SACRAMENTO (CN) – California must improve access to its health insurance exchange and other government websites for its 4 million disabled citizens, the State Auditor’s Office said in a report Tuesday.
The 91-page audit says the state’s 2006 web accessibility standards are outdated and have contributed to access problems at four state departments: the Department of Human Resources, Community Colleges, Covered California and the Franchise Tax Board.
Problems disabled users encountered at government-run sites included websites quickly timing out and health coverage applications inaccessible to people not using a conventional mouse.
Of the four websites focused on in the audit, Covered California contained the highest amount of violations, including a glitch that barred keyboard-only users from starting a health insurance application.
The audit said Covered California, the state’s version of the Affordable Care Act, was unaware of the barrier and didn’t fix the problem until May.
“Covered California took an average of 245 days from its release to resolve these defects,” the audit states. “One of these unresolved defects was that alternative text, which screen reader users rely on to describe to them what images are found on a web page, was missing from most of the images on the site’s pages.”
Covered California did not respond to a request for comment.
The Public Policy Institute of California reported in 2013 that 47 percent of Californians said they use the Internet to seek access to government services.
The audit cited Covered California for 287 critical errors on the 55 pages it reviewed; the next highest was the Community Colleges website with 26 violations on 58 pages.
While the audit revealed plenty of violations in government sites, it found comparatively few complaints from users about accessibility of the websites.
No complaints had been registered against Covered California since June 2013 and only five complaints since 2012 regarding the Community Colleges website.
State Auditor Elaine Howle offered minimal contact information on the websites as a possible explanation of the few complaints registered.
Howle criticized the Franchise Tax Board’s website for not listing an email address for complaints about its site, and found that users unable to use a mouse could not register an account to submit a tax return.
Howle recommended that the Legislature force state websites to comply with updated standards and name CalTech as the lead agency for training government entities to comply with accessibility standards. She also suggested that the agencies report biennially to CalTech on the self-testing of its websites and publish the results.
“California needs better guidance and oversight to ensure that departments adequately test their websites for accessibility and thereby maintain websites that are accessible to users with disabilities,” the audit concluded.
Of the four departments audited, only the Franchise Tax Board disagreed with the audit and Howle’s recommendations.
Franchise Tax Board spokesman Daniel Tahara declined comment, telling Courthouse News the board’s response contained in the audit “speaks for itself.”
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