71% of people with disabilities leave a website immediately if it is not accessible
Washington, D.C., Sept 28 – While one-in-four adults in the U.S. have a disability, and despite continued pressure from disability organizations and activists, 16 of the most prominent midterm campaign websites are not fully accessible to disabled voters. These are the findings of the latest study from Miami Lighthouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired, released September 27 in Time Magazine.
While 2020 was a difficult year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it was also a remarkable election year for voters with disabilities. As noted by Rutgers and EAC, “Close to 75 percent of voters with disabilities voted with a mail ballot or early in-person” and “five of six (83 percent) of voters with disabilities voted independently without any difficulty.” 17.7 million voters with disabilities cast their ballots in the 2020 election. These voters are crucial and can make the difference between a winning or a losing campaign.
Even with this record-high turnout among disabled voters, political campaigns still are failing to meet basic accessibility standards. In the 2021 Georgia Senate runoff elections that determined which party would control the U.S. Senate, none of the four candidates’ websites were fully accessible to voters who were blind or deaf. And as Virginia Jacko, CEO of Miami Lighthouse told Time Magazine, “Things haven’t changed.”
I have been working at RespectAbility since 2018, checking the accessibility of countless campaign websites. And plenty of additional people at various organizations are doing the same thing. So, while I probably should not be surprised that campaigns are leaving out disabled voters, I am surprised. I am surprised that even for the most well-funded and highest profile campaigns, accessibility seemingly remains an afterthought.
Many of the issues outlined in Miami Lighthouse’s study are extremely easy to fix. The most basic issue, which I was shocked to find out that all 16 websites had, is failing to include the name, email, and phone number for someone who can address accessibility concerns. Any voter should be able to reach out to a point person on the campaign who can assist with ensuring their candidate’s website is accessible to all.
It’s also important to note that campaigns should include their full online presence – including emails and social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram – in their online accessibility plans. Has a person who is blind and who uses adaptive computer technology checked your website and social media platforms for accessibility?
The actions campaigns take to engage with disabled voters can make the difference between winning and losing. 71% of people with disabilities leave a website immediately if it is not accessible. From a purely political perspective, it does not make sense to leave any potential voter out, and yet that is what these campaigns are doing with disabled voters. All voters should expect better.