Setting the priorities
When we started examining the e-government initiatives' accessibility, the promise from Bush administration officials loomed large: E-government Web sites would be accessible for all users. They had thrown down the gauntlet.
In fact, making those sites accessible to people with disabilities is the law — Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act mandates accessibility.
Clearly, agencies have made significant progress. If the e-government applications were graded on a scale, many would pass.
Yet, a survey shows that none of the sites is fully accessible. And interested parties have asked: Can a site be "almost" compliant? And how do you define compliance, anyway?
We understand how agency officials could get frustrated. Regardless of what they do, they are told to do more. And even if they design Web sites that are accessible, they are questioned about whether the sites are accessible enough. Then there are all the other e-government rules, regulations and requirements that agencies must juggle, such as privacy and security, just to name two.
Where does accessibility sit on the priority list? There are no easy answers, and Karen Evans, the Office of Management and Budget's administrator for e-government and IT, has the titanic task of outlining the priorities.
The question of priorities exists with nearly every issue. But there
are steps that agencies can take to improve compliance and make the
e-government sites more accessible.
The best place to start is with education and training. Getting accessibility on the radar screen is a critical first step.
Then, by working with groups that represent those with disabilities, agency officials can develop a checklist so they can prioritize the list of tasks that will make the sites fully accessible.
Perfection is the goal, but all improvements help.