 Compliance at VA

    VA’s Section 508 Team members, a service dog, and a poster that states, “Accessibility is Everybody’s Business” and “section508@va.gov.”

    Lede: The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Office of Information and Technology (OIT) is taking action to enhance accessibility, one website, one document, and one city at a time.

    For many Veterans, caregivers, and VA staff, accessing information on digital platforms can sometimes come with a host of frustrating challenges, from navigating webpages to finding contact information for facilities or clinicians. For people with visual or other physical impairments, these digital platforms can present extra hurdles — small font sizes, difficult-to-distinguish colors, or missing or incorrect labels on buttons or links are a discouraging reminder that accessibility is often an afterthought.

    The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Office of Information and Technology (OIT) is taking action to change that, one website, one document, and one city at a time.

    “There were conversations about how few Veterans are aware of VA applications—even some staff are unaware,” said Chet Frith, a Senior Advisor in the Section 508 Compliance Directorate, discussing a recent encounter with a Veteran at the Washington, D.C. VA Medical Center. “We need to look at the way we market when a change is made to an app. A Veteran remembered the old app that didn’t have a lot of features and was difficult to navigate. So, we sat down, helped him register for it, and he said, ‘Oh my goodness, I’m sharing this with everybody.’ He was amazed at what you could get.”

    Over the last year, OIT’s Section 508 Compliance Directorate has educated VA organizations on how to make information more accessible on digital platforms. In addition to working with organizations inside the Department, the Section 508 Directorate is working with various non-governmental organizations to learn about how best to improve accessibility at VA.

    “This started on a recommendation from Senator Casey,” Mr. Frith noted. “For example, the Bazelon Center for Mental Health… they were discussing plain language and making sure that what’s being posted on websites can be understood by all. The National Association of the Deaf was very interested in making sure sign language interpreters were available for patients at VA for mental health and telehealth appointments.”

    Based on these meetings with non-government organizations, VA has implemented several changes, including using recommended platforms for virtual meetings and utilizing the Federal CIO Council’s upcoming Accessibility Community of Practice to share information across federal agencies.

    The outreach efforts don’t stop there—the Section 508 Directorate has hit the road in recent weeks to host a Section 508 Roadshow at various VA medical centers. The tour kicked off in Washington, D.C. in April 2023, with additional trips planned for Augusta, Georgia, and San Antonio, Texas. These events allow employees to gain ownership of creating accessible content and view accessibility through the lens of individuals with disabilities so OIT can apply best practices to their day-to-day content development. Through these events, the Section 508 team can interact with VA stakeholders and Veterans to understand gaps in accessibility and strategize solutions to meet the needs of all users.

    “We chose these locations because we were looking for facilities that had multiple specialties, like blind rehab clinics, audiology clinics, polytrauma, and mental health. We wanted to spread across the country to get different perspectives,” Mr. Frith said. “We’re looking for both large and small [facilities] because the impact is different.”

    While accessible products make a remarkable difference in the lives of Veterans, they also make a difference for some of OIT’s own employees. Christina Weymouth, an IT Specialist on the Section 508 Directorate team, is blind and is passionate about finding accessibility solutions for Veterans.

    “My entire life I’ve been blind,” she shared. “I thought I could help employees that have a hard time. I can help Veterans who are just trying to get their benefits from VA and going back into civilian life is already throwing them for a loop.”

    In her daily work, Ms. Weymouth works with project teams across various workstreams, particularly the e-learning category, or how VA approached education for employees across events and programs. She also regularly discusses the intricacies of Section 508 Accessibility audits with these product teams, emphasizing the critical points to address before other issues can be fixed.

    “We see more work coming in general because 508 [compliance] is getting more attention. Leadership has taken a massive interest in our operations,” she said. “It’s having effects across the board, so now there’s [things like] alt text where there didn’t used to be, which is really nice from my point of view!”

    “We need a heart change, a mind change, and that will be what makes the work change,” she continued. “If [people] see how it can impact real people all the time, I think it will turn their mind space to where it needs to go.” VA’s efforts to improve accessibility are ongoing. To learn more about incorporating accessibility best practices into your work, visit OIT’s Accessibility Guide.

    By VA Office of Information and Technology

  • Blind Veterans can now read decision letters

    Lede: The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) now offers accessibility to blind Veterans so they can independently read decision letters online.

    For the first time ever, blind Veterans can now read their VA benefits decision letters inside the VA Health and Benefits mobile app. This new feature is part of VA’s move to improve its accessibility and enable Veterans to view their decision letters immediately, online, a significant improvement over previously waiting ten days to receive letters in the mail.

    Claudia Baldwin is a blind Veteran who has benefited from this new accessibility change. She served in the United States Air Force for 5 ½ years and medically retired as a Staff Sergeant. For the past 15-plus years, she has worked on accessibility issues with VA and the Blind Veterans Association (BVA).

    Baldwin said after the change took effect on May 9, 2023, “I don’t know what you did, but you can read rating decisions now in the app. OMG, this is awesome! It was beautiful. I can now read it! One of the biggest things that Veterans get is their rating decision. No blind Veteran can read it. It’s paper. It’s a huge document sent to you, and someone has to read it to you. It’s a very small percentage of Veterans who can’t read it, so we don’t have a loud enough voice and usually don’t get included in accessing important programs or documentation since the information isn’t accessible to blind Veterans.”

    Blind Veterans can now download a PDF file from the VA Health and Benefits mobile app or by using their web browser and then using a third-party app, such as VoiceOver on iOS, to listen to the content in the PDF file. This option is made possible by the VA’s commitment to design accessibility of the VA Health and Benefits mobile app.

    VA is committed to ensuring all Veterans have access to its services. Our VA Office of Information and Technology (OIT) team takes an “accessibility beyond compliance” approach, meaning accessibility is considered an integral part of the development process from the start rather than an afterthought.

    The team conducted extensive feedback sessions on the experiences of blind and low-vision Veterans using the VA Health and Benefits mobile app. This research has helped the team identify ways to improve the app’s accessibility currently, and the team is constantly working to improve the app’s accessibility further. Assistive technology users accounted for 22 percent of sessions in 2022, and 23 percent so far in 2023.

    By taking an accessibility-beyond-compliance approach, VA’s Section 508 Compliance team works across the Department to ensure VA products and services are accessible and usable by all Veterans with a wide range of disabilities. The team also provides resources to help VA employees and contractors comply with Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act, including a toolkit, training program, and help desk.

    These resources can help to ensure Veteran research and feedback sessions are conducted in an accessible way with all users. The team’s work is essential, and VA encourages Veteran participation in research and feedback on tools and services.

    You can help VA deliver digital tools and products that are more accessible and user-friendly for the entire Veteran community.  For more information on how to sign up for a research feedback session, please visit the Veteran Usability Site.

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Images

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  • Using Assistive Technology

    Recommended usage: General Purpose, News Article, Social Media, Website

    Recommended Alt Text: Female Veterans using assistive technology on a mobile device to access VA.gov.

    Licensing: Public Domain

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  • VA Decision Letters Now Readable for Blind Veterans

    Blind Veterans can now read decision letters

    Recommended usage: General Purpose, News Article, Social Media, Website

    Licensing: Public Domain

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  • VA’s Section 508 Team members, a service dog, and a poster that states, “Accessibility is Everybody’s Business” and “section508@va.gov.”

    Accessibility is Everybody’s Business

    Recommended usage: General Purpose, News Article, Social Media, Website

    Recommended Alt Text: VA’s Section 508 Team members, a service dog, and a poster that states, “Accessibility is Everybody’s Business” and “section508@va.gov.”

    Licensing: Public Domain

    Download the image