Evaluation of websites of state public health agencies during the COVID-19 pandemic demonstrating the degree of effort to design for accessibility

by   Arunkumar Pennathur, et al.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, every state public health agency in the United States has created and maintained a website dedicated to COVID 19. Our goal was to evaluate these websites for conformity to accessibility guidelines. Specifically, we assessed, on a scale of increasing levels of accessibility compliance requirements, the results of the efforts made by website developers to incorporate and meet accessibility compliance criteria. We focused on homepages and vaccine pages in 49 states. For this study, we used the automated AChecker tool to assess conformance to the WCAG 2.0 guidelines at A, AA and AAA levels of conformance, and conformance with the Section 508c standard. We also manually rated, on a scale 0 (none) to 3 (highest), the specific accessibility features, if any, that web developers had included on the pages. We found that accessibility violations were prevalent across states but to varying degrees for a specific accessibility criterion. Although violations were detected in all 4 POUR accessibility principles, the most number of known violations occurred in meeting the perceivability and operability principles. Most violations in 508c guidelines occurred in not providing functional text in scripting languages and in not providing text equivalents for nontext. The degree of effort and conformance significantly varied between states; a majority of states exhibited a lower degree of effort, while a few attempted innovative ways to enhance accessibility on their websites. The efforts seemed to focus on meeting the minimum threshold. It is not clear if websites were designed proactively for accessibility.


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