Not everyone has equal access to information about the effects of the pandemic and the guidelines to effectively protect themselves, as health authorities in the majority of countries have so far failed to produce websites tailored also for disadvantaged groups, new Israeli research has shown.Since a very young age, Amiel Dror, a member of Bar-Ilan University’s Azrieli Faculty of Medicine and a physician at the department of otolaryngology at The Galilee Medical Center, learned how to be attentive to the needs of his hearing-impaired older sister. The experience informed his later career choices. After the novel coronavirus pandemic hit Israel, Dror started to notice that his patients had difficulty in accessing crucial information about the health crisis.“One of my patients for example, came in wearing gloves thinking that was a requirement, while they can actually make things worse, other were very confused by the instructions about visiting the emergency room or their health clinic,” the doctor recalled speaking to The Jerusalem Post. “At the beginning, I thought the difficulty was local and I became active to solve it and make the information more accessible. However, when I started to look into it, I realized that the problem was much bigger than I expected, and that it was not only a community challenge but rather an issue at the global level,” he added.Dror and a group of researchers from Bar-Ilan, Tel Aviv University and The Galilee Medical Center decided to analyze the websites by health authorities of almost 200 countries to determine whether they complied with the universal accessibility criteria according to the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) developed by the World Wide Web Consortium, a nonprofit organization that works to develop internet standards. The study was published in the journal Frontiers in Medicine last week.
“Our focus became not only how to improve the accessibility in our own community, but to raise global awareness on the issue,” Dror pointed out. “We decided to take into consideration the official information offered by health authorities in each country because we believe that it is the most crucial that people need to have access to, since it’s the most reliable.” The WAI criteria include offering captions in all video content to help people affected by hearing impairment or other forms of disabilities, appropriate color coding, font and size for texts, including offering the ability to enlarge the writing for those who suffer from vision problems, and implementing a special code so that the website can be easily navigated with one finger for those carrying motor impairments.Some 89% of the 198 nations considered failed to comply with the requirements. Among the best countries in the world, the researchers have highlighted, were the US, the UK, Italy and New Zealand. Israel ranked 50th.“I would not say that the result is bad, but we have a lot to improve,” Dror said.The doctor pointed out that the Israeli authorities should implement captions for official information disseminated through videos. Moreover, they should pay more attention to another characteristics of the country’s society, the presence of a linguistic minority.“The Health Ministry should include captions in more than one language, since not everyone can read Hebrew,” Dror stated. “This would be very important for the Arab sector.”The doctor revealed that the worst aspect of the problem is that people who face barriers to access official and trustworthy information will just instead rely on what they read on social media instead, which can have problematic consequences.“We know how during pandemic it is very important that all the population follows the rules, we are seeing that even a small group of people not complying with the guidelines for any reason can have very severe effects, impacting everyone,” Dror concluded. “It is fundamental to give everybody the opportunity to access the information they need.”