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State health department Web sites inaccessible to many, study finds

PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- Considering the significant amount of data, medical information, and services now offered online by state-run health departments, many websites are written well above the comprehension level of the average American and are inaccessible to people with dis-abilities and non-English speakers, concludes a new report by Brown University researchers Darrell M. West and Edward Alan Miller published in the Journal of Health Care for the Poor and Underserved.

"Inaccessible websites hurt the underprivileged and make it difficult to justify the investment in technology that has taken place in state governments around the country," the authors state. "Unless these concerns are addressed, public e-health will remain the domain of highly educated and affluent individuals who speak English and do not suffer from physical impairments."

West and Miller examined the accessibility, privacy, and security of public websites maintained by the 50 state governments in the United States in the last two to five years. Using content analysis, they focused on readability levels, disability access, non-English accessibility, and the presence of privacy and security statements.

They determined that text on the majority of sites employs a reading level too difficult to com-prehend for most users. Though half of Americans read at an eighth-grade level, only 20 percent of state health department web sites were written at that level in 2005, the authors found. The analysis concludes that 62% percent of the sites were written at the 12th grade level in the same year.

West and Miller also found the majority of state health websites are not accessible to physically impaired individuals. In 2005, 58 percent of the state sites did not meet the minimum accessibility standards recommended by disability advocates, including the ability to generate text in a format for Braille displays or speech synthesizers, procedures for using Text Telephone
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Contact: Deborah Baum
deborah_Baum@brown.edu
401-863-2478
Brown University
6-Sep-2006


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