Government Web sites struggling to be accessible

An analysis of more than 1,600 state and 60 federal Web sites found the number of online services has jumped by 21 percent in the past year, but accessibility remains a lingering problem.

Researchers from Brown University's Taubman Center for Public Policy earlier this week released their fourth annual survey of federal and state Web sites. They discovered most sites are written at a level too high for the average American and most do not meet accessibility standards.

Using the Flesch-Kincaid test'a standard reading tool used by the Department of Defense'researchers found 68 percent of state sites read at a 12th-grade level compared to 63 percent of all federal sites. National literacy statistics indicate that half of Americans read at an eighth-grade level.

Examiners also found federal and state Web sites missed the mark in meeting disability accessibility standards. Forty-seven percent of federal sites meet the World Wide Web Consortium standard, and 22 percent meet Section 508 standards. States fared worse, as 33 percent meet the W3C and 24 percent meet the 508 requirements.

One of the biggest improvements is the number of Web sites with foreign translation tools or offering publications in foreign languages, researchers said. The percent of Web sites catering to non-English speakers jumped to 13 percent from seven percent among all sites. Forty percent of federal Web sites offer foreign-language translation compared to 12 percent of state sites, researchers found.

Among federal sites, the General Services Administration's FirstGov portal received the top score of 84 points. Sites received points in the ratings for features such as accessibility, readability, database access and fees. The Federal Communications Commission, Social Security Administration, IRS and Library of Congress completed the top five federal sites. Last year, the FCC was ranked highest.

Massachusetts received the top score among all states with 46.3. Texas, Indiana, Tennessee and California rounded out the top five.

Researchers recommended that state and federal webmasters should:

  • Strive for clear and simple language

  • Pay more attention to disability access

  • Verify claims of accessibility-standard compliance regularly

  • Issue easily accessible privacy statements

  • Design sites to include logical navigation, easy-to-find clusters of services and improved search functions.

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