Disabled people often rely on the Internet for information because many other information sources are inaccessible. They experience accessibility barriers when finding and using information on the web if sites have not been designed and built with accessibility in mind.
Why we audited political party web sites
“Can we all come to the party” is a report we produced at AccEase to see how easily people with disability can engage with party political websites before the New Zealand election on September 20th. The report says “Voting and participation in the electoral process is a fundamental human right.”
Civil and political rights enshrined in the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Bill of Rights and the CRPD all require that rights such as access to the political process and public life need to be implemented immediately. While political parties are private bodies for the purposes of the New Zealand Human Rights Act, they have a moral obligation to provide accessible information for people who may not have access to other sources of information.
Disabled people are 24% of the New Zealand population, and people of voting age will be the majority of that group as children have lower rates of disability than older people, and rates of disability increase with age. Political parties should see that it is in their interest to make sure their information is accessible so people can have the information they need to choose freely.
Some of the faults the report identified included: the lack of an “Accessibility” page to describe features to help a disabled person use the site, a lack of clear alt text explaining images to help blind and screen-reader users access the site, and poor colour contrast on navigation.
Only one site included Sign Language video. Only a few sites included video of any kind. Of these some included captions but none had transcripts.
Keyboard-only users were poorly served. One site provided no access at all; others had various problems.
Over half the sites did not provide an alternative navigation mechanism such as a site map.
Since completing the report we have reflected on the experience of auditing the web sites of the political parties. Overall they are no worse than web sites generally. But the benchmark is not high. This is quite frustrating for people who really need accessible web sites as we have had standards now for some years, and the web is full of freely available quality information about accessibility. The current state of the art in New Zealand is not good enough.
The eighty-twenty rule still applies. Accessibility is eighty percent attitude and twenty percent expertise.
While we know that creating an accessible web site is less effort than national door knocking, even allowing for the possible advantages of face-to-face exchange; but it seems a hard message for people to absorb.
Without video, for example, it is just as easy to post an accessible version of a document first. Now with auto captions, which do need checking, video can be easily loaded. Contrast, heading structures and so on are not rocket science. Most accessibility features are relatively straightforward to implement, even for smaller parties with fewer resources.
We hope we have set a useful example of publishing accessibly online.
There is also a summary table of our findings