R&D notes

Watchdogging would-be watchdogs

NYC Comptroller

Jonathan Robert Pool

Candidates for New York City Comptroller, ranked on digital accessibility

Although all 2021 candidates for New York City Comptroller promise to be vigilant in overseeing the work of city agencies, most candidates’ own campaign websites contain accessibility defects, violating industry and legal standards that protect individuals, especially those with disabilities, when they browse the web.

The ratings

How do the candidate web pages stack up?

In the following ratings, based on a method employed by Johns Hopkins University, the candidates’ home pages are ordered from most (at the top) to least (at the bottom) accessible. Details on the methodology are described in a companion article on mayoral candidates.

Comptroller candidate web accessibility (best to worst)
2Terri Liftinhttps://liftin2021.com
30Reshma Patelhttps://www.reshma2021.com
82Alex Panhttps://www.panfornyc.com/
89Brian Benjaminhttps://www.benjamin2021.com
100Zach Iscolhttps://zachiscol.com
110Brad Landerhttps://www.landerfornyc.com
135David Weprinhttps://www.davidfornyc.com
138Kevin Parkerhttps://kevinparker2021.com
141Daby Carrerashttps://votedaby.com
156Paul Rodriguezhttps://www.facebook.com/Rodriguez-for-NYC-Comptroller-2021-104067025078307
159Corey Johnsonhttps://coreyfornyc.com
187Michelle Caruso-Cabrerahttps://mccforny.com

Who wins?

By this rating method, Terri Liftin has the most accessible, and Michelle Caruso-Cabrera has the least accessible, home page.

Does it matter?

The word comptroller probably has a green-eyeshade dollar-sign aroma, but New York City bestows general powers and duties on the Comptroller to perform not only financial but also performance audits of all city agencies. That means, among other things, auditing compliance with Section 23-802 of the New York City Administrative Code, which requires all agencies to ensure that their websites comply with recent accessibility standards.

How can a Comptroller perform that duty? By hiring or contracting with auditors who understand those standards and can verify compliance with them.

So, which of the candidates are capable of hiring such experts? We cannot be 100% certain, but one indicator would be having hired such experts for their own campaign websites. It may not be a perfect indicator, but at least it is real behavior, rather than mere talk.

Where did they succeed and fail?

The rating method uses two programs, Axe and WAVE. They both inspect a web page, report some accessibility problems, and rate their severity. Combined, they give a quick preliminary estimate of how accessible or inaccessible a web page is. These are free testing tools that any web developer can use. A web developer who eliminates all the errors they reveal would make pages earn a deficit score of 0. None of the developers hired by these candidates did that, although Liftin came close.

Consequently, some persons, especially those with disabilities, will have trouble on most of the campaign websites.


The candidate home pages exhibit a mixture of accessible and inaccessible features. Some of the accessible features:


The web pages also have accessibility flaws. Among them:

Moral of the story

Whoever is elected Comptroller will be required by the city’s Administrative Code to make his or her official website accessible (in addition to auditing the performance of every other agency). By selecting qualified employees or contractors to create an accessible campaign website, a candidate could demonstrate both competence in procurement and a respect for diversity and inclusion. The results so far range from near-perfect to heavily impaired accessibility. Even the best have some work to do before passing all the tests run by free tools.


This work was inspired by the Johns Hopkins University Vaccine Website Accessibility Dashboard and by colleagues who examined 2020 presidential candidate websites. This work is entirely my own and does not represent my employer, CVS Health.

I thank Jared Smith of WebAIM for details on the Vaccine Accessibility Dashboard method.