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User Experience and Accessibility: An Analysis of County Web Portals

Norman E. Youngblood and Susan A. Youngblood

Journal of Usability Studies, Volume 9, Issue 1, November 2013, pp. 25 - 41

Abstract

Website usability reinforces trust in e-government, but at the local level, e-government tends to have usability and accessibility problems. Web portals should be usable, accessible, well coded, and mobile-device-ready. This study applies usability heuristics and automated analyses to assess a state-wide population of county web portals and examines whether population, per capita income, or median household income are related to usability, accessibility, and coding practices. To assess usability, we applied a 14-point usability heuristic to each site’s homepage. To study accessibility and coding, we examined each homepage with an accessibility checker and with the World Wide Web Consortium’s (W3C) HTML validator. We also examined the HTML and Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) of each site to check for mobile-device readiness and to better understand coding problems the automated tools identified. This study found that portal adoption is associated with each of the demographics above and that accessibility has a weak inverse relationship to per-capita income. Many of the sites we examined met some basic usability standards, but few met all the standards used, and most sites did not pass a basic accessibility analysis. About 58% of the counties we examined used a centralized county web portal (not including county commission sites), which is better than a 2006 study that found a 56% portal adoption at the national level. Resulting recommendations include best-practice suggestions for design and for using automated tools to identify problems, as well as a call to usability professionals to aid in county web portal development.

Tips for Usability Practitioners

The usability and accessibility issues we found with the county web pages we examined raise some important issues for both usability and design practitioners. Some of these issues are evident from the quantitative results, but other issues became apparent during observations we made as we collected data. Automated analysis tools are valuable as litmus tests for problems, but use them with care:

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User Experience and Accessibility: An Analysis of County Web Portals