City of DeKalb’s Website Still Has Accessibility Issues – Updated

***Update*** 6/25/2015: I finally got a response to my letter telling council and top management staff about accessibility issues with the newly-launched city website. Someone had handed off the letter to DeKalb’s management analyst, Lauren Stott (one of the staff members who withheld estimates for a simple accessibility fix vs. a complete redesign, despite direct requests for this information from council members). Here’s what she said:

Thanks for your email. The City has worked with CivicPlus to ensure website accessibility is provided for all users. Web-based accessibility checkers such as wave.webaim.org and Powermapper.com access a website’s html code, but aren’t as effective in assessing content customized with CSS (Cascading Style Sheets). The City of DeKalb’s website, in its state of being fully customized, heavily utilizes the CSS design language along with html. Therefore, the Web-based accessibility checkers register items on the site as errors, when in fact they just represent a departure from the typical html language the accessibility tools are designed and equipped to assess. In its contract with the City of DeKalb, the website developer has agreed to follow not only Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act but also Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0. The portion of the agreement that outlines those specific requirements is included below.

1. While the contract might call for complying with WCAG, that is certainly not what happened. The “Accessibility” page on the website says the site conforms to Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act, period. Another “tell” is the color contrast problem. Section 508 only mentions contrast in that it requires that applications not interfere with user settings. WCAG 2.0 requires a contrast ratio between text and foreground be set within a certain range. Many pages do not meet this requirement, such as the “Job Opportunities” page that, according to the WAVE checker, contains 27 contrast errors between background and link text.

2. Since Mac McIntyre introduced us to the WAVE accessibility tool, Mac sent Stott’s explanation to WAVE. Here’s what their representative had to say:

WAVE evaluates page accessibility after CSS has been applied and account for CSS in identifying potential accessibility issues. The developer’s explanation is not accurate. Each of the errors identified by WAVE indicate an actual end user accessibility issue.

I told Lauren Stott I didn’t wish to discuss this anymore with a person whose word I can’t take at face value. Then I invited city council members to send Stott’s explanation to accessibility checker websites for themselves.

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Original Post

City of DeKalb has launched its new website. I allowed them some time to discover and fix glitches but now (especially since none of the dozen people contacted at city hall have responded to my concerns) it’s time to post.

What with all the fudging and carpetbagging and Feds and spending to get to this point, the introduction of the site at the city council’s last Committee of the Whole meeting seemed anticlimactic. Management analyst Lauren Stott thanked so many individuals and departments she might as well have been accepting an Academy Award. But she didn’t think it fit to show gratitude to the taxpayers, which kept us well grounded and unlikely to swoon over the bells and whistles she had to show us.

The bottom line, of course, is whether DeKalb’s website is functional and compliant with Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 Level AA Success Criteria and Other Conformance Requirements (WCAG 2.0 AA) as specified by the city’s settlement agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice.

The answer appears to be “no.”

City staff responsible for the site failed to notice (or didn’t care) that the web designer used Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act as the accessibility standard instead of WCAG 2.0 as specified in the agreement with DOJ. That was a mistake. While the two do overlap a lot, they are not identical and it’s WCAG that is more complete and specific.

Mac McIntyre of DeKalb County Online shared with the City Barbs Facebook Group an online tool for checking website accessibility. I fed in the City of DeKalb homepage (http://cityofdekalb.com) and received a report of 185 errors and accessibility issues. That’s just the home page.

Then I waited a week to see if maybe a clean-up crew had gone in and fixed the site. Nope. The home page still contains a reported 185 errors and issues, the “Government” page has 120, “Job Opportunities” has 299, and the page where you sign up to get emergency alerts has 99.

See for yourself at: wave.webaim.org.

There are other online accessibility tools. The SortSite Tool at Powermapper.com will sample several pages of a site and the report breaks down the issues specific to the WCAG 2.0 performance we are particularly concerned with.

DeKalb’s supposed to be meeting Level AA requirements, which means complying with both Level A and Level AA rules. The Powermapper tool found 10 Level A issues in a two-page sample (the home and “Facilities” pages), which means a user who requires accessibility measures would likely find it impossible to use these pages.

I fed a few pages into AChecker and Cynthia Says as well, to satisfy myself that results are reasonably duplicated across web-based accessibility checkers.

Most of the issues fall into two categories: missing/incorrect attributes and contrast errors. One example of an attribute would be alternate text (AKA “alt tag”) for an image that a user of assistive technology (e.g., content reader) can make sense of. As for contrast errors, see a couple dozen for yourself on the “Job Opportunities” page — according to checking tools, the colors chosen for link text do not contrast enough with the background to meet the minimum contrast requirements of WCAG 2.0 Level AA.

DeKalb has until July 3 to fix these problems. After that, DOJ could conduct its own accessibility test at any time.