On March 19, 2009, the City of Somerville was one of the 118 recipients of an “e-government Award,” from Common Cause. This citation is given for providing online access to Board of Alderman agenda and minutes, budget information, and general by-laws. But, on closer inspection, Somerville came in “number one” for the most inaccessible website, with an outstanding 221 accessibility errors on its home page! The City of Somerville is a genuine loser when it comes to accessibility and inclusion.
It does not take extra resources and money to ensure that websites provide equally accessible information to readers and leaders of all ages and abilities who use assistive technologies to enjoy a level World Wide Web playing field. It requires knowledge, skill and will. Do Somerville’s elected leaders have the political will to include and respect all constituents in designing a better city?
As a local government website and a recipient of Federal funding, the City’s staff persons have free access to resources, tools and knowledge repositories to enable Somerville to comply with the Rehabilitation Act’s Section 508 Communications accessibility standards in all its programs.
Since at least July of 2006, I have alerted the city’s leaders and staff about many free resources to upgrade the City’s web accessibility, including the free Federal e-learning tools available to all at: http://www.section508.gov/index.cfm. In addition, I and others have continued to encourage the mayor’s designated ADA Coordinator, the Chief Information officer and Department directors to collaborate with knowledgeable community users and testers in order to improve the website’s useability, but to no avail: just a “stonewall” of silence at every attempt.
Aside from the Home page, other important programs linked on Somerville webpages also present barriers for people who use screen readers, etc. to enjoy a level playing field on the World Wide Web. Somerville’s Calendar page has 93 errors; the Mayor’s page clocks in at 70 errors; the Employment Opportunities page is not providing equal opportunities with its 36 errors; and, if a resident wishes to perform Online Transactions, they may be disabled by the 34 errors at that page. You can check the pages for yourself, using the WAVE tool at: http://wave.webaim.org/
Also please see the excellent discussions and teachings at: http://webaim.org/
My most recent attempt to interest the Chief Information officer (who accepted the e-government award for Somerville last month at the State House), was on November 1, 2008. In addition to a friendly note, I copied and pasted all the information found at http://www.ada.gov/websites2.htm . Again, I received no response or acknowledgement whatsoever, nor was there any improvement to the City’s website services. I hope this blog entry will awaken the Mayor and Mr. Viswanathan to their obligations and responsibilities to provide equally effective communications and information to all residents.
While Somerville had 221 errors, the majority of the awarded Cities and towns had less than 10 errors. Seven had no errors.
A WAVE audit of the accessibility errors (in numbers) found for each of the 118 Massachusetts cities and towns that received the “e-government” award this year from Common Cause/MA is found at:
Please note that the WAVE audit is only one step in the process. A genuine understanding of the issues, and a skillful application of the principles of creating accessible websites can only happen if there is a collaboration between diverse users and website architects.
UPDATE MAY 3, 2009: Common Cause has placed information and a link to this audit on their website’s e-government awards page at: http://www.commoncause.org/site/pp.asp?c=dkLNK1MQIwG&b=5027715 Scroll down to the bottom.
UPDATE December 16, 2009: The City of Somerville completed fixing these issues today! See 7th comment, below.