GSA Government-wide Section 508 Accessibility Program

Frequently Observed Accessibility Issues on Federal Websites

A View on Federal Website Accessibility

GSA has conducted a high-level scan across a sample of 45 major public-facing federal websites to provide a baseline assessment of relative accessibility levels. This scan employed low/no cost automated checking tools to perform basic website ‘triage’ screening based on automated accessibility checks.

Automated scanning is no substitute for human testing and may generate false positives - that is indications that are not actual violations of the Standard. Automated checks identify areas for concern that generally must be proven or disproved by manual checks. Learn more about website accessibility improvement.

This is not a website accessibility conformance assessment. Automated scanning cannot determine if a website is accessible or conformant with accessibility standards. Learn more about website accessibility conformance.

Examine the most common issues GSA found and learn how to fix them!

Listed below are the 10 most frequently observed issues corresponding to WCAG 2.0 Level A Success Criteria (the most severe accessibility concerns). These issues were identified using automated scanning over a sample of 45 major public-facing federal websites. Review your own website to check if any of these common issues exist and perform the often simple fixes to help improve accessibility of our federal websites.

This page has markup errors, causing screen readers to miss content.

This issue was observed in 100% of websites scanned.

To correct this issue:

Use a validator tool to make sure that significant validation/parsing errors are avoided. A list of resources for validating HTML/XHTML from the WCAG Working Group is in Validating Web pages.

Additional resources from the WCAG Working Group include:

This issue corresponds to WCAG 2.0 Success Criterion 4.1.1 Parsing.

WCAG 2.0 Success Criterion 4.1.1 Parsing: In content implemented using markup languages, elements have complete start and end tags, elements are nested according to their specifications, elements do not contain duplicate attributes, and any IDs are unique, except where the specifications allow these features. (Level A)

To better understand Success Criterion 4.1.1 explore Understanding 4.1.1

Identify row and column headers in data tables using TH elements, and mark layout tables with role='presentation'.

This issue was observed in 96% of websites scanned.

To correct this issue:

Use header elements (th) or other appropriate table mark-up to make the headers programmatically determinable. Guidance from the WCAG Working Group is in Using table markup to present tabular information.

Additional resources from the WCAG Working Group include:

This issue corresponds to WCAG 2.0 Success Criterion 1.3.1 Info and Relationships.

WCAG 2.0 Success Criterion 1.3.1 Info and Relationships: Information, structure, and relationships conveyed through presentation can be programmatically determined or are available in text. (Level A)

To better understand Success Criterion 1.3.1 explore Understanding 1.3.1

Use the LANG attribute to identify the language of the page.

This issue was observed in 96% of websites scanned

To correct this issue:

Identify the default language of a document by providing the lang and/or xml:lang attribute on the html element. Guidance from the WCAG Working Group is in Using language attributes on the html element.

Additional resources from the WCAG Working Group include:

This issue corresponds to the WCAG 2.0 Success Criterion 3.1.1 Language of Page.

WCAG 2.0 Success Criterion 3.1.1 Language of Page: The default human language of each Web page can be programmatically determined. (Level A)

To better understand Success Criterion 3.1.1 explore Understanding 3.1.1

Document title must not be blank.

This issue was observed in 93% of websites scanned

To correct this issue:

Include a title element in the head section that defines the purpose of the page. Guidance from the WCAG Working Group is in Providing a title using the title element.

Additional resources from the WCAG Working Group include:

This issue corresponds to the WCAG 2.0 Success Criterion 2.4.2 Page Titled.

WCAG 2.0 Success Criterion 2.4.2 Page Titled: Web pages have titles that describe topic or purpose. (Level A)

To better understand Success Criterion 2.4.2 explore Understanding 2.4.2

Figures and images in PDF documents should have non blank ALT text, except for decorative images which should be marked as artifacts.

This issue was observed in 87% of websites scanned

To correct this issue:

Provide text alternatives for images in PDF documents via an /Alt entry in the property list for a Tag. This is normally accomplished using a tool for authoring PDF. Guidance from the WCAG Working Group is in Applying text alternatives to images with the Alt entry in PDF documents.

Additional resources from the WCAG Working Group include:

This issue corresponds to the WCAG 2.0 Success Criterion 1.1.1 Non-text Content.

WCAG 2.0 Success Criterion 1.1.1 Non-text Content: All non-text content that is presented to the user has a text alternative that serves the equivalent purpose, except for the situations listed below. (Level A)

To better understand Success Criterion 1.1.1 explore Understanding 1.1.1

This page has duplicate IDs which cause problems in screen readers.

This issue was observed in 87% of websites scanned

To correct this issue:

Check to make sure that ID attribute values are unique within a document by validating the document against its schema. A list of resources for validating HTML/XHTML from the WCAG Working Group is in Validating Web pages.

Additional resources from the WCAG Working Group include:

This issue corresponds to the WCAG 2.0 Success Criterion 4.1.1 Parsing.

WCAG 2.0 Success Criterion 4.1.1 Parsing: In content implemented using markup languages, elements have complete start and end tags, elements are nested according to their specifications, elements do not contain duplicate attributes, and any IDs are unique, except where the specifications allow these features. (Level A)

To better understand Success Criterion 4.1.1 explore Understanding 4.1.1

PDFs must be tagged to be accessible by screen readers.

This issue was observed in 84% of websites scanned

To correct this issue:

Tagged PDF (PDF 1.4) exposes PDF's logical structure and order. More information from the WCAG Working Group is in PDF Techniques for WCAG 2.0.

Additional resources from the WCAG Working Group include:

This issue corresponds to WCAG 2.0 Success Criterion 1.3.1 Info and Relationships.

WCAG 2.0 Success Criterion 1.3.1 Info and Relationships: Information, structure, and relationships conveyed through presentation can be programmatically determined or are available in text. (Level A)

To better understand Success Criterion 1.3.1 explore Understanding 1.3.1

IMG tags must have an ALT attribute.

This issue was observed in 82% of websites scanned

To correct this issue:

When using the img element, specify a short text alternative with the alt attribute. More information from the WCAG Working Group is in Using alt attributes on img elements.

Additional resources from the WCAG Working Group include:

This issue corresponds to WCAG 2.0 Success Criterion 1.1.1 Non-text Content.

WCAG 2.0 Success Criterion 1.1.1 Non-text Content: All non-text content that is presented to the user has a text alternative that serves the equivalent purpose, except for the situations listed below. (Level A)

To better understand Success Criterion 1.1.1 explore Understanding 1.1.1

This form control has no associated LABEL element.

This issue was observed in 82% of websites scanned

To correct this issue:

Use the label element to explicitly associate a form control with a label through the use of the for attribute. The value of the for attribute must be the same as the value of the id attribute of the form control. More information from the WCAG Working Group is in Using label elements to associate text labels with form controls.

Additional resources from the WCAG Working Group include:

This issue corresponds to WCAG 2.0 Success Criterion 1.3.1 Info and Relationships.

WCAG 2.0 Success Criterion 1.3.1 Info and Relationships: Information, structure, and relationships conveyed through presentation can be programmatically determined or are available in text. (Level A)

To better understand Success Criterion 1.3.1 explore Understanding 1.3.1

Each A tag must contain text or an IMG with an ALT attribute.

This issue was observed in 78% of websites scanned

To correct this issue:

Describe the purpose of a link by providing descriptive text as the content of the a element. When an image is the only content of a link, the text alternative for the image should describe the unique function of the link. More information from the WCAG Working Group is in Providing link text that describes the purpose of a link for anchor elements.

Additional resources from the WCAG Working Group include:

This issue corresponds to WCAG 2.0 Success Criterion 1.3.1 Info and Relationships.

WCAG 2.0 Success Criterion 1.3.1 Info and Relationships: Information, structure, and relationships conveyed through presentation can be programmatically determined or are available in text. (Level A)

To better understand Success Criterion 1.3.1 explore Understanding 1.3.1