Political party websites freezing out voters with disabilities – report

Severe flaws in access to websites and digital channels of the major European political families make it difficult for people with disabilities to cast an informed vote.


The sight- and hearing-impaired and those with cognitive and motor disabilities have been completely ignored by political parties in their digital offerings in the run up to the EU elections, according to a report published today (11 April).

The report, co-authored by the European Disability Forum (EDF) and the independent not-for-profit Funka Foundation, analysed the websites of the seven main European political families – European People’s Party, Party of European Socialists, ALDE, ECR, European Greens, European Left, and Identity and Democracy.

Its key finding is that some user groups are prevented from accessing content and as a result are inadequately informed for the exercise of direct democracy.

Identified flaws were widespread, ranging from coding errors to graphic design issues, navigation and user interface problems, and web author mistakes.

All websites examined failed on so-called ‘non-text content’ criteria, making the interfaces virtually unusable for the visually impaired.

“The results are very disappointing but not surprising – they reflect the widespread lack of attention to the accessibility of information in the political world,” said EDF president Yannis Vardakastanis.

These findings at European level may also indicate that national political parties face similar challenges, according to the umbrella body representing the rights of 100 million EU individuals with disabilities.

“Political parties must guarantee their communication is accessible to every voter – including voters with disabilities,” Vardakastanis added.

The authors of the study found that some common standards devised to make website interfaces more accessible had even been actively removed from the websites of the centre-right EPP and liberal ALDE party.

This constitutes active exclusion, they continued, as some basic visibility elements on sites – essential for motor-impaired users of assistive technology – are provided as built-in features by major web browsers.

Tests on colour contrast yielded “surprisingly bad” results, making readability generally difficult but particularly for those with dyslexia, and visual or cognitive impairments.

“It is not usual to find such low readability these days, as user behaviour includes using screens outdoors [or] in bright sunlight,” the study said.

Likewise, the many technical issues on the websites make documents hard or impossible to be handled for users of assistive technology. Three parties (the centre-right EPP, socialists PES, and the European Left) failed on all the tests run by the authors for the document accessibility.

For Susanna Laurin, chair of the study co-author Funka Foundation, digital accessibility should be instinctive since reaching as many voters as possible is in the interests of the parties.

“Some of the content is so difficult to find and/or read that I wonder if the political parties are at all interested in voters understanding their message,” she said.

The least worst performing party was the far-right ID, passing on four of the seven criteria used to value the websites. All the websites tested passed the test for auto-captions for hard-of-hearing or deaf users.

The authors also made practical suggestions for how political actors could make communications more accessible to those with disabilities, including training relevant staff on how to make the websites accessible and involving end users with disabilities in the design, development and testing of digital interfaces.

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2024-04-11 10:48:03

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