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Audit report finds city making slow progress on website accessibility, usability

(City of Austin)

By Chad Swiatecki

The city has moved slowly in making its website as accessible and useful as possible for residents and falls short of federal principles to ensure usability for people of all abilities, according to a recent report from the Office of the City Auditor.


At Wednesday’s meeting of City Council’s Audit and Finance Committee, staff presented a follow-up report on a pair of audits conducted in 2013 and 2017 that found the city needed to develop a comprehensive planning process, assign responsibilities related to the website, and increase the services offered while also improving accessibility across the site.

One of the two recommendations issued in 2013 was completed with another still underway, while two of the four recommendations in the 2017 audit were completed, leaving the service offerings and accessibility items still a work in progress.

A recent test of AustinTexas.gov found that its performance in three categories – the ability to quickly find key information, easy navigation and the intuitiveness of its setup – had declined compared to a similar test in 2017. The site did improve in its usability for information tools and devices used by those with disabilities.

The update read, in part: “When we retested the city’s website, we found that all online services retested can be done online compared to 75 percent in 2017. We also found that some of the online services still are not easy to find or use. While the city’s website still comes up short in meeting the requirements of three of four principles including perceivable, operable and understandable, some improvements have been made to make it usable with current and future tools or devices to assist people with all abilities.”

Staff told committee members that work is ongoing to make the site more accessible, with a request for proposals underway to select a vendor that will handle translation duties to make the site available to non-English speakers.

Chris Stewart, the city’s chief information officer, said there have been two recent upgrades behind the scenes to improve the security of the site, with search engine optimization ongoing to help make its contents more readily available to community members searching for information.

Mayor Pro Tem Alison Alter pressed Stewart for timelines for improvements, to which he replied that the site is a continual work in progress, with work underway to add more services for residents to access online.

“We do hear from constituents and community members pretty frequently expressing their frustration that the city website is difficult to navigate and it’s difficult to access information,” Alter said, later referencing an abandoned pilot program to create a site specifically aimed at resident needs and service offerings.

“There’s some history to this process that wasn’t really covered in the discussion for the audit. We were doing a much deeper dive on the whole alternative website and we chose not to move forward with that and what I want to understand better is what is the approach we’re using at a more macro level to get to the same end.”

Stewart said pairing the city’s communications staff with the office of technology management has helped to improve progress on the site, and that the decision to offer everything on the same site instead of splitting between two has allowed for some optimization of resources.

“We had a pilot site that was citizen- and resident-focused, and we had to make a decision and say that AustinTexas.gov was our website and that’s where we want to put all of our attention. A lot has happened in the past year that has not happened in past years before. Scores are going up and I could be happier with the satisfaction of our website and the accessibility in particular.”

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