JOURNAL ARTICLE

Web content accessibility of consumer health information web sites for people with disabilities: a cross sectional evaluation

Xiaoming Zeng, Bambang Parmanto
Journal of Medical Internet Research 2004 June 21, 6 (2): e19
15249268

BACKGROUND: The World Wide Web (WWW) has become an increasingly essential resource for health information consumers. The ability to obtain accurate medical information online quickly, conveniently and privately provides health consumers with the opportunity to make informed decisions and participate actively in their personal care. Little is known, however, about whether the content of this online health information is equally accessible to people with disabilities who must rely on special devices or technologies to process online information due to their visual, hearing, mobility, or cognitive limitations.

OBJECTIVE: To construct a framework for an automated Web accessibility evaluation; to evaluate the state of accessibility of consumer health information Web sites; and to investigate the possible relationships between accessibility and other features of the Web sites, including function, popularity and importance.

METHODS: We carried out a cross-sectional study of the state of accessibility of health information Web sites to people with disabilities. We selected 108 consumer health information Web sites from the directory service of a Web search engine. A measurement framework was constructed to automatically measure the level of Web Accessibility Barriers (WAB) of Web sites following Web accessibility specifications. We investigated whether there was a difference between WAB scores across various functional categories of the Web sites, and also evaluated the correlation between the WAB and Alexa traffic rank and Google Page Rank of the Web sites.

RESULTS: We found that none of the Web sites we looked at are completely accessible to people with disabilities, i.e., there were no sites that had no violation of Web accessibility rules. However, governmental and educational health information Web sites do exhibit better Web accessibility than the other categories of Web sites (P < 0.001). We also found that the correlation between the WAB score and the popularity of a Web site is statistically significant (r = 0.28, P < 0.05), although there is no correlation between the WAB score and the importance of the Web sites (r = 0.15, P = 0.111).

CONCLUSIONS: Evaluation of health information Web sites shows that no Web site scrupulously abides by Web accessibility specifications, even for entities mandated under relevant laws and regulations. Government and education Web sites show better performance than Web sites among other categories. Accessibility of a Web site may have a positive impact on its popularity in general. However, the Web accessibility of a Web site may not have a significant relationship with its importance on the Web.

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