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Where do government websites stand on accessibility?



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28 July 2017
D. Emerson

While just about anyone who deals with managing or developing websites is aware of the term “Section 508 Accessibility,” a much smaller percentage of individuals really have an understanding of what this requirement means for federal websites. This often includes government contractors who provide development support for these federal agencies, despite the Section 508 FAR clause being invoked on their contract. This lack of awareness and understanding becomes evident in the recent assessment by the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF), a nonprofit, nonpartisan research and educational institute focusing on the intersection of technological innovation and public policy. This study used various tools to assess the top 300 most popular government websites, measuring performance, adherence to security standards, mobile friendliness, and accessibility. Generally speaking, while agency sites scored relatively high in security, the ratings were less than would be expected across other areas. Interestingly, only 58 percent of the reviewed websites were accessible for users with disabilities.

The tool used by the ITIF to assess accessibility was AChecker’s “Web Accessibility Checker,” which is an online automated tool that analyzes sites for specific accessibility issues using as a reference the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 AA Guidelines. However, the current federal guidelines under Section 508 are not yet in alignment with WCAG 2.0 AA (there are three levels A, AA, and AAA). The rule mandating compliance with WCAG 2.0 AA was just finalized in January of this year and becomes effective January 18, 2018, with some grandfather provisions for existing site content. Therefore, the score of 58 percent accessibility compliance, if based on current Section 508 guidance, may be a bit higher, but likely not by much. We will discuss WCAG 2.0 more in an upcoming blog – so, stay-tuned.

The bottom line is that federal agencies, and the contractors that provide them with web development and maintenance support, have significant room for improvement. Additionally, the upcoming WCAG 2.0 mandate will present agencies and contractors with even more challenges in meeting accessibility requirements. As agencies continue to finalize their FY2018 budget, they should consider the impact of this requirement in their list of priorities. As our population of older adults continues to grow, and their need to access government information and services online expands, sites must be able to accommodate the visual impairments experienced by this user group.

Artemis Consulting has experience developing sites that are WCAG 2.0 compliant as well as performing accessibility testing of existing sites. Feel free to contact us if you are the owner of a website that requires either minor adjustments or complete rework from a usability, technology, or accessibility perspective.

Tags: developers, technology, management