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Distributed September 22, 2003
Contact Mark Nickel

Web site rankings for 70 largest U.S. cities
Disability access problems plague city government Web sites

Most Web sites maintained by the governments of America’s 70 largest cities fail standard tests for access by users with vision and hearing impairments, according to a new study by researchers at Brown University. Most urban government Web sites are also written at a higher reading level than the average urban American user has achieved. A table of city rankings appears below.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. – Most government Web sites maintained by America’s 70 largest cities fail to meet basic disability access standards for the vision and hearing-impaired, according to a new urban “e-government” study by researchers at Brown University.

Darrell M. West, director of the Taubman Center for Public Policy at Brown University, and a team of researchers led by Carrie Bersak and Emily Boness analyzed 1,933 sites maintained by city governments. The researchers examined an average 27.6 Web sites in each city, including home pages for the mayor, city council and major departments and agencies. Financial support for the project was provided by Brown University. Research was completed during June and July 2003. Previous urban e-government studies were released in 2001 and 2002.

Researchers used two different standards of disability accessibility: compliance with the Priority Level One standard recommended by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) and compliance with the legal requirements of Section 508 of the U.S. Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Sites were judged to be either in compliance or not in compliance based on the online “Bobby” test [] that evaluates disability accessibility.

In looking at city government Web sites, researchers found that only 20 percent of city sites are in compliance with the W3C standard and only 13 percent pass the national legal standard of Section 508. The city numbers are significantly below comparable figures for the 50 states and the federal government. Forty-seven percent of federal sites and 33 percent of state sites meet the W3C standard. On the Section 508 statute, 22 percent of federal sites and 24 percent of state sites are accessible.

“Government Web sites need to do much more to make themselves accessible to all Americans,” West said. “Web sites maintained by city agencies are flunking basic disability access standards for the vision- and hearing-impaired.”

In addition, researchers evaluated the readability level of these Web sites. Employing the Flesch-Kincaid readability test used by the U.S. Department of Defense, they found that city government sites are written at a higher grade level than is understood by many Americans. The test score is computed by dividing the average sentence length (number of words divided by number of sentences) by the average number of syllables per word (number of syllables divided by the number of words).

The average readability level of American city Web sites is at a 11.2 grade level, well above the comprehension of many urban residents. Seventy percent of city government sites read at the 12th grade level. Just 8 percent of metropolitan sites read at the eighth grade level or below. National literacy statistics show that about half of the American population reads at the eighth grade level or lower.

The study also evaluated overall e-government performance based on the availability of information, the number of online services, privacy and security policies, disability access, foreign language translation, Flesch-Kincaid readability grade-level, and means of communication between citizens and government.

This year’s highest ranked e-government cities are Denver, Charlotte, Boston, Louisville and Nashville. The lowest ranked cities include Dayton, Miami, Tacoma, Atlanta and Greenville.

The table below shows the ranking for each city in 2003, followed by its 2002 ranking in parentheses. The table also shows each city’s score on a 100-point scale with last year’s score in parentheses.

Overall City e-Government Ratings in 2003
(previous year’s data in parentheses; rating is on a 100-point scale)

Rank    CityRatingRank     CityRating
1(3)  Denver64.8(89.5)36(35)  Los Angeles33.4(57.2)
2(27)  Charlotte57.3(77.6)37(58)  El Paso33.0(49.3)
3(5)  Boston55.6(60.9)37(31)  New York City33.0(59.4)
4(30)  Louisville53.5(60.2)39(12)  San Antonio32.5(71.9)
5(33)  Nashville53.0(57.9)40(11)  Columbus32.1(72.2)
6(9)  Houston49.3(73.8)41(48)  Orlando31.8(51.4)
7(37)  Salt Lake City48.7(55.7)42(59)  Las Vegas31.4(49.0)
8(7)  Dallas48.5(74.6)43(47)  Birmingham30.1(51.7)
9(61)  Oklahoma City47.4(48.3)44(13)  San Jose30.0(71.5)
10(34)  Tucson46.8(57.5)45(25)  Chicago29.9(61.3)
11(43)  Jacksonville45.5(52.7)46(64)  St. Louis29.7(47.3)
12(6)  Kansas City44.3(75.0)47(41)  Fort Worth29.6(53.2)
13(28)  Austin44.1(60.3)48(69)  Norfolk29.5(45.0)
14(19)  Virginia Beach43.0(64.6)49(52)  Knoxville29.4(49.9)
15(8)  Washington, DC41.2(74.3)49(53)  Providence29.4(49.8)
16(17)  Phoenix40.8(67.3)51(29)  Sacramento28.9(60.3)
17(22)  Memphis40.0(62.0)52(62)  Long Beach28.6(47.3)
17(4)  San Diego40.0(79.3)52(16)  Pittsburgh28.6(69.5)
19(24)  Milwaukee39.8(61.7)54(50)  Omaha28.5(50.7)
20(32)  Richmond38.8(58.1)55(67)  Detroit28.4(46.4)
21(10)  Tampa38.4(72.9)56(51)  Grand Rapids28.3(50.0)
22(70)  New Orleans38.2(44.8)57(54)  Greensboro28.0(49.7)
23(18)  San Francisco38.0(66.7)58(20)  Cleveland27.8(64.2)
24(39)  Buffalo37.4(54.6)59(23)  Baltimore27.6(61.9)
25(65)  Syracuse36.5(46.7)60(38)  Philadelphia27.3(55.7)
26(57)  Fresno36.2(49.4)61(60)  Albany27.0(48.7)
27(2)  Seattle36.0(85.9)61(55)  West Palm Beach27.0(49.5)
28(21)  Albuquerque35.7(62.9)63(68)  Raleigh26.7(45.0)
29(26)  Honolulu35.6(61.1)64(44)  Hartford26.1(52.4)
30(45)  Cincinnati35.5(52.2)65(42)  Oakland25.6(53.1)
31(1)  Minneapolis35.2(89.5)66(46)  Dayton25.3(51.8)
32(40)  Rochester34.8(54.0)67(63)  Miami25.1(47.3)
33(56)  Tulsa34.6(49.4)68(15)  Tacoma23.9(69.9)
34(14)  Indianapolis34.3(69.9)69(49)  Atlanta22.5(51.3)
35(36)  Portland33.7(56.3)70(66)  Greenville22.2(46.5)

In their report, West and his team offered suggestions for improvement. These recommendations include:

  • more attention to disability access and more consistent display of the date on which each site passed disability access tests;
  • use of simple, clear language so that more people can understand the site’s content;
  • a clear “e-services” link that connects directly to a list of online services available. Currently, many of the cities that offer this feature have links to forms which cannot be submitted online;
  • a visible e-mail address for the mayor. This means not only the ability to click an icon and have an e-mail server pop-up, but actually to display the address on the Web site;
  • a good and regularly updated search engine so that a user can review the Web site effectively;
  • a foreign language translation link written in the language for which it translates. For example a button that says “En Espanol” is more effective than one that reads “In Spanish.”

For more information about the results of this study, please contact Darrell West at (401) 863-1163 or see the full report online at The appendix of that report provides e-government profiles for each of the 70 cities.


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