(PRWEB) May 24, 2004
According to a new study, California's cash-strapped cities are failing in their effort to deliver services through one of the most cost effective methods available -- the Internet. As a result, city websites are largely unusable by a growing number of Californians, including seniors, the disabled, and in many cases even power-users.
A comprehensive assessment of over 400 municipal websites reveals that 91% of California's cities fail to meet basic accessibility standards. The results show that most city websites are unusable by a wide range of people, including blind, deaf, and mobility impaired individuals, as well as non-disabled users attempting to access government services with cutting edge technology such as Internet-enabled cell phones. The poor showing is the result of city websites that employ outdated technology and design practices, effectively shutting out approximately 20% of their constituents who are disabled.
The study was conducted during the first quarter of 2004 by Alt Tags (http://www.AltTags.org), a website specializing in Internet usability and accessibility issues. Using automated testing tools, Alt Tags analyzed 408 of California's municipal websites, verifying compliance with commonly used standards: Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act and the W3C's Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. Additional manual tests were performed on selected sites to validate results. Only 35 of the tested sites were Section 508 compliant.
While the testing tools determine how websites perform when accessed by assistive technology devices such as screen readers, many high tech gadgets have similar display limitations and benefit from compliance with accessibility standards.
Alt Tag's Kirk Biglione notes, "While our study focused on the accessibility of websites for disabled users, we found that in most cases accessibility-related design problems create barriers for non-disabled users as well." Alt Tags' results were similar to those recently reported by the Disability Rights Commission in the UK; the DRC's testing revealed that non-disabled users encountered more difficulties using inaccessible sites than on those meeting accessibility standards.
Common problems noted during the testing included:
- An inability to use a website when images are not viewable.
- An inability to easily adjust text to a larger size.
- An inability to navigate a website without a mouse.
- Poor performance when accessed via a slow internet connections.
- Inconsistent or non-existent site navigation.
In many cases, seemingly simple problems present large barriers for a variety of users. Biglione says, "Something as simple as easily adjusting text size is a major usability factor, especially for older users".
Biglione's suggestions for improving government websites include:
- Education on accessibility issues and the specific problems that are created for users encountering inaccessible websites.
- Agencies should commit to accessibility by developing an accessibility policy for their agency's website. Only 4% of the sites surveyed had accessibility policies posted online.
- Better training for government webmasters.
- Use web development tools that facilitate compliance with standards. Many of the problems noted in this survey were the result of poor coding practices encouraged by the most widely used web development tools.
Biglione cautions, "There is no quick fix for the problems noted by this survey, but education and awareness can go a long way towards addressing these issues. Once cities concern themselves with the basic issues of accessibility and usability, they'll provide a better user experience for all users. The result will be a more efficient use of increasingly limited technology dollars, and happier constituents."
Alt Tags' complete report can be downloaded from the Alt Tags website at: http://www.alttags.org/archives/2004/05/22/35/
Phone: (626) 791-5852