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.
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.
By this rating method, Terri Liftin has the most accessible, and Michelle Caruso-Cabrera has the least accessible, home page.
Does it matter?
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:
- Terri Liftin, Reshma Patel, and Alex Pan help people with mobility limitations who practice mouseless navigation using the Tab key to move around. Their pages start with a
Skip to contentlink that lets visitors move right into each page, bypassing the navigation menus at the top.
- Kevin Parker, Reshma Patel, Michelle Caruso-Cabrera, and Zach Iscol want to show you videos, but they politely wait until you press the
Playbutton before starting them.
- David Weprin and Reshma Patel invite you to sign up by entering your email address, and they comply with the standard for how such an input must be coded under the hood: with an
autocomplete="email"attribute. That lets your browser propose your email address so you don’t need to type it. Users who cannot type fast benefit most from this.
- Brad Lander displays a heading with a photo in the background. He ensures that you can always read the heading, by giving the heading its own background color.
The web pages also have accessibility flaws. Among them:
- Kevin Parker and Daby Carreras make it hard for people with limited color perception to navigate, by making their menus change color, but nothing else, as users move to them. Accessibility standards say that color changes are not enough. Browsers usually surround the
focuseditem with an outline, but Parker and Carreras turn that feature off.
- Even worse, Corey Johnson’s home page leaves keyboard navigators clueless as to where they have landed. When they move around with the Tab key, nothing changes.
- David Weprin and Brian Benjamin display white text over photographs. Parts of the photos are nearly white. When the text happens to be there, it is hard to read, because Weprin and Benjamin (unlike Lander) leave the text’s own background transparent. The foreground–background contrast is in places insufficient.
- Zach Iscol delivers his pitch in two paragraphs of text on his home page. But he has chosen to give the text a medium-gray color and place it on top of a light-gray background. There is a formula for computing the foreground–background contrast, and the bare minimum required by the standard is 4.5 to 1. Iscol’s paragraphs reach only 2.73 to 1. In other words, users with low vision or poor lighting conditions may be unable to read what he writes. Michelle Caruso-Cabrera reaches a higher contrast with her gray biographical text, but still only 4.29 to 1.
- Rashma Patel displays four
Learn morelinks on her home page, Terri Liftin has 11
Read morelinks on her platform page, and Kevin Parker’s press page contains 10
READ MORElinks. Blind visitors would hear only
Read more, and thus could not distinguish one link from another. Accessibility requires such links to have text, at least in the background, describing what each link leads to.
- Brian Benjamin, Michelle Caruso-Cabrera, and Zach Iscol have created contact forms, including inputs for your email address. But the email inputs have
- Daby Carreras autoplays sound as soon as you open his home page, and you can’t stop it.
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.