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Government websites: Access denied to special users

by Sanchia de Souza last modified Apr 02, 2011 04:17 PM
Article by L. Subramani in the Deccan Herald, 8 December 2008

The homepages of 23 government agencies have been identified as inaccessible to special users, the city-based Centre for Internet and Society has found.

The organisation carried out an automated test using software tools, on websites of agencies like the National Informatics Centre, Lok Sabha, Rajya Sabha, Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, Ministry of HRD etc, the majority of which have failed to meet even the basic access criteria laid down in the guidelines of Worldwide Web Consortium (W3C).

“Except for the Reserve Bank of India and CMC Vellore, all the sites don't even meet priority 1 of WCAG (W3C Access Guidelines), which would ensure availability of text for non-text elements (images) and other graphical contents that can't be read out by screen reader software,” said Nirmita Narasimhan, who carried out the tests at CIS. She mentioned that all of the websites failed in priority 2  and 3 of the guidelines.

“Despite being one of the most important sites for persons with disability, the homepage of the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment - which contains documents and important government schemes for persons with disability - has completely failed to meet the accessibility criteria.

This is not only against the spirit of laws that guarantee freedom of information, but also contradicts the government's own policy of making websites accessible to persons with disability,” she added.

Handbook

Nirmita pointed out that the Right To Information handbook - an important reference for persons with disability, demanding information from government and private organisations - has been provided in an inaccessible document format.

She echoed the common contention that persons with disability are deprived of one of the most important aspects of modern technology, despite being empowered by technologies like screen readers and speech recognition software.

The information, coming soon after the International Day for Persons with Disabilities was observed, raises question marks over the government's commitment to break barriers, and its genuineness in creating an accessible society as per the Persons with Disability act (1995) and the United Nations Convention for the Rights of Persons with Disability, to which it has been one of the early signatories.

Ganesh Prasad, Director (Systems and Process) at Samarthanam Trust for the Disabled described the test results as ‘not surprising, but certainly disappointing.’

“Given the urban conditions, visiting a place in person has become one of the most difficult things for persons with disability,” Prasad said.

Priority 1 of the guidelines calls for text descriptions of images or alternative pages with text contents, while priority 2 asks for the turning off of auto refresh and other deprecated features of W3C technologies, and recommends semantic information of the page for persons with disability to instantly know the contents.

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Read the article on the Deccan Herald website here. 

 

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