May 10 2017

Georgia Calls on Alexa to Ease Web Access for Residents With Disabilities

A pilot with Amazon’s voice-controlled software will look to expand access to popular government services to those with disabilities.

Georgia residents will soon be able to use their Amazon Echo to do more than play music and receive weather updates — they will be able to navigate their state government’s website.

With the aim to make services more accessible for residents with disabilities, the state’s digital services group, GeorgiaGov Interactive, will be launching a “conversational interface pilot” that uses Amazon’s voice-controlled software, Alexa, to navigate state government information.

“Conversational interfaces are accessible by nature, providing another avenue for people with vision impairments or mobility limitations to interact. It is very important for us to keep in mind that while we set on this futuristic pursuit, we are doing so in a way that includes all Georgians,” Nikhil Deshpande, director of GeorgiaGov Interactive at the Georgia Technology Authority, said in a blog post on the state’s digital services site.

The state will launch the pilot on its flagship website with the aim to explore how to make the site’s existing information more “conversational.” The project aims to have a public prototype live by July, offering 50 of Georgia’s most-accessed pieces of information, such as where and how to renew driver’s licenses, via the voice software, StateScoop reports.

Targeting Tech to Foster an Inclusive Future

The idea to pilot voice-accessibility for informational and transactional services to residents with disabilities arose last year as Georgia looked to upgrade its websites in accordance with compliance mandates.

"A lot of the partners we worked with on the accessibility projects had a lot of people with limited abilities that [tested our websites]," Deshpande tells StateScoop. "They confirmed that they and the community they knew depended on devices that helped them with assistive technologies and really relied heavily on Alexa to look up all kinds of information.”

The program is in line with the state’s technology-first mindset — Georgia recently introduced plans for a cyber innovation center aimed at keeping tech and talent on the cutting edge. Few other local governments have enabled the voice-communication software to deliver information to residents. While Las Vegas and Los Angeles have both enabled Alexa applications to provide residents with information on events such as city council meetings and elections, Georgia’s pilot is looking to be one of the most robust.

“If successful, we will extend it to other agencies so that citizens, regardless of their abilities, can access information in their own way. Just as the touch interfaces changed interaction with visual content, we hope to offer the same level of ease to non-screen devices, extending our commitment to providing interaction without any barriers,” Deshpande said in the blog post.

Deshpande is also hoping that if the program takes off, it will change the way that all users are able to access information on the web.

Conversational interfaces are proving to eliminate the dependency on users’ understanding of a website’s content structure. Users are able to have a direct conversation with devices and formulate questions based on their existing mental models and terminologies,” Deshpande added in the post.


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