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Irish government websites fail on accessibility

A large number of Irish government, public sector and political party websites are failing to meet accessibility standards for the disabled, an independent report has revealed.

The report was compiled by Red Cardinal and was based on tests performed for accessibility, coding standards and use of contemporary web technologies on the websites of government departments, agencies and political parties.

The study looked at how these websites adhered to internationally recognised Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) as set out by the World Wide Web (W3) Consortium.

As well as looking at such vital coding standards as Cascading Style Sheet/HTML vital to web users with sight problems, the study also looked at the use of contemporary web technologies including RSS, blogs and real-time communications facilities.

Over 41 government, state agency and political party sites were analysed. Out of these some 34pc failed to deliver on the basic WCAG 1.0 Accessibility Priority 1 standard. "The Government has committed to reaching AA standard or Priority 2 under the Disability Act, 2005 for all public sites," said the report's author Richard Hearne.

The Act places significant obligations on the public sector to make their information and websites accessible.

"Under the Disability Act, 2005 all Government sites are expected to meet the Double-A standard for accessibility which is WCAG 1.0 Accessibility Priorities 1 and 2. This means the government departments, agencies and political parties are not meeting their obligations."

Hearne used an internationally recognised validator provided by the WAI that can be accessed at http://validator.w3.org/docs/why.html.

The study found that 90pc of government, state agency and political websites failed both the WCAG 1.0 and CSS/HTML validation. Only 22pc use RSS to syndicate content, which is unusual given the relationship of the Government with the public and the press.

Of the government department websites tested only 12 out of 16 were compliant with WCAG 1.0 priority 1, the minimum standard required.

At least four government sites displayed WCAG Priority 2 (AA) badges on their homepages. "Unfortunately only one actually attained that level of accessibility," said Hearne.

Out of public bodies studied, 33pc failed to meet the minimum WCAG 1.0 priority 1 standard and 100pc filed both WCAG 1.0 and CSS/HTML validation tests. Only 11p use RSS to syndicate content.

Seven political party websites were tested, including Fianna Fáil, the Progressive Democrats, Fine Gael, the Labour Party, the Socialist and Workers Party, the Green Party and Sinn Fein.

Of the political parties 57pc failed to meet the minimum standard and 100pc failed the WCAG 1.0 and CSS/HTML validation tests. Some 43pc actually use RSS to syndicate content.

"The one thing about the validation testing we used is that it delivers a binary result, which means some sites may be doing well and minor problems may be causing them to fail."

However, Hearne did point out that by failing to meet the CSS/HTML coding standards state and political sites were still failing citizens with disabilities. "If you comply with coding standards there is less chance of failing. It is more likely that a poorly coded website is going to cause problems for screen-reading technology used by people with sight problems."

Hearne said that a number of government sites actually performed well in the tests. These included the Department of Enterprise Trade and Employment (www.entemp.ie), the Department of Social and Family Affairs (www.welfare.ie); and the Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism (www.arts-sport-tourism.gov.ie).

"The Department of Finance (www.finance.gov.ie) was a borderline case. It was accessible but there were errors popping up that could be fixed, so it was a case of could do better," said Hearne.

The subject of E-accessibility was the theme for this year's UN International Day for Disabled Persons on 3 December last.

Siobhan Barron, director of the National Disability Authority, said last week that she believes that companies and organisations need to be aware that having an accessible website will save money in the long run.

"For the vast majority of websites, the basic accessibility standards are neither difficult to achieve, nor are they costly in the long run," Barron said. "An accessible site that conforms to established standards is easier and cheaper to update and maintain and will also futureproofed with new web technologies as they emerge. It can also reduce the cost of customer service and providing information in alternative formats."

By John Kennedy
Categories: Government, Comms
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