According to the 2010 US Census, there are 303.9 million people living in America, and 56.7 million of them are people with disabilities. This means that roughly one in five Americans has some form of disability, and many more have a personal connection to a person with a disability. With statistics like these, one would assume meaningful discussions about disability would occur in the political climate.
With the 2016 election around the corner, we wanted to investigate the candidates’ discussions about accessibility issues. We also wanted to look at the campaign websites themselves for a few important accessibility barriers.
Test #1: Keyword Search
To determine how often each candidate was talking about these issues, we compared keywords about accessibility as it related to the text on each campaign’s website. We limited our study to four candidates: Hillary Clinton, Ted Cruz, Bernie Sanders, and Donald Trump.
We identified the official website for each candidate by googling “Official Website Hillary Clinton”, “Official Website Ted Cruz”, “Official Website Bernie Sanders”, and “Official Website Donald Trump”. We took the following four websites to represent the primary communication platform for each candidate:
We then performed a Google site search on each primary domain for any mention of the keywords “people with disabilities”, “disability”, and “Americans with Disabilities Act”. This search was performed on Tuesday, January 19th, 2016. The links in this table are live so you can activate them to perform the Google site search and see the latest results for a particular keyword. It is interesting to go into the details for each search term. Not all results are completely related to improving equality for people with disabilities.
|“people with disabilities”||5||0||36||0|
|“Americans with Disabilities Act”||6||0||2||0|
Hillary Clinton had the second most search results for the accessibility keywords we used. Her primary page addressing people with disabilities is titled Disability rights Issues Hillary for America. Here is the most relevant quote:
“Now, 25 years after the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act, Hillary recognizes that there is still much work to do, including improving access to meaningful and gainful employment for people with disabilities. Too many Americans with disabilities continue to be left out of the workforce, and for those who are employed, too many are in under-stimulating jobs that don’t fully allow them to use their talents.”
Clinton did not specify how she would approach these issues if elected. She did mention the ADA during the most recent Democratic Presidential Forum on CNN, praising Ted Harkin’s ability to work with Republicans and Democrats to pass the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Ted Cruz does not have a page dedicated to addressing the rights of people with disabilities. His first result for the search term “disability” was his The Simple Flat Tax Plan page. Cruz makes an assertion that an improved economy will translate to fewer people receiving disability compensation:
“If we’re going to turn this country around, we’ve got to get back to historic levels of growth 3-4-5-percent growth. Suddenly, the federal budget transforms, and it’s worth noting why there’s a double whammy with growth. When you have booming growth, millions of people go off unemployment, go off disability, go off food stamps, so expenditures go down. But at the same time, those same millions of people that get jobs – they begin paying in taxes. Revenues go up as they are providing for their own families. Their work is contributing not only to their wellbeing and self-sufficiency, but also to the good of society.”
Cruz does not address how he will provide more employment opportunities for people with disabilities.
Bernie Sanders had the most search results for the accessibility keywords we used. His primary page is titled Fighting for Disability Rights.
Sanders states three actions he will take in support of people with disabilities:
Protect and expand the Social Security Disability Insurance Program (SSDI).
Increase employment and educational opportunities for persons with disabilities.
Fight for the U.S. ratification of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
Donald Trump does not have a page dedicated to people with disabilities. Trump’s first result for the search term “disability” pulled up an article titled Donald J. Trump Demands an Apology from New York Times. Trump was criticized by the New York Times for apparently mocking a reporter’s disability. Here is the clip that caused the controversy.
Here is Trump’s use of the word “disability” that was retrieved in our search:
“Serge Kovaleski must think a lot of himself if he thinks I remember him from decades ago – if I ever met him at all, which I doubt I did. He should stop using his disability to grandstand and get back to reporting for a paper that is rapidly going down the tubes.”
Test #2: Homepage Accessibility Evaluation
What about the technical aspects of the candidates’ websites? Can their message be received by people who rely on assistive technology?
A full accessibility audit of a website takes significant time and skill to assess, and there are dozens of aspects to be considered. Here are two aspects we decided to check:
- Detect images using VoiceOver, the built-in screen reader for the Mac Operating System, and verify if the site images have descriptions. This tells us whether or not a person who is blind could understand the content of the images.
- Look for videos and verify if they have synchronized closed captions. This tells us whether or not a person who is deaf or hard of hearing could understand the dialogue in the videos.
(Note that the candidates’ websites are updated frequently, and the following results may no longer reflect the current condition of each site.)
Clinton’s homepage had a text alternative for all three images in VoiceOver’s image list. Clinton’s homepage did not have any videos at the time of our check, so none were assessed.
Out of the 11 images we sampled on Cruz’s homepage, only one (“Cruz for President”) contained a description.
We sampled eight videos on Cruz’s homepage. No captions were added to these videos, so they relied on YouTube’s auto-generated captions. Auto-generated captions are often unreliable.
Finally, a video titled Victories contained no spoken dialogue and almost all text was displayed visually onscreen. This type of multimedia content is inaccessible to people who are blind or low vision, because they rely on audio narration.
The three images we sampled on Sanders’ homepage were missing text alternatives. While potentially meaningful text alternatives were available elsewhere on the page, the current implementation causes file URLs to be announced for the images themselves.
There were no videos on Sanders’ homepage at the time of our check.
We sampled three images on Trump’s homepage, and three text alternatives were provided. “Trump Logo” and “Trump Banner” are examples of short text alternatives that could be improved to more accurately communicate what the image content contains.
Trump’s homepage had two videos at the time of our check. The first video (“How to Caucus Iowa”) had auto-generated captions. The phone number displayed in the captions did not match the phone number displayed onscreen.
The second video used captions provided from a CNN linked video. These captions were not properly synchronized with the visual action. In many instances the text on the screen was delayed and represented a different speaker altogether.
What do these results tell us about the importance of accessibility issues to each candidate?
In short, the results tell us that while accessibility advocacy is increasing its presence in American politics, it still has a long way to go. Some candidates are expressing support for people with disabilities, but given the inaccessible condition of their websites, there’s an unfortunate gap between what they say and what they do. Other candidates, sadly, do not mention accessibility issues at all.
Of course, digital accessibility is unfamiliar to many people, and it’s possible that the issues described in this article have never been brought to the candidates’ attention. Equal Entry has sent the results of this study to each candidate’s campaign, and we are hoping for a response. Stay tuned for updates!