Putting Web sites to the test
Desiree Sturdevant’s screen reader operates by speaking aloud the words on the Web sites she visits. Sturdevant, who is blind, works as an accessibility experience specialist at Knowbility, a nonprofit organization in Austin, Texas.
When she visited the updated Recovery.gov Web site last month, Sturdevant was eager to collect data through one of its new features: an interactive map that links to data on spending under the stimulus law in each state.
The task was frustrating because although some of the data was fine, other figures were a jumble, she said. “Unfortunately … the tables were not correctly tagged,” she added. “The screen reader was reading off numbers, but it was really hard to tell what the numbers were for.”
Sturdevant, who has more than 10 years of experience with Web screen readers, said she often works around such obstacles by guessing what additional commands might work and figuring out alternative ways to get the information she wants.
Disability advocates alerted the Obama administration to the problems with Recovery.gov, and many of them have since been corrected.
However, Sturdevant said her experience at Recovery.gov is not unusual. She has hit similar roadblocks at WhiteHouse.gov, Data.gov and Disability.gov.
“They are not unusable sites but nor are they completely accessible,” Sturdevant said.
The easiest sites to navigate are the mobile versions of Facebook and Amazon, she added. She rates federal Web sites at about 60 percent to 70 percent accessible overall.
“The federal Web sites have done more than the average,” Sturdevant said. "They get it; they want to make it work. But they need more user tests for accessibility, not just tests with tools. I consider the user tests to be very important.”
Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.