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The following News Release was printed by the Center for Public Policy at Brown University on September 24, 2003. The CharMeck.org web site ranks second in the nation in its eGovernment application.

Disability Access Problems Plague City Government Websites

PROVIDENCE, R.I. - Most government websites maintained by America's 70 largest cities fail to meet basic disability access standards for the visually and hearing-impaired, according to a new urban e-government study by researchers at Brown University.

Darrell M. West, director of the Taubman Center for Public Policy at Brown University, and a team of researchers led by Carrie Bersak and Emily Boness analyzed 1,933 sites maintained by city governments. The researchers examined an average 27.6 websites in each city, including homepages for the Mayor, City Council and major departments and agencies. Financial support for the project was provided by Brown University. Research was completed during June and July 2003. Previous urban e-government studies were released in 2001 and 2002.

Researchers used two different standards of disability accessibility: compliance with the Priority Level One standard recommended by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) and compliance with the legal requirements of Section 508 of the U.S. Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Sites were judged to be either in compliance or not in compliance based on the online "Bobby" test at http://bobby.watchfire.com that evaluates disability accessibility.

In looking at city government websites, researchers found that only 20 percent of city sites are in compliance with the W3C standard and only 13 percent pass the national legal standard of Section 508. The city numbers are significantly below comparable figures for the 50 states and the federal government. Forty-seven percent of federal sites meet the W3C standard, while 33 percent of state sites comply with that standard. On the Section 508 statute, 24 percent of state sites are accessible and 22 percent of federal sites pass the test.

"Government websites need to do much more to make themselves accessible to all Americans," West said. "Websites maintained by city agencies are flunking basic disability access standards for the visually and hearing-impaired."

In addition, researchers evaluated the readability level of these websites. Using the Flesch-Kincaid readability test used by the U.S. Department of Defense, they found that city government sites are written at a higher grade level than is understood by many Americans. The test is computed by dividing the average sentence length (number of words divided by number of sentences) by the average number of syllables per word (number of syllables divided by the number of words).

The average readability level of American city websites is at a 11.2 grade level, well above the comprehension of many urban residents. Seventy percent of city government sites read at the 12th grade level. Just eight percent of metropolitan sites read at the eighth grade level or below. National literacy statistics show that about half of the American population reads at the eighth grade level or lower.

The study also evaluated overall e-government performance based on the availability of information, the number of online services, privacy and security policies, disability access, foreign language translation, Flesch-Kincaid readability grade-level, and means of communication between citizens and government.

This year's highest ranked e-government cities are Denver; Charlotte; Boston; Louisville, and Nashville. The lowest ranked cities include Dayton; Miami; Tacoma; Atlanta, and Greenville.

The table below shows the ranking for each city in 2003, followed by their ranking last year in parentheses and their rating out of 100 points with last year's ratings in parentheses.

1. Denver
2. Charlotte
3. Boston
4. Louisville
5. Nashville
6. Houston
7. Salt Lake City
8. Dallas
9. Oklahoma City
10. Tucson
 
In conclusion, West and his team had suggestions for improvement. These recommendations include:

  • More attention to disability access and placement of dates on government websites for when each site passed disability access tests.
  • Use of simple and clear language on city government websites so that more people can understand them.
    A clear "e-services" link that connects directly to a list of online services available. Currently, many of the cities that do offer this have links to forms which cannot be submitted online.
  • A visible email address for the mayor. This means not only the ability to click an icon and have an email server pop-up, but actually display the address on the website.
    a good and regularly updated search engine so that a user can review the website effectively.
  • A foreign language translation link written in the language for which it translates. For example a button that says "En Espanol" is more effective than one that reads "In Spanish."
  • For more information about the results of this study, please contact Darrell West at (401) 863-1163 or see the full report online at www.InsidePolitics.org. The Appendix of that report provides e-government profiles for each of the 70 cities.


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