The past few weeks have been filled with heart-breaking stories about the aftermath of hurricane Katrina. Here is one that should not have happened if there had been a bit of foresight by FEMA regarding a hurricane victim's ability to apply for aid online...
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), already under sharp criticism in the wake of the hurricane disaster, came under fire again for restricting access to its online assistance site. The agency had set up a web site for victims so they could apply for aid or file a claim online. A major hitch was that you had to have Internet Explorer 6.0 or higher as your browser -- no other browsers would work. Linux, Firefox and Mac users could not access the site and were told they had to download IE 6.
Seems to me that this is a rather glaring error -- perhaps one of many -- but one that is so easily avoided. In this case, the error is just plain awful. The victims have suffered enough from the natural disaster. Now we are putting them through one of our own making.
FEMA and other government agencies must develop web sites that are accessible by any browser and based on standards. These standards-based sites will be far more accessible, not just to those with alternative browsers, but to those who rely on screen readers and other assistive technologies.
[It should be noted that a good 10% of our population depends on some sort of assistive technology.]
As it stands today, the FEMA site still states that you must have IE 6 or higher. There is a message on the web site that states "If you do not have Internet Explorer 6.0 or higher, you may still be able to check the status of your application and update your information online once you have registered by phone."
That, of course, is assuming that the victims have a phone at all...
Yours in BI success --
Posted September 14, 2005 5:12 PM
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