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Readability & Accessibility Study From Brown University

From: Patrick Burke <burke@ucla.edu>
Date: Wed, 17 Sep 2003 12:09:53 -0700
Message-Id: <>
To: w3c-wai-ig@w3.org

Some progress toward quantifying or at least kick-starting the discussion 
of Checkpoint 14.1:<br><br>

Brown University's 2003 survey of U.S. e-government highlights problems 
with web site readability & accessibility.

State and Federal E-Government in the United States, 2003

By Darrell M. West, Brown University (401-863-1163) Email: 
September, 2003


The Executive Summary is pasted below.


This report presents the fourth annual update on the features that are 
available online through American state and federal government websites. 
Using a detailed analysis of 1,663 state and federal government sites, we 
measure what is online, what variations exist across the country as well as 
between state and national government sites, and how e-government sites 
respond to citizen requests for information. We examine the differences 
that exist across the 50 states and between the state and federal 
governments as well as compare the Summer, 2003 results to 2000, 2001, and 

We use three new features in our study this year. First, we rely on the 
Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level Readability test to evaluate the readability of 
government websites. With half of Americans reading at no higher than the 
8th grade level, we wanted to determine how accessible government sites are 
to the citizenry.
Second, we test actual disability accessibility using the "Bobby" 
evaluation software operated by Watchfire. Relying on both Section 508 and 
W3C Priority One Level guidelines, we examine every state and federal 
website for accessibility. Third, we look to see whether websites are 
accessible through any type of handheld device or personal digital 
assistant. This included mechanisms such as pagers, mobile phones, or other 
types of PDAs.

Among the more important findings of the research are the following:

1) 89 percent of government websites are not easily accessible to the 
citizenry because the sites read at higher than an eighth grade level of 
literacy. Fully two-thirds of all sites have language consistent with a 
12th grade reading level, which is much higher than that of the average 

2) Only 34 percent of state and federal sites in the United States meet the 
W3C disability guidelines and only 24 percent satisfy Section 508 of the 
U.S. Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Federal sites (47 percent) are more likely 
to meet the W3C standard than states (33 percent).

3) The presence of online services has improved over the last year. This 
year, 44 percent of state and federal sites have services that are fully 
executable online, compared to 23 percent last year.

4) One percent of government sites are accessible through personal digital 
assistants, pagers, or mobile phones.

5) There continue to be high levels of access to publications (98 percent) 
and data bases (80 percent).

6) A growing number of sites offer privacy and security policy statements. 
This year, 54 percent have some form of privacy policy on their site, up 
from 43 percent in 2002. Thirty-seven percent now have a visible security 
policy, up from 34 percent last year.

7) 13 percent of sites offered any sort of foreign language translation 
feature, up from the seven percent we found last year.

8) 17 percent of government websites have restricted areas, less than one 
percent have premium features requiring payment for access, and one percent 
feature ads.

9) States vary enormously in their overall ranking based on web presence. 
The highest ranking sites include Massachusetts, Texas, Indiana, Tennessee, 
California, Michigan, Pennsylvania, New York, Florida, and Kentucky. The 
lowest ranking states are Alaska, New Mexico, Nebraska, Mississippi, 
Alabama, Hawaii, and Vermont.

10) In terms of federal agencies, top-rated websites include FirstGov (the 
U.S. portal), Federal Communications Commission, Social Security 
Administration, Internal Revenue Service, Library of Congress, Postal 
Service, Dept. of Treasury, and Securities and Exchange Commission. The 
lowest-rated sites are the various federal circuit courts of appeals. The 
new Homeland Security Department scores in the lower third of federal agencies.

11) Government officials are more responsive this year in answering email 
queries. Whereas 55 percent answered our sample query last year, 68 percent 
did so this year. This is just below what other studies have found in the 
private sector. Emails sent to America's 100 largest corporations have a 70 
percent response rate, according to a recent study done by the Customer 
Respect Group.
Received on Wednesday, 17 September 2003 15:12:46 UTC

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