Slate, the Industry Standard, and washingtonpost.com join forces to examine the effect of the Internet on Campaign 2000.
"Bobby" lead designer Michael Cooper says that achieving Priority 1 status is not particularly costly or difficult for Web sites that begin with accessibility as a top priority. "There are a lot of guidelines for making a site accessible. But they boil down to the fact that the Web site structure needs to be flexible enough to adapt to a particular user. A person who does not have motor access, for instance, should not have to move a mouse around, and a person who is deaf needs textual information," Cooper said.
So was the Gore camp's indignation over Bush's disability remarks justified? A Bobby report on georgewbush.com found 12 instances in which the Bush site failed to provide alternative text (commonly called "alt-text") for "image map hot spots," sections of images on a site that can be clicked for further information.
Bobby found no verifiable problems with algore2000.com, hence the Bobby banner at the bottom of the Gore home page and this sound bite from Gore Web director Ben Green: "This is a clear example of a contrast between Al Gore and George W. Bush. ... Our site has met this standard since last fall. It's something that's a high priority for us. Every time we put a new piece of content on the site we make sure it's OK. We run this (Bobby) test every day."
The Bush campaign did not return a call for comment.
The accessibility issue is not one that simply plagues Republican candidates, however. In the New York Senate race, first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton's site fails the Bobby test, while Rep. Rick Lazio's site passes. Green Party presidential hopeful Ralph Nader's site fails, as does Patrick J. Buchanan's.
Bobby is not the only tool for judging a site's accessibility. The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) maintains a list of accessibility resources on their site, which includes WAVE, a popular tool maintained by Pennsylvania's Initiative on Assistive Technology. Bush's site gets several red flags from WAVE; Gore's site gets none.
Judy Brewer, director of the Web accessibility initiative at W3C, says making a page easy for the disabled to navigate can be as simple as giving each frame its own name and ensuring that code for text is written in such a way that screen readers, or refreshable Braille keyboard strips, don't skip from one column to the next, coming up with unintelligible sentences.
Brewer also says she is fielding more and more calls from campaign Webmasters looking for help in designing their sites. "The change this year is that of all of a sudden the people involved in these political camps seem to have understood that the disabled vote counts. And that they want to get it."