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eGovernment Accessibility Analysis

Posted in: Browsers,CSS,JavaScript,Standards,Usability,WebDev by Richard Hearne on December 10, 2006
Internet Marketing Ireland
  1. Summary
  2. Download Report (.pdf)
  3. Introduction
  4. eGovernment
  5. National Disability Authority
  6. Accessibility
  7. New Internet Technologies
  8. Detailed Results
  9. Is the eGovernment interface accessible?
  10. Is it all Bad News?
  11. Lynx Browser Results
  12. Notes
  13. Errors, Ommissions & Corrections


The websites of a number of Government Departments, Agencies and Political Parties were tested for accessibility and coding standards. The sites were also checked for contemporary web technologies such as RSS.

Results Overview:

Government Department websites tested: 16
Valid CSS, (X)HTML & passing WCAG 1.0 Level A: 4 (25%)
Sites passing WCAG 1.0 Level A: 12 (75%)
Sites utilising RSS: 4 (25%)

Other Public websites tested: 18
Valid CSS, (X)HTML and passing WCAG 1.0 Level A: 0 (0%)
Sites passing WCAG 1.0 Level A: 12 (67%)
Sites utilising RSS: 2 (11%)

Political Party websites tested: 7
Valid CSS, (X)HTML and passing WCAG 1.0 Level A: 0 (0%)
Sites passing WCAG 1.0 Level A: 3 (43%)
Sites utilising RSS: 3 (43%)


There is one entity that impacts daily on each of our lives. That entity is the Government.

The Irish government is the body tasked with the administration of the land of Ireland. As such the government is responsible for making the law, enforcing the law, and maintaining the welfare of the citizens. It is no surprise that the interface of citizen and government is one of the most important elements of any political system.

Technology is the new interface

The first Information Society Action Plan was published in January 1999 and in November 2001 Ireland had become the top performer in an EU benchmarking report on public service on-line delivery.

In March 2002 the Irish Government published “New Connections – A strategy to realise the potential of the Information Society”. The document set forth an action plan identifying key infrastructures that required development, one of which was eGovernment.


eGovernment refers to the use of information and communication technology (ICT) as an interface between the citizens and government of a nation. Most often the term refers to the use of the Internet as a communication platform to allow the exchange of information and the execution of processes that had previously been undertaken via direct human interaction.

Introduction of eGovernment is an EU-level policy, and part of a broader EU strategy to make Europe the most dynamic and efficient economic block in the world. ICT is seen as the key facilitator of this strategy:

The successes and potential of eGovernment are already clearly visible with several EU countries ranking amongst the world leaders. Electronic invoicing in Denmark saves taxpayers €150 million and businesses €50 million a year. If introduced all over the EU, annual savings could add up to over €50 billion. Disabled people in Belgium can now obtain benefits over the Internet in seconds, whereas previously this took 3 or 4 weeks. Such time savings and convenience can become widespread and benefit all citizens in Europe in many public services. (Source: COM(2006) 173 final)

ICT is also seen as an enabler and facilitator of inclusive strategies as set out by the EU.

The 2002 document makes a number of references to the availability and accessibility of government websites:

  • 3.2.1 Website standards – Guidelines and standards for all public sector websites were produced in November 1999, building on best practice in relation to design, search facilities and accessibility guidelines.
  • 7.2.7 Accessibility – Under the eEurope Action Plan, all public sector websites are required to be WAI18 (level 2) compliant by end-2001.

National Disability Authority

The National Disability Authority is a statutory agency tasked with policy development, research and advice on standards designed to safeguard the rights of people with disabilities.

Is the eGovernment interface accessible?

The purpose of the study is to measure the accessibility of the primary government agency websites. The websites of the main political parties were also tested as those organisations are inherently connected to the administration of a democracy through their stated goals and policies.

The following tests were conducted to ascertain a measure of web standards and accessibility:

  1. W3C CSS validation service (here);
  2. Visual inspection for W3C badges;
  3. W3C Markup Validation Service v0.7.3 (here);
  4. HiSoftware Cynthia Says Section 508 Validation service (here);
  5. HiSoftware Cynthia Says WCAG 1.0 Priority 1 Validation service (here);
  6. HiSoftware Cynthia Says WCAG 1.0 Priorities 1&2 Validation service (here);
  7. HiSoftware Cynthia Says WCAG 1.0 Priorities 1&2&3 Validation service (here);
  8. Total Validator Professional desktop HTML & Accessibility validation tool (available here);
  9. WAVE WCAG 1.0 and Section 508 visual site overlay tool (here);
  10. Usability analysis of page in text browser (Lynx);
  11. Manual inspection of the mark-up to identify ‘cut-and-paste’ coding;
  12. Visual inspection for RSS feed, search for auto-discovery of RSS feed (Firefox);
  13. Visual inspection for blog;
  14. Visual inspection for real-time chat function.

In this study the 3 automated accessibility validators were used and in some case supplemented by manual evaluation in the Lynx text browser. Tests were limited to the homepage of each site (in some cases an inner page was tested – e.g. where splash pages were used and the home page was therefore an inner page). All tests were conducted during the period 20-31 November 2006.

While these tests cannot be guaranteed to properly ascertain the accessibility of any webpage, they do serve to highlight a number of flaws that would ordinarily render a page inaccessible via screen-reading technology.

Why search for RSS, blogs, real-time chat?

The Internet is evolving. Buzzwords such as web2.0 are common place. In my view what we are seeing is not a change but a natural progression. Today’s Internet is about interaction, multiple-way dialogue, and innovative communication channels.

This study therefore includes tests for interactive techniques and alternative distribution channels.


Homepages were checked for RSS (Really Simple Syndication) feeds. RSS is fast becoming the de-facto transport for on-line information syndication (note the recent integration of RSS into the latest browsers from both Microsoft and Mozilla). In cases where a feed was not apparent on a homepage the Press section (or similar) was also checked.

It would seem both appropriate and desirable that any entity which relies on news agencies to broadcast their message would utilise RSS.


While not appropriate for every context, blogs have been found to add transparency and openness within a political setting. Blogs also allow for meaningful dialogue between writer and audience.

Real-Time Chat

Used by the software industry for many years, real-time chat facilities allow Internet users to ‘chat’ with a support agent through a real-time messaging system.

Detailed Results

eGovernment Accessibility Study
[NOTE: Please click on the above image for a larger resolution and an alternative accessible version.]

Is the eGovernment interface accessible?

The study tested a total of 41 websites: 27 sites passed the automated WCAG 1.0 Priority 1 (A) validation tests.

Of the Government Department websites tested 12 from a total of 16 were compliant with WCAG 1.0 Priority 1 (A).

The lack of RSS feeds on 12 department websites was a particularly odd result given the relationship of Government with the public and press, and the Government’s need to shape public perception through the news channels.

The websites of the main political parties were found to be lacking in terms of contemporary Internet technologies: Only 3 of the 7 party websites included an RSS feed and none offered multiple feeds targeting different content and audiences.

4 of the 7 party websites tested failed WCAG 1.0 Priority 1 (A), and none validated for valid CSS/HTML coding standards.

Is it all Bad News?

A positive feature of this survey was the number of Government websites that aspired for a higher standard of validation than the basic WAI WCAG 1.0 Priority 1 (A).

At least 4 sites displayed WCAG Priority 2 (AA) badges on their homepages. Unfortunately only 1 actually attained that level of Accessibility.

At least 2 sites displayed or made claim to WCAG Priority 3 (AAA) Accessibility, the highest level of accessibility, however none did validate to this standard.

Some websites tested stated a clear aspiration to achieve high accessibility and informed visitors of the ongoing effort toward attaining that goal.

Validation is a binary test – a site either validates or it does not. In some cases failure can be remedied with minimal effort, while in others achieving compliance with both WAI WCAG 1.0 and W3C coding standards will require a substantial undertaking.

Creating a website that complies with WCAG is perhaps the easier phase of providing an accessible website. Maintaining WCAG compliance is by far the most difficult area of website accessibility, even more so given the dynamic nature of many of the sites tested.

Web standards, such as those developed by W3C and WAI, are the foundation of the ‘Inclusive Web’. Websites which comply with these standards will ensure that the broadest spectrum of visitors can access their information and benefit from the full potential the Internet has to offer.

Lynx Browser Results

In cases where accessibility anomalies were flagged by automated evaluation tools the site in question was manually evaluated in the Lynx text-browser.

The search facility on a number of Government sites was found to cause practical accessibility issues:

1. Department of the Taoiseach:

Department of the Taoiseach homepage view in Lynx browser.

Here is the mark-up for the search feature:

<form id="basicSearch" action="search.asp" method="get">
<div class="searchTop"><label for="searchWord" accesskey="4" /></div>
<div class="searchMiddle"><input class="searchFormInput" type="text" name="searchWord" id="searchWord" size="16" value="Enter keyword" /></div>
<div class="searchBottom"><input type="image" value="submit" name="search_go" id="search_go" src="/images/search/button_search.gif" alt="Search" /></div>

This is Andy Harold’s opinion on the above code:

This is an attempt to resolve the need to have a label tag and to put some default text in the text field. But appears to be done purely to satisfy accessibility checkers than real life requirements, and may even upset some screen readers. I’d say this is poor practice. The label should have some text within it and there shouldn’t be a ‘value’ attribute in the text field.

Putting default text in comes from 10.4 (Priority 3): Until user agents handle empty controls correctly, include default, place-holding characters in edit boxes and text areas. But this became outdated almost as soon as it was written, because all the user agents used by people with sight difficulties can handle empty controls. So the use of label tags meets all needs.

2. National Disability Authority

The mark-up powering the search facility:

<label for="query" accesskey="4">
<input name="q" id="query" title="Enter keywords to search for" value="" size="30" type="text">
<input title="Submit your search and view results" value="Search" type="submit">

Andy Harold’s opinion:

Enclosing input’s within a label is allowed by the standards so that you don’t have to supply a ‘for’ attribute as it the label implicitly refers to the enclosed input. Having the two inputs enclosed by the label, as in your example, makes this confusing. The fact that there is no text in the label tag makes this more confusing still. So although technically you can do this – ie passes automatic validation tests – it’s not the correct use of the label element and so wouldn’t be what a user agent (eg a screen reader) would be expecting and so may cause it problems. So, on that basis I wouldn’t pass it as P3 simply because it makes little sense.

Remember that the standards can’t cover every situation and so are purely there to guide you into making good decisions. In this case you could put some text in the label (and take the input elements out of it) if you really want it to be passed as P3. But if this makes the search facility too visually unappealing, just drop the label altogether. This may not make it technically ‘P3′ but more importantly it will still be accessible because of the title attribute, so it shouldn’t matter.

3. Pobail

Here is the Lynx view of the English version Pobail homepage:

Pobail English homepage view in Lynx browser.

And here is the underlying mark-up:

<label for="search">
<input type="text" name="qt" id="search" value="" maxlength="1991" />
<input type="submit" value="Go" class="submit" />

While the search element may pass automated validators, the form itself has little value to users of screen reading technologies. The ‘Advanced search options’ link is in another div.

[NOTE: Andy Harold is the developer of Total Validator. The tool is available as either a free Firefox plug-in or a professional desktop application.]

Study Notes:

  1. Strange use of JavaScript that depreciates in Lynx but prohibits access to links in non-JavaScript enabled browsers.
  2. The Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism displayed a WCAG 1.0 AA Badge.
  3. The Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism did not validate WCAG 1.0 AA
  4. RSS feed not included in META section and was not auto-discovered by browser. Auto-discovery allows browsers to display and bookmark RSS feeds.
  5. The Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment displayed a WCAG 1.0 AA Badge and passed that standard.
  6. RSS feed found on inner page with no META auto-detection.
  7. Address in footer is an image – ALT=”Department Address”. This is a particularly poor implementation as the address can neither be read by screen-reading technologies or copy-pasted form the browser.
  8. www.pobail.ie uses a splash homepage. Inner English language homepage tested.
  9. Empty LABEL (no text node) in page’s search form.
  10. Empty LABEL (no text node) in page’s search form.
  11. BASIS carried a WCAG 1.0 AA Badge and failed that standard.
  12. Framed site – each frameset was validated individually.
  13. WAVE cannot validate framed sites.
  14. In-line style attributes – no CSS file to validate.
  15. http://www.cso.ie/accessibility/accessibility.htm claims site is WCAG1.0 AAA compliant with timestamp. That page, which is unlikely to have been updated, failed AAA validation.
  16. RSS feed found on inner page with no META auto-detection.
  17. RSS via auto-discovery, but no mention on page.
  18. RSS feed found on inner page with no META detection.
  19. FAS Ireland carried a WCAG 1.0 AAA Badge but failed AAA validation.
  20. FAS Ireland homepage contained 6 errors when tested for WCAG 1.0 AAA.
  21. www.examinations.ie carried a WCAG 1.0 AA Badge.
  22. www.examinations.ie contained 30 errors when tested for WCAG 1.0 AA.
  23. In-line style attributes, framed site.
  24. No publicly published link was found.
  25. Resolved to the website of Clare County Development Board.
  26. www.libraries.ie uses JavaScript links to popup new pages – blocked in FF and IE7. The site was virtually unusable.
  27. Server not found error.
  28. Website did not respond for http://nda.ie – this could cause problems for many visitors. WAVE validator was served the login page so WAVE analysis could not be performed. There were also some issues with the search form which are discussed toward the end of this document.

Page URLs

Government Departments
Foreign Affairs, Dept. of
Agriculture and Food, Dept. of
Arts, Sport and Tourism, Dept. of
Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, Dept. of
Health and Children, Dept. of
Education and Science, Dept. of
Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Dept. of
Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Dept. of
Finance, Dept. of
Defence, Dept. of
Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Dept. of
Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Dept. of
Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Dept. of
Taoiseach, Dept. of the
Transport, Dept. of
Social and Family Affairs, Dept. of

Government Informational Portals
Business Access to State Information and Services
Public Service Information for Ireland

Other Government Websites
Office of the Revenue Commissioner
Official website of the President of Ireland
The Courts Service of Ireland
The Office of Public Works
Central Statistics Office

Political Party Websites
Fianna Fail
Fianna Geil
The Labour Party
The Green Party
Progressive Democrats
Socialist and Workers Part
Sinn Fein

Websites Highlighted in Society Action Plan
Revenue Online Service (ROS)
FÁS e-recruitment
Land Registry
Examination results
CAO (Central Applications Office)
Driving tests
Government Contracts
Public Service Recruitment
National Sheep Identification System (NSIS)
Farmer IT Training

National Disability Authority

Errors, Ommissions & Corrections:

  1. 11-December-2006 12.01PM Since publishing the report it has been brought to my attention that the Sinn Fein website does indeed have an RSS feed. The feed is available at http://www.sinnfein.ie/news/ in the side-bar. My apologies to Sinn Fein for any inconvenience caused by this ommission.
You should subscribe to the RSS Feed here for updates.
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  1. [...] From a press release from Red Cardinal and report on their blog, it seems that the Irish Government websites aren’t really that good for accessibility. The exceptions being Dept. of Arts, Sports and Tourism, Dept. Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Dept. of Finance, Dept. of Social and Family Affairs. [...]

    Pingback by Damien Mulley » Blog Archive » Govt Websites lack basic accessibility standards - Red Cardinal — December 10, 2006 @ 9:30 pm

  2. An excellent read Richard. Well done on all that hard work.

    I was very surprised to read “At least 2 sites displayed or made claim to WCAG Priority 3 (AAA) Accessibility, the highest level of accessibility, however none did validate to this standard”. Can you outline what entities they were?

    Comment by Dave Davis — December 11, 2006 @ 7:42 am

  3. Dave

    I will email you the details a little later today.



    Comment by Richard Hearne — December 11, 2006 @ 9:48 am

  4. Cheers Richard. See you got a nice mention on Silicon Republic (But no link love). Congrats.

    Comment by Dave Davis — December 11, 2006 @ 10:09 am

  5. Thanks Dave – I hadn’t seen that.

    Unfortunately I was sightly mis-quoted – “That is the lowest priority these sites are expected to meet under the Disability Act, 2005,”

    I mentioned the Act and the lowest priority, but now in this context…



    Comment by Richard Hearne — December 11, 2006 @ 10:15 am

  6. Yea, I noticed that too. Perhaps that can be edited/clarified before it maybe makes the press?

    Damien Mulley mentioned on his blog you may be on the radio about this today. If so, let us know, I’d love to tune in.

    Comment by Dave Davis — December 11, 2006 @ 10:19 am

  7. [...] As I am not a journalist my contact with the political parties and government is all done via the Internet. Thus this survey by Red Cardinal. comes as no surprise. Government Department sites 25% Failed the minimum standard for accessibility 75% Failed both minimum accessibility and basic coding standards [...]

    Pingback by E-government at Irish Election — December 11, 2006 @ 10:39 am

  8. Congratulations Richard…

    You’ve made it into ENN too -


    Comment by Grandad — December 11, 2006 @ 2:45 pm

  9. Thank you Senior namesake

    If you are unlucky enough to live in Clare or the midlands you might have had to sit through my dulcet tones on the radio earlier also :(

    Best Rgds


    Comment by Richard Hearne — December 11, 2006 @ 3:10 pm

  10. [...] You can read the full report on Richard’s site Share and Enjoy:These icons link to social bookmarking sites where readers can share and discover new web pages. [...]

    Pingback by Michele Neylon :: Pensieri » Blog Archive » Egovernment Failing? — December 11, 2006 @ 3:24 pm

  11. “If you are unlucky enough to live in Clare or the midlands you might have had to sit through my dulcet tones on the radio earlier also”

    No. Unlucky enough to live in the East [though we are getting the better weather!] I presume you’ll be posting an MPEG of the broadcast?

    Comment by Grandad — December 11, 2006 @ 4:04 pm

  12. Why do I feel you’re being serious?

    With any luck there were transmission difficulties during both broadcasts. Let’s just say I’m not completely at ease discussing a subject which isn’t my core competence. Now, had they asked me about Google they would have had to cut me off.

    Comment by Richard Hearne — December 11, 2006 @ 4:18 pm

  13. I am always serious.

    And if you want expertise on Google then just ask me. You read my blog. Number One ranking? Can you beat that?

    Comment by Grandad — December 11, 2006 @ 4:26 pm

  14. What’s your number one ranking for this time? ;)

    Comment by Dave Davis — December 11, 2006 @ 4:33 pm

  15. All future requests for interviews on any Google-related topics will henceforth be forwarded to you, sorry your agent (now that you’re A-list).

    Comment by Richard Hearne — December 11, 2006 @ 4:33 pm

  16. “What’s your number one ranking for this time? ;)”

    nude grandad

    “All future requests for interviews on any Google-related topics will henceforth be forwarded to you, sorry your agent (now that you’re A-list).”

    Provided you take your clothes off.

    Comment by Grandad — December 11, 2006 @ 4:48 pm

  17. An interesting aside on accessibility pointed out to me at the weekend:


    The Land Registry has a very useful site which lets you view their records online, they are taking the “revolutionary” steps of making the paid for section of the site available between 7AM and 8PM weekdays and 7AM to Noon on Saturdays!

    Given how much people pay for access to the information it’s barely accessible outside of regular business hours.

    Comment by Michael — December 12, 2006 @ 1:15 pm

  18. [...] After Missing Sinn Fein’s RSS feed for my eGovernment Study I thought it might be a good idea to take a look at RSS – what it is and how to use it. [...]

    Pingback by Really Simple Guide to RSS | Search Engine Optimisation Ireland .:. Red Cardinal — December 15, 2006 @ 9:04 am

  19. I notice the brand new Dept of Foreign Affairs site is displaying a W3C tick badge, with a convenient link to the validator. Why the developers didn’t use it is beyond me.

    Comment by Stewart Curry — December 18, 2006 @ 2:56 pm

  20. Well done Richard, that research took some time I bet. I’m doing some e-Gov research at the moment and would appreciate as many responses as possible (open until mid May ’07)

    see link below…


    Some topical info on Irelands eGove achievements can be found at:

    Comment by JohnMcC — April 30, 2007 @ 4:04 pm

  21. http://validator.w3.org/check?uri=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.redcardinal.ie%2Fwebdev%2F10-12-2006%2Firish-egovernment-accessibility-analysis%2F&charset=(detect+automatically)&doctype=Inline&group=0&user-agent=W3C_Validator%2F1.606

    This page doesn’t validate correctly.

    Comment by cormac — February 23, 2009 @ 1:50 pm

  22. It would be good to se updated research, especially in focus with web 2.0 technologies, and social media. To see if government spends money that we give them more wisely.

    Comment by Sanovnik — July 2, 2011 @ 3:17 pm

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