WASHINGTON—Despite a legal requirement for federal agencies to follow modern standards of web accessibility for users with disabilities, 30 percent of the most popular federal websites fail to do so on their homepages, and nearly half (48 percent) failed a standard test on at least one of their three most popular pages, according to a new report released today by the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF), the leading think tank for science and technology policy.
“Failing to make federal websites accessible for people with disabilities creates obstacles for millions of Americans, especially as the COVID-19 pandemic has moved many government services online,” said Ashley Johnson, a policy analyst at ITIF and co-author of the report. “The law requires agencies to follow modern standards of web accessibility, but a substantial share of the most popular government sites fail to do so. Many also lack an easy-to-find way for users to report accessibility issues. For the more than 40 million Americans with disabilities, this creates great difficulty to access information and services, and to engage in civic activities.”
ITIF identified the 72 most popular federal websites, then tested them to assess their compliance with Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act, which requires agencies to follow modern web accessibility requirements.
Only four sites earned perfect scores in an evaluation rubric comprised of an automated test and qualitative assessments of the sites’ three most heavily trafficked pages: the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Department of Health and Human Services, the U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services, and the White House.
The lowest-ranking sites in ITIF’s tests were the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the United States Marine Corps, and the Energy Information Administration.
ITIF’s report notes that the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) submits biennial reports to the president and Congress evaluating agencies’ compliance with Section 508, but it has not made these reports available to the public since 2012. While the DOJ is not required to publicly release the reports, they contain useful information for policymakers and the General Services Administration (GSA) to ensure Americans with disabilities are able to effectively navigate federal websites.
To improve the accessibility of federal websites, ITIF offers several recommendations for the federal government:
- Create a federal website accessibility test lab.
- Launch a website accessibility “sprint” to fix known problems.
- Host a “hackathon” aimed at developing artificial intelligence (AI) solutions for web accessibility.
- Make reports on Section 508 compliance publicly available.
- Expand the Digital Analytics Program (DAP) to offer real-time accessibility testing.
“Web accessibility should be a top priority for the federal government,” said ITIF Vice President Daniel Castro, who co-authored the report. “Creating an accessible website requires taking into account the fact that not every user will be able to see or hear content, or use a keyboard or mouse to navigate. Web developers should adhere to accessible-design principles, such as using high-contrast colors, providing text alternatives to audio and visual content, avoiding the use of flashing animations that might cause seizures, and using labels for buttons so people using a screen reader can navigate the site. Following those design principles will not only help people with disabilities, but also ensure all users can navigate federal websites more easily.”