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California State Auditor Report Number : 2014-131 (June 2, 2015)

California State Government Websites—Departments Must Improve Website Accessibility So That Persons With Disabilities Have Comparable Access to State Services Online

June 2, 2015 2014-131

The Governor of California
President pro Tempore of the Senate
Speaker of the Assembly
State Capitol
Sacramento, California 95814

Dear Governor and Legislative Leaders:

As requested by the Joint Legislative Audit Committee, the California State Auditor presents this audit report concerning the State’s compliance with federal and state web accessibility standards. Since January 2003, state law has required state governmental entities to comply with federal requirements that mandate that persons with disabilities have access to and use of information and data that is comparable to the access and use by those without disabilities. In addition to adopting the federal standards in 2003, California added new standards for accessible websites in June 2006. In 2013, the Public Policy Institute of California reported that 47 percent of Californians said they use the Internet to access government resources. In addition, data on the California state government home page showed that in January 2015 there were millions of unique visits to California government websites.

Despite the growing use of government services online and the State’s accessibility requirements, the departments’ websites we reviewed during this audit are not fully accessible to persons with disabilities. Although the violations of web accessibility standards ranged in severity, some of them are so severe that elements of the departments’ websites were completely inaccessible to users with disabilities while other violations may prevent persons with disabilities from completing tasks necessary to access certain online services. For example, we found that, at the time of our review, persons with disabilities who navigate the Internet using a keyboard would not be able to start an online application for health insurance using Covered California’s website.

Most of the departments we reviewed did not regularly test updates to their websites to ensure that the websites were accessible after the updates. Of the four departments we reviewed, only Franchise Tax Board conducted regular accessibility testing on updates to its website. In some cases when departments did not thoroughly test updates to their websites for accessibility, we found critical accessibility errors on updated portions of the departments’ websites.

Because of the violations of accessibility standards on the websites of the departments we reviewed and the lack of regular accessibility testing at most of those departments, we believe that California would benefit from requiring web accessibility training for staff involved in the procurement or development of websites and from naming the California Department of Technology (CalTech) as the department responsible for overseeing governmental entities’ efforts to test their websites for accessibility. Additionally, we believe CalTech should provide direction to state departments that specifies the method by which departments should conduct web accessibility testing. Increased and standardized web accessibility testing in combination with required training would increase the likelihood that state websites would be accessible to persons with disabilities who attempt to access critical services and information through those websites. Finally, we recommend that the Legislature amend state law to require all state websites to comply with updated standards that could help make California government websites more accessible.

Respectfully submitted,

State Auditor

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