Ongoing accessibility errors have been identified on the ACT government's dedicated COVID-19 information website, making the pages difficult to navigate for people using screen readers and impaired vision.
A review of ACT COVID-19 information websites, published in Technology in Society journal this month, found consistent error rates in the six months between March 31 and October 17, suggesting a rushed development schedule was not the cause.
"The site's maintainers may be unaware of the errors, do not assign them much importance, or it is also possible that the errors arise from structural problems in the framework or tooling employed," the paper said.
Dr Sarah Yu, an assistant professor at the University of Canberra's school of politics, economics and society who wrote the review, said government agencies needed to design websites to be accessible from the ground up.
"The challenge now is that it does take a lot of money and time to help improve the accessibility of the websites and information, but from a long-term point of view and also a social-benefit point of view it is definitely something worth investing in," Dr Yu said.
Snapshots of the ACT government's COVID-19 website were analysed with the Wave evaluation tool developed by the non-profit WebAIM group based at Utah State University. The group provides tools and training to help web developers make their sites more accessible for people with disabilities.
The tool identified between 11 and 16 errors on the ACT government's COVID-19 website between March and October, which did not conform with the web content accessibility guidelines developed by the World Wide Web Consortium.
Errors included photographs which did not have alternative text and poor contrast between text and the background. Most errors were found to be hyperlinks with text that did not accurately describe what they linked to.
An ACT government spokeswoman said the government was committed to providing accessible websites.
"The COVID-19 website aims to conform to Level A (and in parts, Double A) of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines Version 2 (WCAG 2.0), developed by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C)," she said.
"Since the pandemic started, staff in the ACT government's Public Information Communications Centre have been working to present information in a clear and cohesive way. Often the information is changing rapidly and is posted under very tight deadlines to ensure the public can access it as quickly as possible."
The spokeswoman said the ACT government would listen to feedback about its websites and was working to continually improve them.
In a comparison with other government-run websites, the Wave tool found 12 errors on the ACT government's COVID-19 website, 13 errors on the main ACT government site, and two errors on the National Disability Insurance Scheme website.
"The ACT government portals as a class exhibit more errors than websites of federal government agencies. ... this may show the influence of the Digital Services Standard (DSS), which mandates that federal government websites be accessible. The DSS does not apply to local government websites," the paper said.
But a comparison with COVID-19 information websites from other parts of the world placed the territory's portal in the middle of the pack. The territory's website was found to be better than three commercial news outlets. The Canberra Times' website was not included in the analysis.
"Overall, there is still scope to improve the information technology of the government websites to disseminate COVID-19 related information. The accessibility of COVID-19 information plays a vital role for the health and safety of the public, in particular for policymakers and economists to provide further suggestions to the government and community," Dr Yu said in the paper.