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Party Politics Exclude The Disabled Political Party Websites Discriminate Against People With Disabilities

Editor's Note: The following article is reprinted from (New Zealand) and is dated August 26, 2005.

A recent survey by W 3 A Limited of the accessibility of the big 6 political party home pages has revealed that all of them fail to provide even the basic facilities to make it easier for people with disabilities to access their sites.

Bruce Aylward, CEO of W 3 A Limited, comments: "Coming up to the elections, one would expect the parties to shout their policies from the rooftops. Their websites are ideal vehicles from which to inform everybody of their policies and promises for a brighter future.

"Unfortunately, it seems that one sector of our community has been forgotten again."

The sector that Mr. Aylward refers to is the community of people with disabilities. They cannot always access a website in the same way that an able-bodied person might, and have special needs that must be considered when building a website.

An international standard has been around since 1999, which describes the things that a web designer can do to make it easier for people with disabilities to access a site. It is called the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, or WCAG.

Mr. Aylward again: "The WCAG defined three levels of accessibility: levels A, AA and AAA. Yet all 5 of the party websites that we have surveyed did not even meet the minimum requirements.

"This is particularly despairing in the light of the Labour Government's commitment to make ALL government sites accessible by January 2006, as well as the fact that they are breaching the Human Rights Act."

The survey was done against all the level A checkpoints of the WCAG on the entry page for each of the following parties: Labour, Greens, National, New Zealand First, Maori Party and ACT New Zealand.

Below is a summary of the problems that were identified.

  • Images are missing ALT attributes: Blind internet surfers cannot see the images on a site and rely on a technology called screen readers to read out any text on the site in a computer voice. If a site uses images with ALT attributes, then the screen reader can read out the text in the ALT attribute in the place of the image. This is especially important when images are used for links, for example, on the Labour party's entry page.

Labour, Greens, National, New Zealand First and the Maori Party are all missing ALT attributes for at least some of their images.

In fact, this is what the page looks like if you disable all images.

Picture with Article: Graphic of what the website looks like without images.

  • ALT attributes missing from input elements: Input elements are the areas on a web form where a user can input, for example, their name or select items from a list. On the screen, it is easy to see which label relates to a particular field and, thus, what information to enter into that field. But if you cannot see the label, then you need some other way to identify the purpose of the field, AKA the ALT attribute on the input field.

Labour, Greens, National, New Zealand First and ACT New Zealand all failed to provide the ALT attributes on their input fields.

  • Most of the parties also had audio and video clips of their various speeches. In some cases, transcripts of those clips are provided. Unfortunately, most of the speeches still remain totally inaccessible to people with severe hearing impairments, as no transcripts or subscripts for videos are provided.

  • When a blind surfer uses a screen reader on a website, they have to listen through the menu for every page before they get to the content. Things can be made a bit easier by providing a "Skip to Content" link before the menu. That way, the surfer can decide when to listen to the menu and when to go directly to the content.

Most of the sites did not provide such a link. ACT New Zealand did provide a "Skip Navigation" link, but it did not work.

  • The Maori party used frames to implement their sites but did not provide titles for each of the frames, making it difficult for a blind surfer to find their way around and to understand what each of the frames are for.

  • Some surfers may disable JavaScript on their browsers. For example, people who are susceptible to epileptic seizures may disable JavaScript to prevent animations, which could trigger their seizures.

The Greens, National, New Zealand First and the Maori Party all have functionality on their sites, which does not work at all if JavaScript is disabled and they have no other mechanisms to access the same information.

Even though the Labour party provides a text-only version of their site, there is no way to access that version from the entry page.

Mr. Aylward concludes: "The political parties should be setting an example for the rest of the country and not exclude anybody, particularly as they are supposed to represent the entire population, not just the able bodied sections of the community."

About W 3 A Limited

W 3 A Limited is an independent website audit company based in Wellington, NZ. Services offered include a range of audits to ensure that company websites and intranets comply with the NZ Human Rights Act, as well as training courses in how to develop accessible websites. The company aims to promote the issue of website accessibility, as well as helping website designers to design more accessible websites.