It has come to my attention that the Department of Veterans Affairs implemented the VetLink Kiosk at numerous medical centers that lack accessibility options for those Veterans requiring Text to Speech output for electronic interfaces. Here is a draft letter you can send to your Congressmen urging the VA to fix this disregard for Section 508 from the Rehabilitation Act. This provision mandates all forms of electronic mediums be usable for everyone, regardless of their disabilities, at the same difficulty and length of time to interact with it as a non-disabled individual.
Kiosk Advocacy Letter
To the Honorable (Insert Name Here>,
I am a blinded veteran who has just attempted to use the VetLink Kiosk at my local Veterans Affairs Medical Center. The information brochure states that “Checking in for your appointment is more convenient than ever. VA’s new VetLink kiosks are the easy, convenient, and secure way for you to check-in for your next appointment. If you need any help, a VetLink Navigator will be nearby to provide assistance, and you can always visit a clerk to check in. Visually impaired Veterans can also use VetLink by inserting their ear buds into the scanner located at the bottom right of the kiosk.”
My sighted guide noted a sign at the check-in desk telling patients to use the kiosk for check-in. Additionally, the nearby administrative clerk stated that Veterans must try to check into their appointment through the kiosk, first. My guide read the kiosk information to me. I happened to have earbuds for my accessible touch screen iPhone, so I inserted the earbuds into the bottom right of the kiosk. After I did this, no audio information was provided as to what to do next. I touched the screen, there was no audio feedback. My guide touched the button that said something to the effect of ‘low vision users tap here’, so I did. Then I got audio feedback for that particular button. I touched the screen again, but got no audio feedback again. My guide had to touch the next button.
As per Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act, all electronic mediums must possess various usability features that permits all individuals equal access. This kiosk fails in the following manners:
- No verbal or audio interfaces to guide a visually impaired Veteran
- No headsets available at the check in desk for those Veterans who might not possess their own set
- No accessible guides or signs to tell a visually impaired Veteran that they must use the kiosk
- Untrained staff that could not explain how to use the accessibility features of the kiosk
The Blinded Veterans Association provided testimony in May of 2014, about various issues identified by visually impaired Veterans who rely on assistive technologies to access the VA website. I expected that there would be a heightened awareness on accessibility for veterans who are visually impaired and blind based on this hearing and with the recent selection of the new Secretary of Veterans Affairs. However, the Department of Veterans Affairs have failed to comply with various segments of Section 508, which has been around since 1998.
What is the Veterans Administration’s course of action to correct and once again prevent this blatant disregard for compliance with existing policies and deferral mandates for usable electronic interfaces regardless of ones disabilities?