When we started testing local government websites for compliance with Section 508, we expected a pretty high failure rate. After all, it’s a federal requirement, and local agencies that comply are doing so voluntarily. But I’m going to be honest — I didn’t expect the results to be as bad as they are.
I’m not just talking about technical conformance with accessibility (though I could go on that for many pages). I mean good, old-fashioned, across-the-board, it-works-for-everybody accessibility. In other words, true accessibility. Here are a few areas where local government fails on a non-technical level:
Lack of online services. Some agencies have added downloadable PDF documents, and a few have created interactive forms, but, for the vast majority, if you want to do business with City Hall, you need to haul your body to the physical building. Provided they’re open when it’s convenient for you to take an hour or two out of your already crammed scheduled.
Lack of easy communication. I’ve been shocked by the number of cities that don’t post their location and main phone number on their home page. Sure, with a little digging, I might find this information elsewhere on the site, but it ain’t easy. Trust me.
Organization-centric navigation. If you know the internal business structure of City Hall, you’re in luck. If you don’t, finding information is a challenge. Most local government sites (and, frankly, most sites in general) don’t think about the end user. This is even more annoying because:
No search engine. Or, if a search engine exists, the results are not user-friendly. Given the large number of individuals who utilize search functionality, I am constantly amazed at how little attention is paid to this website feature.
The list is longer, but I think I’ve made my point. As local agencies look to the Internet to save time and money (and it can), they need to reconsider how they view their websites. Because building accessibility (see my definition above) into the site will achieve those goals…and more.