Think tank report: Federal Web sites need better accessibility

Think tank report: Federal Web sites need better accessibility

Agencies still need to work on making federal Web sites more accessible to average citizens, according to a new report funded by a private think tank.

The report, based on a survey done earlier this year of 148 federal Web sites, also discovered that most sites still don't pass the 'Bobby test' for compliance with Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act Amendments of 1998.

Genie Stowers, director of San Francisco State University's public administration program, wrote the report, The State of Federal Websites. The survey was funded by the PricewaterhouseCoopers Endowment for the Business of Government.

Stowers said Web managers should strive to bridge 'the other digital divide' between the federal government and citizens who lack experience with the government and with the Internet in general.

Only 13.5 percent of the federal sites analyzed with the Bobby tool developed by the Center for Applied Special Technology of Peabody, Mass., yielded zero errors, according to the report. Another 41 percent of the sites had one or two accessibility errors and 7.5 percent had as many as six or seven such errors.

'The unresolved question is whether these sites adhered to the policy last year and have since 'slipped' as a result of constant changes in content and design'or whether they ever complied with the requirements,' Stowers wrote.

The report singled out the General Services Administration's FirstGov portal for special consideration 'not just because it is the gateway to federal information, but because of its thoughtful and effective design and content.'

Beyond FirstGov, the report ranked the Patent and Trademark Office, the Health and Human Services, Education and Treasury departments and the Navy as the five top federal Web sites in terms of content, services and user assistance.

Among its recommendations, the report urged agency IT officials to make accessibility, customer privacy and transaction security high priorities.

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