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Relaunched Recovery.gov Fails Accessibility Standards 197

Posted by timothy
from the look-that-way dept.
SethGrimes writes with this excerpt from Information Week's Intelligent Enterprise: "Recovery.gov, a showcase government-transparency Web site that relaunched on Monday, fails to meet US federal government Section 508 accessibility standards and accessibility best practices. The non-compliance issues relate to display of data tables — an essential point given the site's promise of 'Data, Data & More Data' — despite on-site compliance claims. Other elements including navigation maps, while compliant, are poorly designed. Sharron Rush, co-founder and executive director of accessibility-advocacy organization Knowbility, goes so far as to state, 'The recovery.gov Web site is a good example of what NOT to do for accessibility in my opinion.' Louise Radnofsky explains in the Wall Street Journal's Washington Wire blog, 'Expectations are high for the site, not least because of its hefty price tag: Smartronix, a Maryland contractor, is being paid $9.5 million for its initial overhaul and is likely to get another $8.5 million to keep the site running through 2014.' Compliance with Section 508 of the federal Rehabilitation Act — a baseline expectation — is a long-standing federal-government requirement for information-systems accessibility to persons with disabilities. The site's accessibility failures — which are shared by another showcase government-transparency site, USAspending.gov — are nonetheless easily seen."
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Relaunched Recovery.gov Fails Accessibility Standards

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  • $9.5 million? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by girlintraining (1395911) on Thursday October 01, 2009 @06:46PM (#29611995)

    Okay, for $9.5 million dollars I think they can afford to hire a web designer that knows how to make a website accessible. I mean, I made a website that was accessible for two cans of mountain dew and what was left of a can of pringles. Looked better too. Then again, I did it for this girl who I really hoped would notice me after (she didn't), so I might have underbid just a bit. Still -- I think I would do better than these guys did. :\

    • 9.5 mil for re-designing a website seems suspiciously high, even for a federal contract. Does the contract include other services that aren't mentioned in the summary?

      • Does the contract include other services that aren't mentioned in the summary?

        Hookers and Blackjack?

        For that much money, I would expect Hookers and Blackjack. Nothing less.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Then again, I did it for this girl who I really hoped would notice me after (she didn't):\

      You *do* realize she was blind, right?

      • by mcgrew (92797) *

        And probably hetero as well. A gay guy hit on me [slashdot.org] a couple of weeks ago in a redneck bar, and I was there with a woman! What is it about gays and lesbians that make them think everyone is gay?

  • Wrong line of work! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by spaceyhackerlady (462530) on Thursday October 01, 2009 @06:59PM (#29612109)

    If the Feds paid nearly 10 million bucks for that I am obviously in the wrong line of work. It looks like something I could knock off in a few weeks with Django and MySQL.

    The site does very little if you don't have Flash, BTW. Many pages don't even give you a "You don't have Flash" message. You just get blank white pages. I make a point of not having Flash on my main Linux box, just to see how this tool of the devil is poisoning the net.

    ...laura

    • by frosty_tsm (933163) on Thursday October 01, 2009 @07:14PM (#29612251)

      If the Feds paid nearly 10 million bucks for that I am obviously in the wrong line of work. It looks like something I could knock off in a few weeks with Django and MySQL.

      The site does very little if you don't have Flash, BTW. Many pages don't even give you a "You don't have Flash" message. You just get blank white pages. I make a point of not having Flash on my main Linux box, just to see how this tool of the devil is poisoning the net.

      ...laura

      While I will agree with you that 1) many sites can be built more user friendly with less work using the right tools and 2) Flash is evil, you must remember they need to interface with a bunch of legacy government servers to get the data. That's a royal pain in itself.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Anonymusing (1450747)
        Mod parent up. This isn't your everyday database problem.
        • by drinkypoo (153816)

          Mod parent up. This isn't your everyday database problem.

          It's your everyday data warehousing problem, writ large.

          The solution is probably to institute a warehouse of warehouses, organized logically such that it consolidates like databases.

          This would be costly and outside the scope of this particular project, but of nearly incalculable value. (And in any case, the value is probably impossible to calculate without performing this exercise!)

    • > If the Feds paid nearly 10 million bucks for that I am obviously in the wrong
      > line of work. It looks like something I could knock off in a few weeks with
      > Django and MySQL.

      Yes, but it would have take several months and several hundred thousand dollars for specialized lawyers to put together a qualified bid for the job. Much of the work involved in bidding on and completing a Federal contract has to do with complying with loony procurement regulations rather than performing any actual productive

    • How to do it. (Score:5, Interesting)

      by NoYob (1630681) on Thursday October 01, 2009 @07:19PM (#29612295)

      If the Feds paid nearly 10 million bucks for that I am obviously in the wrong line of work. It looks like something I could knock off in a few weeks with Django and MySQL.

      First start a company. Then make campaign contributions to the incumbent politicians that are part of the committee that overseas these things. Start in the Senate. Of course, you'll have to get around the campaign finance laws, but don't worry, there are plenty of law firms that can help - for a very nice price.

      That' s not enough though! You also need a lobbying firm to lobby other politicians and the Government offices that also have input - there are folks that will do that for a nice price too.

      Now, there will be others who will do the same, so you'll have to be very strategic and get the best advisers.

      Now, after winning the contract, just outsource the actual design and implementation to the lowest bidder, and keep the profits; which in this case $10 million minus $5-6 million in campaign contributions and lobbyists less $200,000 (let's be generous!) for the actual software development, leaves you a profit of $3.8 million to $4.8 million.

      Of course, you may have to go overseas because, as every CIO says, there are no qualified American programmers and they have to go overseas for the talent! All those people that don't have jobs out in the market now aren't qualified - even though the companies that used to employ them found them to be qualified for years but had to let them go for cost cutting purposes. They're out of work so there must be something wrong with them!

      But wait! There's more!

      You won't book the $3.8 to $4.8 million! You'll have other expenses and things to pay, tax write-offs and whatnot that will leave you with a loss. Then of course, there's going to be tax credits that will enable you and your buddies to get more money out of the American Taxpayer.

      That is how you make money with Government contracts.

      • What are you talking about? Why would contractors do what government employees should be doing anyway?

        Oh, what's that? 'Small government' and 'Free market' Republicans want this?

        OK, then!

    • I make a point of not having Flash on my main Linux box, just to see how this tool of the devil is poisoning the net.

      Well, the harm is already done

      I'd really like to use an alternative, but have been unable to find anything that include both a programming API and a good animation tool. JavaFX seems close to this, having vector and bitmap manipulation in its API, but I haven't seen any good animation tool yet.

    • by cpghost (719344)

      I make a point of not having Flash on my main Linux box, just to see how this tool of the devil is poisoning the net.

      On my main FreeBSD/amd64 desktop box, I not only make the point of not having Flash on it, I don't even have the choice, as it is not supported by Adobe. So much for accessibility.

    • Actually federal contractors are not paid that well and usually have minimum benefits, some are 1090 instead of W2 and have to save their own tax money to pay the IRS. The bulk of the money goes to the Federal Contractor company and their board of directors and upper management.

      I used to be a federal contractor, but I always followed federal guidelines for disability accessibility, Y2K, network standards, security standards, etc. I wasn't paid much, and they promised me a raise, but I only got a fraction of

    • by westyvw (653833)
      If you think you can do that there is money to be made. Spatial maps, particularly NOT flash are in demand. You might want to add GeoDjango to your toolkit and have at it.
    • If the Feds paid nearly 10 million bucks for that I am obviously in the wrong line of work. It looks like something I could knock off in a few weeks with Django and MySQL.

      Here you're wrong also. If you used those you would produce something better than current APSX+Flash+whatever. I guess. :)

    • by Yvanhoe (564877)
      If it can make more people involved in political choices, into realizing where the taxpayers money goes, and what can be bought with the budget of a war, I consider this money well spent.
    • by elrous0 (869638) *
      Section 508 is a bitch to work with, especially the "best practices." It's one of the reasons so many government sites look like generic webpages from 1997. Designing a site that is both professional looking, presents information in a compelling way, contains modern useful tools, and complies completely with section 508 best practices is nigh impossible. I'm all for the blind having accessibility. But 98% of the population shouldn't have to suffer because 2% of the population is blind. Section 508 ideally e
  • How very ironic... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mr.dreadful (758768) on Thursday October 01, 2009 @07:28PM (#29612381)
    That a website promoting our fiscal recovery cost so much. As an American citizen and a professional web developer, I'd like to understand how this amount can possibly be justified. Did they build a data-center to house this site? I'll bet you that the web developers who actually built this site didn't take home the majority of that cash.

    This stinks.

    • by langelgjm (860756)
      90% of the cost was probably due to the lawyers who worked on the contracts.
    • That a website promoting our fiscal recovery cost so much. As an American citizen and a professional web developer, I'd like to understand how this amount can possibly be justified.

      It's a commercial company hired by the government with, what seems, very little oversight - a recipe for disaster, as you have all the wonders of capitalist cost cutting, with no competition / market hand to keep that in check.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Anonymusing (1450747)

      If the site has to interface with older, obscure, and/or legacy databases in other government divisions in order to gather its data, then that will eat up a lot of time and money. I suspect that the front end was the cheapest part. It's the back end that probably had the I.T. guys pulling out their hair.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by izomiac (815208)
      I wonder that as well. A quick glance at the site reveals mostly textual information, graphs, and maps. Since it's a government site, accessibility (e.g. by the handicapped and mobile devices) far, far, far outweighs aesthetics. It's not like government paperwork is very easy on the eyes. IMHO they would have been far better off with simple HTML such as lists and plain text, imagemap maps, and raw data below graphs. Have a decent web designer add a nice and unobtrusive stylesheet to spruce it up a bit,
    • I'm a web developer as well, but the kind of money being thrown around is not surprising. A lot of big government/commercial web projects cost that much. And you're right, obviously hardly any of it goes to the actual people doing the hard work.

  • Report 'em! (Score:2, Insightful)

    by spicate (667270)
    If you think that claiming accessibility without delivering it is fraud, and that the whole project cost was ridiculously inflated.... report them! http://www.recovery.gov/Contact/ReportFraud/Pages/ComplaintForm.aspx [recovery.gov] That's what the form is there for!
    • by The Moof (859402)

      You are at this page because you loaded the JavaScript free version of reCAPTCHA, but it looks like you have JavaScript. We need to prevent this for security reasons. If you are testing out the JavaScript-free version, turn off JavaScript in your browser.

      *sigh*

  • Our company developer the Trouble Asset Relief Program's site, at http://www.financialstability.gov/

    I am happy to report, MOSTLY compliant with Section 508.

    And it has cool stuff, too.

  • Meh. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by msauve (701917) on Thursday October 01, 2009 @08:04PM (#29612611)
    This is the government. It's not about "openness" or "accessability," it's all about the appearance of openness and accessability.
  • by marhar (66825) on Thursday October 01, 2009 @08:06PM (#29612627) Homepage

    Here's an interesting note on NPR relating to a private company that is aggregating the same data.

    http://recovery.com/ [recovery.com]

    "When Congress approved the stimulus bill, it made a point of setting up a Web site called Recovery.gov to allow citizens to track all those billions in spending. But if you've gone looking for it, you might have stumbled across another, very similarly named site, Recovery.com.

    The dot-com version is not run by the government, but it also tracks the stimulus -- and much of its information is more up to date. In fact, it has spending information that the government won't have until October, and its data provide a sneak peak into how the stimulus spending is going.

    The site is run by Onvia, a Seattle company that collects and sells data on government procurement. Whatever the layer of government -- whether state, county, school district or local water board -- Onvia wants to know what's being purchased."

    http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=112893572&ps=cprs [npr.org]

    • by Com2Kid (142006) <com2kidSPAMLESS@gmail.com> on Thursday October 01, 2009 @08:34PM (#29612787) Homepage Journal

      Quick comparison:

      Recovery.gov

      • Flash Map of USA
      • Able to quickly zoom in on any region, select state from drop down, or enter a ZIP code, all from home page
      • Location of graphical icons on map shows business or organization's location.
      • Can download data in KML format
      • Variety of options of filtering displayed data on map

      Recovery.com

      • Flash Map of USA
      • Click on a state, long loading time of state specific page
      • Cannot graphically locate fund allocation on map
      • Data is spread across multiple pages, smallest filtering option is to split data up by city.

      While showing the data in page format is definitely more accessible from the POV of a screen reader, the graphical map is more useful in terms of finding out how money is being spent around where I live.

      The recovery.gov website is actually pretty good, in under a minute I was finding how funds were being allocated in my neighborhood.

  • Smartronix [smartronix.com] it looks like their own style of designing their corporate web site is not disability accessible.

    They use Flash content pop-up Windows that a blind person cannot see, unlike an image tag that has Alt text or a hyperlink.

    Obviously they used their own corporate web site standards than the federal government accessibility standards.

  • It'd be nice if the site would give direct access to the database, so people could mashup whatever they wanted. Anybody know what it runs on? SQL?

    • It'd be nice if the site would give direct access to the database

      It'd be nice if they provided a copy of the database. Direct access would probably set a world record for fastest denial-of-service in web history.

  • http://www.recovery.gov/Pages/Accessibility.aspx [recovery.gov] Looks like they took this story to heart!
  • From a technology point of view, the site was open source when it first launched in February or March 2009. It used Drupal [drupal.org] on Linux.

    Now, it is using ASP.NET, presumably on Windows.

    Not saying this made it less accessible. Far from it. But that there was also a switch from open source to proprietary as well.

  • by pcolaman (1208838) on Thursday October 01, 2009 @11:18PM (#29613609)

    I'm actually glad for this website, as it just reaffirms my belief that this stimulus bill is a load of shit. Most of the recipients of grant money in my local area are accountants and attorneys, who are the ones driving around in Porches and Bimmers while not creating tons of jobs for local citizens. Hurray for progress.

    • I'm actually glad for this website, as it just reaffirms my belief that this stimulus bill is a load of shit. Most of the recipients of grant money in my local area are accountants and attorneys, who are the ones driving around in Porches and Bimmers while not creating tons of jobs for local citizens.

      Our of curiosity, where do you live?

      In my immediate vicinity the stimulus has gone to:

      • modernization and operation grant for the public bus system, which was going to be reduced greatly leading to people being unable to get to nearby, affluent areas for work.
      • a breast cancer prevention program for high risk women without healthcare, run by a local university.
      • a modernization grant for the city to upgrade firefighting gear (we just had to call in two other regional firefighting groups to put out a fire downtow
      • by pcolaman (1208838)

        Florida, and here's a run down of just some of the money spent

        -$80k in grants to one PA (doesn't specify what for, but it's a grant so no need to pay back)
        -$70k in grants to a massage school
        -$1.5mil to someone who is apparently clearing woods
        -$450k to another PA (mostly in grants)
        -$25k to an accounting firm
        -$3 mil to a local university (which is in debt and cutting classes while paying the president a $5 mil salary)
        -$200k to another local university that is actually not in debt

        I could go on but I think the

  • by rossz (67331) <ogre AT geekbiker DOT net> on Thursday October 01, 2009 @11:39PM (#29613719) Homepage Journal

    If accessibility is a major concern, you have at least one blind person on your staff that must approve the layout. I worked with a blind DBA for a year and had the luxury of having him critique a website of mine for accessibility and implemented all his recommendations. The changes weren't all that difficult since I don't use evil crap like flash in the first place.

  • I was reading the accessibility page on recovery.gov and found this:

    Pages have been designed to avoid a screen-flicker frequency greater than 2Hz and lower than 55 Hz.

    So... what frequency does that leave? Could anyone tell me what I'm missing here?
    I would think anything lower than 55Hz would also be lower than 2Hz, and anything greater than 2Hz would be greater than 55Hz, so.... I'm a little confused.
    (And, yes, I did ask my friend Google, although if anyone could give me a gentle push toward a search term better than "Hertz", I'd be appreciative.)

    • by shentino (1139071)

      How the hell can a web page control screen flicker?

      That's a uber deep setting buried in the X config or the device manager.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by dbcad7 (771464)

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frame_rate

      I don't know, but I am assuming they are avoiding 2 thru 55 HZ ,,, as to how it applies, I imagine it has to do with the frame rate of flash.

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