Accessibility Review of the Official Gazette of the Republic of the Philippines

Happy 2011, everyone!

During 2010’s Christmas holiday, my friend told me about the www.gov.ph site. This is the official gazette of the Republic of the Philippines. It contains information about the president’s activities, his speeches, and messages. Other pieces of information in the site include the country’s presidential decrees and republic acts. Apart from its main content, the accessibility of the Official Gazette of the Republic of the Philippines made me curious to visit the site.

After doing an accessibility review of the website of the office of the President of the Philippines (www.president.gov.ph), I honestly was not expecting too much from the http://www.gov.ph site in terms of accessibility. Well, how did it turn out? Read on and kindly see for yourself!

Assistive Technology and Accessibility Guidelines Used in the Review

I used a screen reader in browsing the pages of the site. A screen reader is a type of assistive software that enables blind persons to use the computer and browse websites through a voice output.

I used the Philippine Web Design Accessibility Recommendation (PWDAR) Checkpoints in identifying the accessibility issues in the site. I also referred to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 (WCAG 2.0) in doing this review.

Commendable Accessibility Features of the Site

Headings Are Marked Up Properly

This is the first thing I noticed in the Official Gazette of the Republic of the Philippines. When headings are marked up properly, assistive technologies such as screen readers would be able to let their users navigate from one section of information to another. Properly marked up headings are those that use the correct HTML tags (i.e. h1, h2, h3, etc).

Here’s an example: In the homepage of the site, there are two main headings. These are “The President’s Day” and “Featured Content”. Both of them are level 2 headings. Under each of these two headings, there are a number of level 3 headings.

Since the level 2 headings have been marked up properly, I can use the screen reader’s shortcut keys to navigate from the first level 2 heading to the next one. This lets me quickly move from one section of information to another. Without this feature, I would need to press the down arrow key several times just to move to the next section.

Titles Clearly Describe the Content of the Pages

Screen reader users rely on the titles of web pages to verify their location in the site. For sighted persons, it is very easy to visually confirm that they have moved to another page in the site. But for blind persons, the quickest way to do this is by making the screen reader read the title of the current page.

Each page in the site has a title that clearly describes the main content of the page. Here is an example: I pressed enter on the link to go to the Briefing Room page of the site. Once the page has loaded, I made the screen reader read the title and it said “Briefing Room | Official Gazette of the Republic of the Philippines”. I believe that this title properly describes the page’s main content. The same can be said about the other pages in the site.

Here is what WCAG 2.0 says about the titles of web pages. The following is under Principle 2 of WCAG.

2.4.2: Page Titled: Web pages have titles that describe topic or purpose.

Accessibility Issues Found in the http://www.gov.ph Website

Images Do Not Have Text Descriptions

This issue is most apparent in the Photo Gallery of the site. In this page, there are several headings with images under each heading. One of the headings reads “President Aquino attends the Awarding Ceremony of the 50 millionth passenger of the Cebu Pacific”. And under that heading, there is an image. When I set my focus on the image, the screen reader said “graphic, 060111_RL-01”.

The said information read by the screen reader(graphic, 060111_RL-01) does not provide clear and sufficient information to users who cannot see the image. The best way to solve this issue is to provide a text description for the image as well as the other images in the site. The text description can be provided in the “alt” attribute of the image tags in the page. I believe that the information in the headings for each image can also be used as text descriptions for the images.

Here is what the PWDAR Checkpoints say about images and text descriptions:

Maturity Stage 1-3 Attach ALT(alternative) text to graphic images so that assistive computer technology such as screen readers can reach the content.

Here is what WCAG 2.0 says about images and text descriptions. The following Guideline is under Principle 1 of WCAG 2.0.

Guideline 1.1: Provide text alternatives for any non-text content so that it can be changed into other forms people need, such as large print, Braille, speech, symbols or simpler language.

Pages Have No Mechanism to Bypass Repetitive Blocks of Content

In all the site’s pages, there is a set of links containing items such as HOME, BRIEFING ROOM, ISSUANCES, etc. This set of links is found at the topmost part of the pages. This is considered as a repetitive block of content since it appears in all the pages of the site.

For most users, it is very easy to scroll down the page to skip this block of content and find the page’s main information. But for screen reader users and persons who cannot use the mouse, it may take a longer time to find the main content. This is because they would need to press the down arrow numerous times to pass through the repetitive block of content and reach the main information.

To solve this issue, all pages should provide a mechanism to bypass the repetitive block of content. The best way to do this is by providing a “skip to main content” link at the top of the pages. This is a link which, when activated, would send the focus to the start of the page’s main content. A skip to main content link enables screen reader users and persons who cannot use the mouse to quickly land on the main information of the page. More importantly, it lets them avoid having to arrow down numerous times just to reach the main content of the pages.

Here is what the PWDAR Checkpoints say about repetitive blocks of content:

Maturity Stage 2-5 Provide a “Skip to Content” link in every page.

Here is what WCAG 2.0 says about repetitive blocks of content. This is under Principle 2 of WCAG.

2.4.1: Bypass Blocks: A mechanism is available to bypass blocks of content that are repeated on multiple Web pages.

Final Thoughts from the Accessibility Ally

Based on the points I raised above, I can say that in terms of basic accessibility features, the Official Gazette of the Republic of the Philippines (www.gov.ph) has a relatively higher level of accessibility than the website of the Office of the President of the Philippines (www.president.gov.ph). The Official Gazette, however, still has its own share of accessibility issues. I nonetheless believe that solving these issues would help the site provide information that is more accessible to persons with disabilities and non-disabled people.

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