Why should US businesses make their sites accessible? Especially considering it’s not toothy law and where the law does apply, there is little to no compliance to serve as a worthy example. For instance, since 1998, sites affiliated with and for the US government are supposed to comply with Section 508 guidelines. But many, if not most, don’t. I suspected this was simply due to aged designs that would be made accessible when refurbished. After yesterday morning, though, I realize the US isn’t even close. I don’t particularly want to criticize my own country’s government, but the failings in the area of web accessibility is undeniably pathetic. Get with the program Uncle Sam!
Once a week I log into the Electronic Federal Tax Payment System (EFTPS) to pay my corporation’s payroll taxes. For two years I have complained and asked them to add form labels to the checkboxes in their forms and to include those inputs in within the labels to make clicking on them easier. The first request, from me as a person with a need, was completely ignored (even though it took me an hour on the phone to find someone to ignore me). The second request made a year later, from me as an “advocate for the disabled,” was finally responded to with a promise to make it right but that “these things take time.” Six months passed — nothing. I had high hopes, though, as the site was going to be re-designed. Great, I thought, they’ll get it right. I was wrong!
In the spirit of Joe Clark’s Failed Redesigns I must point out a few facts about the long-awaited EFTPS re-launch which I finally got to see yesterday morning.
- The site is built using tables for layout and deprecated elements; and this is with its HTML 4.01 Transitional Document Type (complete with an out-of-place XML language declaration and no identified character set).
The site offers no fieldsets and form labels (though there are labels on the checkboxes now). Instead it opts for stuff like these things I noted during my quick five-minute inspection:
<td width="35%" class="labelContainer" title="Employer Identification Number"> <span class="formLabel">EIN</span> (for Business) </td>
A span classed as a form label. That’s almost laughable. (The input is in another table cell.)
- The site’s login page, as one example, passes the automated Section 508 guidelines, but doesn’t really pass the guidelines.
- The site offers no site map that I could find (if it exists it’s not very usable if I can’t find it).
- Without image support the site is a mess and not very usable.
- The Accessibility Statement puts the responsibility of complaining about the site’s [lack of] accessibility on the user instead of embracing compliance in a proactive fashion.
- Link focus isn’t offered on in-content links. That’s so easy to do that it’s almost unforgivable.
- No use of lists or link separators. Basic stuff.
Now, I don’t want to fail to give credit where credit is due. The site is an improvement over the frames and tables build that occupied the domain previously. It does offer focal states on the top-level links, and the font sizing is relative, they do offer a glossary of acronyms and abbreviations, and other goodies I’m sure. But still, it’s failing many of the the basics. It looks as if the makers were more interested in passing automated validation than really addressing issues or meeting real needs. Instead they offer a statement about how well they did and that they’re open to feedback. Having done that — I tried to give feedback route — I know it’s not terribly effective. Even getting in touch I found myself bouncing around from department to department because nobody was responsible or knew who was.
The EFTPS isn’t the only government site failing to live up to what’s expected of it, and I don’t mean to pick on the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) in particular — trust me on this, I don’t like using them as an example — but I’m so disappointed. Many government sites are in the same shape and in need of a reboot which will hopefully be more successful. But it makes me wonder how US businesses, like Target, for example, are supposed to take web accessibility seriously when they aren’t obligated to do it, need to be sued to find the time or motivation, and the government they pay their taxes to doesn’t seem to care that much either. They talk the talk but don’t walk the walk. The US is falling well behind much of the world in this area.
Millions upon millions of dollars have been spent on meeting physical accessibility needs: wheelchair ramps, grab rails, restroom modifications, wider doorways. The relative spending involved in making web sites accessible is minimal by comparison — literally a fraction of the costs. But without leadership or legal action, it won’t happen. This leadership should come from the top. It shouldn’t be left to lowly bloggers like myself to raise a fuss and heighten awareness. But that’s what I’m trying to do as it’s just not happening otherwise.