Critique – New Section 508 Web Site

Below are suggestions for improving the web accessibility of the new United States government Section 508 web site. Well, from analyzing the home page at least. This is basic stuff and I’m very disappointed that the site leaves so much to be desired. The site, which is U.S. government law with rules for web accessibility, should itself be an example of an accessible web site. And with the recent ADA anniversary, this was a great opportunity to move forward in the field of web accessibility. But instead, unfortunately, this was a failed attempt. The U.S. government has a lot of work to do.

Core Issues

  • No headings! Not one. Need headings in markup, period. There are many headings indicated visually, but inappropriately coded such as using strong or div tags.
  • Labels for text inputs are incorrect; there’s a label tag, but no text label! See the search text and email address for news signup.
  • Alternative text for many images need improvement such as removing “Graphic for”. Better yet, do not use a graphic when it’s not needed; text is fine in the following two cases. (Losing the inline style would also be good.)
    • Example 1:
      Graphic for how do I get my 508 questions answered
    • Example 2:
      Graphic for An Official Website of the United States Government
  • No keyboard focus to match mouse hover effect. In addition, a hover & focus could be added in several places to make it more usable, such as the first-level items in the left/main navigation menu.
  • The “AddThis” social media feature requires JavaScript and in either case is not keyboard accessible.
  • No ARIA implemented, not even landmark roles to help with navigation.
  • Links such as “read more >>” have no context; not unique. Also recommend removing the “>” character (better to use CSS for these types of markers/symbols).
  • Text links are not clear. The underlines are removed and dark blue not distinct enough from black text.
  • Poor progressive enhancement. With JavaScript off, the menu options do not fully display and the content of the slider feature is not displayed.
  • Redundant title attributes must go! I’m so tired of seeing this. It’s not useful but on the contrary gets in the way; and it creates code bloat. Example: Link Policy
  • The placeholder email content is confusing. The example is not even a valid email address (missing the top-level domain). The feature can be done with unobtrusive JavaScript and even use the label text, if it existed.

Other Issues

  • Horizontal scrollbars in 1024 resolution. Need better resizing/width design.
  • Lots of CSS in header (and inline); much better to use external file.
  • The attribute language=”JavaScript” not needed in XHTML.
  • Why display the date? Just adds to cluttered screen.
  • Print button not needed. Just adds to cluttered screen. Requires JavaScript.
  • Conditional comment for IE6 CSS should be in head, not body.
  • Text resizing tool not needed; let the browser do this! And clutters screen.
  • Some navigation items use lists while others do not.
  • Image need better optimization/compression. One image alone in the slider feature is over 150k and can easily be compressed to 35k.
  • 67 XHTML validation errors.


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