March 2004 Issue  Volume 5  Number 2

Access Issues

Accessing Power: A Review of the Democratic Presidential Candidates' Web Sites

Presidential campaigns keep getting longer and longer, and there is more and more information to help voters choose a candidate. The web is playing a major role in this year's campaign. This article surveys the web sites of the seven Democrats who were vying for the nomination as of January 27, 2004, the day of the New Hampshire primary. Candidates are listed in alphabetical order.

All the web sites have forms to sign up for e-mail updates, "blogs" (informal web logs written by the candidates or their staffs), and links to read the pages in Spanish. I was pleasantly surprised to find that all the sites are reasonably accessible. Most links and controls are labeled. Captions are provided for pictures, although Alt-text usually is not.

One problem that I found on several sites involved combo boxes, a Windows control that allows you to select one from a list of choices--for example, one of the days of the week. When you encounter a "friendly" combo box, you can press Enter, arrow down to your selection, and then tab to the Submit button. However, "unfriendly" combo boxes are ones that are programmed to react when a user clicks the mouse on them, rather than when the Submit button is selected. A user of a screen reader who hits the down-arrow key is interpreted as "clicking," so you are silently whisked off to the second choice in the list. If you hit the Back button or Alt-left arrow, you will return to the combo box and find that the second option is highlighted. The solution for users of screen readers is to press Enter, followed by Alt-down arrow, and expose several choices at once. You can now arrow down to your choice and press Enter twice. (The first Enter closes the combo box; the second makes your choice.)

The Candidates

General Wesley Clark

Links and controls on the home page <> are labeled. On the Issues page, several links are labeled only "Click here." There is no link or control to allow you to search the site.

Howard Dean

Links on the home page <> are labeled. The button to start a search of the site after you type in your search term is not labeled. On the home page, there is a combo box labeled Official State Sites. It is an "unfriendly" type of combo box, and it opens in a new browser window. A search for "disability" found 313 items, and a search for "blind" found none.

Senator John Edwards

Some links on the home page <> are not labeled, nor is the button to sign up for e-mail updates on the campaign. Some links for news stories are simply labeled "Read more here."

A search for "disability" found 8 documents, and a search for "blind" found 3 documents containing quotes, such as how current medical plans are "robbing families blind." This is the only site that includes an explanation of web accessibility, although the designers did not practice what they preached 100 percent of the time.

John Kerry

Almost all the links on the home page <> are labeled. There are "unfriendly" combo boxes, such as one to find the campaign offices by state. A search for "disability" found 126 items. A search for "blind" found repeated references to the Bush administration "turning a blind eye" to this or that group.

Representative Dennis Kucinich

On the home page <>, links and controls are labeled. The site uses Google to search. As a result, searching for "disability" brought up 160 results, including a Google-sponsored link from Wesley Clark's site. A search for "blind" returned 12 results.

Senator Joe Lieberman

Links and controls on the home page <> are labeled. There are unfriendly combo boxes. Searches for "disability" and "blind" found no items.

Reverend Al Sharpton

Navigation links on the home page <> are not labeled, and some links are labeled "Click here." There is no link or control to search the site.

The Bottom Line

All the candidates have sites that contain a lot of information and are surprisingly accessible. I have noted a few problems found on one or more of the sites, but, for the most part, people who are blind or have low vision who are voting in a Democratic primary can use these sites to help choose the candidate they prefer.

Related Articles

Web Sites That Take You Places: Accessing Travel Web Sites with Low Vision by Sarah Lesko and Jim Denham

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