Almost two weeks since Donald Trump's inauguration, the White House website may not be in compliance with federal rules governing website access for people with disabilities and non-English speakers.
Under Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, federal websites and websites that receive federal funds are required to have accessibility features for blind and vision-impaired people. And a Bill Clinton-era executive order requires federal websites to meet certain requirements for assisting people with limited English proficiency.
Kenneth Shiotani, a senior staff attorney for the National Disability Rights Network, pointed out the Trump administration’s failure to display accessibility features for people with disabilities.
"Generally, federal websites need to be accessible," Shiotani, who declined to say definitively if the White House was breaking the law, said in an interview. "They should have had it done on day one. I understand even some of the best websites get some things wrong every now and then, but at this point I think it’s inexcusable.”
Within hours of taking the oath of office on Jan. 20, officials in the administration began making changes to official government websites including WhiteHouse.gov, the main public-facing page for official administration business. The administration immediately began taking fire online for shutting down White House pages on climate change, civil rights and LGBTQ rights.
The White House also removed the “accessibility” and Spanish-translation features from the bottom of the pages.
On the day Trump took office, White House transition spokeswoman Hope Hicks responded to an inquiry from Mic about the missing features, saying, "The transition of the site is in progress as updates are made."
Three days later, at this first official press conference, White House press secretary Sean Spicer was asked when the Spanish-language site would be up and running. "We are continuing to build out the website both in the issue areas and in that area," Spicer said. "But we've got the IT folks working overtime to continue to get all of that up to speed.”
The White House has not responded to a second request for comment about the status sent on Monday.
In 2009, the Obama administration also took stewardship of the website the day that Barack Obama was sworn in. Both Spanish translation and accessibility features were available on the homepage that same day.
Eve Hill, an attorney formerly with the Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division, said removing the accessibility resources page might not constitute a clear violation of federal law — but it could represent a larger failure by the Trump White House to make efforts to comply with accessibility rules.
"Under Section 508, federal websites must be accessible to people with disabilities and people must have the ability to file Section 508 complaints with agencies if their websites are not accessible," Hill said. "Failing to have a link for accessibility issues and complaints may indicate that there is no way for people with disabilities to get access or to file complaints if the website isn't accessible, which would likely violate Section 508."
Hill also said that by removing the Spanish translation page, the Trump administration may not be living up to its legal obligations under Clinton's executive order, which is an interpretation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act that prohibits discrimination based on national origin.
"While Title VI/EO 13166 does not specifically require a federal agency website to be translated into any particular language, it does require meaningful access and a translated website is one of the easiest ways to provide such access," Hill said. "The absence of such translation, along with no alternatives being given to get access other than in English, may indicate that the White House is not meeting its Title VI/EO 13166 obligations."
The Justice Department declined to comment on whether failure to provide Spanish-language translation constituted a violation of the existing rules regarding translation of federal websites.
Trump was criticized by both disability rights advocates and the Spanish-speaking community for his behavior during the presidential campaign. In late 2015, Trump openly mocked a reporter with a disability at a campaign rally in South Carolina — something he denies doing. Earlier that year, Trump also mocked his primary rival Jeb Bush for speaking Spanish on the campaign trail, saying that, “This is a country where we speak English, not Spanish.”
It's not clear whether the removal of the Spanish-language and accessibility features from the White House website was deliberate or an oversight, but the administration has made clear that getting them back online not a priority.