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How Election Websites Exclude Users with Disabilities

C.P. Hoffman 09/13/17

Voting is one of the most important rights and privileges held by American citizens, but remains inaccessible to many individuals with disabilities. Although progress has been made in recent years to make physical polling places and voting machines accessible, state and county board of elections websites that provide crucial services remain all-too-often inaccessible.

People with disabilities face a wide range of problems when accessing the internet to:

  • Register to vote
  • Update their voter registration
  • Find their polling places
  • Learn about accessible voting options
  • Check election results

Some common issues faced by voters with disabilities include:

Inaccessible Voter Registration Forms

Voter registration forms are often available only as PDFs, which can have many accessibility problems, including:

  • Lack of optical character recognition
  • Missing or mislabeled form fields
  • Text improperly coded for screen readers
  • Inability to notify users of where errors occur

Websites not Properly Coded for Screen Readers

Many individuals who are blind or ow vision access the internet through the use of a screen reader, such as JAWS or NVDA for desktop computers, or VoiceOver for iOS devices. A screen reader reads out loud what would otherwise appear on the monitor or mobile device.

Screen readers, however, will not function properly if the web or mobile content is not properly coded. When websites are not accessible to screen readers, individuals who are blind or low vision may be prevented from registering to vote, locating their polling place, or learning about accessible alternatives available to them, such as curbside voting.

Images without Alternative Text

Websites often convey important information through images, rather than through text. Whether it’s photographs, tables, charts, maps, or other visuals, this information will be inaccessible to user who are blind or low vision. The solution is to code the image with descriptive alternative text that is read by the browser or screen reader.

For elections websites, alternative text may be needed for:

  • A map of polling locations in the city
  • A floor plan of a polling location, showing accessible entrances
  • A sample ballot
  • A guide showing how to properly fill out a ballot

Alternative text should contain the same information that a person with average vision would be able to get from looking at the image.

Website Cannot Be Navigated with Keyboard

Many people with disabilities are unable to navigate websites with a mouse, either because of visual impairment or limited mobility. For these users, it is critical that a website can be navigated with a keyboard and that all clickable elements can be accessed through the use of the Tab and Enter keys. Unfortunately, even a single non-selectable element—such as the “Submit” button on a form—can make a web page inaccessible to keyboard users.

Insufficient Color Contrast

Lack of color contrast between text and the background can make it difficult for individuals with low vision (e.g., legally blind, colorblind, etc.) and individuals with learning disabilities (e.g., dyslexia) to read the information on the page, even if it is otherwise well laid-out. For example, light blue or white text on a grey background can be particularly difficult to read. There are many free resources online for validating proper color contrast, including Level Access’s Color Contrast Checker.

Is Your Organization at Legal Risk Because of its Inaccessible Website?

If your website is inaccessible to individuals with disabilities, it could be in violation of a number of federal laws, including the Americans with Disabilities Act.  Download our free Voting and Digital Accessibility Whitepaper to learn more!

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