Disabled access is a priority

Faced with the target of delivering all government services electronically by 2005, local government needs to think about priorities.



Simon Tolson

Soapbox

Faced with the target of delivering all government services electronically by 2005, local government needs to think about priorities. Decisions have to be made about which departments are going to be first in line for e-treatment. The criteria are simple. Where is there most demand and which will present the least resistance to Web delivery?

The pressing issue here is Web site design. Most authorities have a Web site presenting an "electronic brochure" and some have progressed further. But are these sites truly inclusive and user-friendly? I'm thinking of disabled users.

The benefits of e-government seem obvious: avoiding journeys to council offices, using e-mail as a live link so the authority communicates by text without specialist equipment, and enlarging text for the visually impaired are some examples.

It is true that the Internet is transforming the lives of some disabled people, but access to electronic information can be problematic. Many local government Web sites are still designed without considering access issues.

The most leading-edge authorities have produced Web sites that look good. But this can work against giving easy access for all. Corporate colours, for instance, can make buttons or whole pages illegible to sight-impaired users. Information needs to be in a simple, clear and concise format to be useful. Sites should be flexible, enabling visitors to use browsers to adjust text and colour settings to suit their needs.

Until consideration is given to the whole community, e-government will never achieve inclusivity and be reality.

Simon Tolson is responsible for local government at Merant.

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