Many websites created by US states and territories to share information about COVID-19 don’t meet accessibility standards, a study finds.
That means some members of the public, such as people who are blind or visually impaired, are not able to access all of the relevant information about the disease, vaccinations, and related public health recommendations.
“Everyone should be able to access this important health information,” says coauthor Yingchen He, an assistant professor of psychology at North Carolina State University.
“People need to know how to protect themselves, how to access vaccines, and what the current public health recommendations are. Right now, many state and territorial governments are not meeting these needs.”
Researchers first assessed the accessibility of state and territorial COVID-19 websites in 2021, and have now replicated that work in 2023.
The 2021 study used software tools to assess the accessibility of these sites in all 50 states and the US territories Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, and the US Virgin Islands. In the 2023 study, they were able to include American Samoa—which did not have a COVID-19 site in 2021. However, in 2023, the Northern Mariana Islands had taken down their COVID-19 site.
Specifically, the researchers tested the sites to see if they complied with the level AA standard for the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) established by the World Wide Web Consortium, which is the most widely used international standard for accessibility.
The researchers checked the accessibility of three pages on each site: the home page, the vaccine information page, and the page about COVID-19 testing.
“In 2021, none of these public-facing COVID-19 sites met all the checked WCAG guidelines, and things did not get any better in 2023,” says Dylan Hewitt, co-lead author of the paper and a PhD student at NC State.
“We identified a wide range of accessibility problems,” Hewitt says. “For example, some pages were not compatible with screen readers, some pages had limited contrast, some pages did not include alt text for their images, and so on.”
“It’s important to note that we were not assessing these sites using the most stringent accessibility criteria,” He says. “We were really looking at the minimum level of accessibility that would allow people to navigate the website and access information.”
“These findings underscore the extent to which these sites are failing to meet the needs of people who are blind or visually impaired,” says Hewitt. “Hopefully, highlighting this problem will encourage developers to do a better job of making this information accessible.”
“There are simple fixes to many of these problems,” says He. “This is a challenge that could be addressed fairly easily, if there is the will to do so.”
The researchers will present their paper on October 24 at the International Annual Meeting of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society.
Source: NC State