MAGIC VALLEY — A new study done by Kaiser Health News found state COVID-19 vaccine websites throughout the country violate disability laws and create inequities for blind people.
The lack of accessibility features on certain state websites has caused barriers for blind people across the country to be able to make an appointment to get a COVID-19 vaccine.
The National Federation of the Blind is currently working on a nationwide survey to learn more about this issue.
"When sites are accessible, it has the same impact as a wheelchair ramp and an automatic door in a physical public space. It gives people who use assistive technology equal access to information and resources," Laine Amoureux, a Digital Accessibility Consultant, said.
While navigating through Idaho's COVID-19 vaccine website, Amoureux's accessibility software warned her it had detected two critical issues. The issues included items without labels.
“So what that means is there’s an edit box or a button or a checkbox that does not have a semantic label you might be able to see visually a label, but there’s nothing on the web page that tells an assistive technology user what that edit box or check box or drop-down does," Amoureux said.
She says this could be a disadvantage for blind people since it could be a picture with important information like dates for available appointments that they could be missing.
But although Idaho's COVID-19 vaccine website had some flaws, she says the state's website isn't violating any disability laws.
The National Federation for the Blind of Idaho says problems like those on Idaho's COVID-19 vaccine website are usually caused by a lack of knowledge on the importance of accessibility features.
“I’m not trying to say that they are intentionally trying to keep us from having information, it’s just that they don’t always know how to make websites available so as a general thing as websites are being developed that’s something that they need to talk to experts in this field," Dana Aard, President of The National Federation of the Blind of Idaho, said.
Aard says bringing this to the state's attention has been part of the issue since she has not been able to find the right person to speak to.
“It didn’t appear to me that there was a central place to go to. It just seemed to be very haphazard in communities. And I can say that there are people that are underserved who are blind people that are not getting their vaccines," Aard said.
Aard, who is blind, says she was able to make an appointment and receive her vaccine with the help of her brother. She did not go through the state's website but instead through St. Luke's website, which she says was a smooth process.
The lack of laws enforcing accessibility features on websites is one of the reasons Aard believes accessibility gets overlooked. The National Federation of the Blind is looking to change that by creating legislation to make websites and mobile apps more accessible.
“People just don’t know what they don’t know. I mean they don’t realize and they are not thinking about accessibility," Aard said.