Williams Calls Out State Vaccination Websites For Accessibility Barriers

April 1st, 2021

Press Release

Public Advocate Jumaane D. Williams called on the state government today to make its COVID-19 websites, including those used for booking vaccination appointments, accessible for visually impaired individuals. The websites have not been optimized for use with screen readers, which provide visually impaired individuals with technological access. Roughly 3.5 million New Yorkers over the age of 40 live with visual impairments.

In a letter to State Health Commissioner Howard Zucker, the Public Advocate said that 81 of the 94 state webpages offering information and providers of the vaccine feature technological barriers, and that "New registration sites suffer from low-contrast coloring, supplemental electronic forms that must be filled out, and minimal text options such as having to find a vaccination site on a map versus textually listed locations... The lack of vision accessibility creates the potential for significant disparities in our efforts to vaccinate the population."

He also noted the legal obligation to be accessible under the ADA, and called for the state to begin "working in tandem with disability advocates to redesign websites to ensure their compatibility with screen reader software, adding higher contrast coloring, and offering text only lists of vaccine information and providers as opposed to maps that are incompatible with screen reader technology."

The Public Advocate introduced city legislation in 2020 aimed at expanding, updating and enforcing digital accessibility for New York City agencies, and has previously highlighted additional technological barriers with vaccination websites.

The full letter to the Commissioner is below, and can be downloaded here.

Dear Commissioner Zucker:

I write to you today concerning the lack of accessibility that people with vision impairment are experiencing with websites containing information and resources regarding the COVID-19 vaccination. Websites intended for booking COVID-19 vaccination appointments are not optimized for use with commonly used screen readers that give technological access to those with vision impairments. New registration sites suffer from low-contrast coloring, supplemental electronic forms that must be filled out, and minimal text options such as having to find a vaccination site on a map versus textually listed locations. Recent surveys found technological barriers on 81 of the 94 state websites offering information and providers of the vaccine.

About 3.5 million New Yorkers over the age of 40 live with visual impairments. The lack of vision accessibility creates the potential for significant disparities in our efforts to vaccinate the population. It is critical we make all efforts to adhere to Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act, or we run the risk of leaving vision-impaired New Yorkers behind in the fight against this pandemic.

All New York City and State websites offering resources on the COVID-19 vaccine must adhere to the Americans With Disabilities Act by establishing accessibility to those with visual impairments. This can be achieved by working in tandem with disability advocates to redesign websites to ensure their compatibility with screen reader software, adding higher contrast coloring, and offering text only lists of vaccine information and providers as opposed to maps that are incompatible with screen reader technology.

I look forward to receiving a timely response from your agency. For further discussion, please contact First Deputy Public Advocate Nick E. Smith at nsmith@advocate.nyc.gov and Deputy Public Advocate for Justice, Health Equity & Safety Rama Issa-Ibrahim at rissa-ibrahim@advocate.nyc.gov. Thank you very much for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,

Jumaane D. Williams

Public Advocate for the City of New York

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