Joe Clark: Media access

Canadian political Web sites are partly inaccessible to people with disabilities

Nonpartisan review of political Web sites show no sites meet coding standards or accessibility guidelines

TORONTO, 2004.06.03 – A volunteer-run, nonpartisan review of the Web sites of Canadian political parties shows that no sites follow published guidelines for technically-correct Web development. As a result, political Web sites tested do not stand a chance of working properly in all the browsers and devices Canadian use to surf the Web. Worse, all sites tested are somewhat inaccessible to people with disabilities.

“Here we are in the 21st century and we’ve got political parties designing Web sites like it was the mid-’90s,” said Joe Clark, the survey’s writer. A journalist, author, and accessibility consultant in Toronto, Clark is not the Rt. Hon. Joe Clark. He completed the evaluation with the help of Craig Saila, a Toronto Web developer.

“The political parties want us to believe they’re all different from each other, but each and every one of them designed their sites the same way – using nonstandard code that won’t work in every browser,” Clark said. “They’re ignoring the written specifications for Web sites – particularly the guidelines to make Web sites accessible to disabled people.

“How are Canadians supposed to learn about party policies when political Web sites won’t work in everybody’s browsers? And why discriminate against people with disabilities?”

The results point to failures in function of political Web sites, Clark said. “We’re not talking about which site is prettier,” Clark added. “Instead, the issue here is shutting out Canadians who use different Web browsers, or have a disability, or both.”


Joe Clark and Craig Saila tested the Web sites of the Liberals, Conservatives, NDP, Bloc, and Greens from May 30 to June 2. There were two standards against which the sites were compared:

Valid code

Did the sites follow the grammatical rules for HTML (the codes that give structure to a Web page, identifying elements like paragraphs, links, images, and headings) and for CSS (the codes that control the appearance of the page)?

The answer is no: Not one site tested had “valid” HTML or CSS.

With valid code, a site can be expected to work almost identically in a range of browsers and devices, including browsers the site owners have never heard of.

Web accessibility

Did the sites follow published guidelines for accessibility for people with disabilities?

The answer is no: Not one site tested complied with even the lowest – and easiest-- level of Web accessibility.

When sites follow accessibility guidelines, people using different technologies to surf and enjoy the Web are placed on a nearly equal footing with nondisabled people. The Web becomes the same kind of information and entertainment source for disabled people as for nondisabled people – if the guidelines are followed.


Without standard code or adherence to accessibility guidelines...
  1. Canada’s political sites can be expected on to work correctly in only one browser, Internet Explorer for Windows. But not everybody uses that browser. Other browsers may or may not work correctly, limiting Canadians’ access to information.
  2. Canada’s political sites aren’t accessible to many people with disabilities, including blind people who use screen-reader software to turn Web sites into spoken words or Braille.

However, while the sites might not work correctly in all browsers, none refused to load or completely broke in our testing. And people with disabilities had access to some of the content on the sites. The sites do not completely shut people out – but they don’t include everyone, either.

Problems are fixable

With better Web development, the problems are fixable. The underlying code can be cleaned up, and additions can be made to bring the sites into compliance with accessibility guidelines.

But with only three weeks to go before election day on June 28, most political sites probably won’t bother to fix the problems, all of which could have been avoided with advance planning.

Where to find the results

Full details of the survey, including explanation of technical terms, details, links, and limitations, are published online:

A reminder

The author of this survey is not the Rt. Hon. Joe Clark.

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