Feb 03 2022

Evolving Tools and Emerging Tech Heighten Benefits of Accessible Design

Grappling with solutions for people with disabilities produces good for everyone.

When states and cities locked down during the pandemic, more citizens rapidly adopted online solutions to conduct government business. For many folks, this was an improvement over long waits for in-person services. But for millions of Americans with disabilities, this new reality presented many challenges.

People with disabilities may not be able to interact with websites and other digital solutions as they currently stand. This lack of access places people with disabilities at an increasing ­disadvantage at a time when digital ­government is growing. The ultimate responsibility of government is to serve all its citizens. Agencies must be ­prepared to provide accessible digital platforms, and we, as government contractors, must be ready in the preplanning stages to produce these solutions. Here are a few things to keep in mind.

RELATED: The pandemic has highlighted the need for accessible technologies.

The Letter of State Law on Accessibility 

Where the federal government is concerned, Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 carries a mandate for agencies to ensure federal information and communication technology remain accessible to people with disabilities. This requirement is often called a Section 508 requirement, although the relevant code was written only ­for­ federal systems. State and local ­governments often have an equivalent requirement.

In California for example, Government Code Section 7405 requires states to follow the federal Section 508. In Illinois, the distinct Illinois Information Technology Accessibility Act directs state agencies and ­universities to maintain accessibility for websites and other IT systems. And an updated Massachusetts policy instructs executive agencies to establish “equitable access to online information and the services they provide.”

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Agencies Need Evolving Tools to Make Multimedia Accessible

Meeting Section 508 requirements is aided by a burgeoning interest in web multimedia today. The explosion in video content has come with a dramatic rise in subtitled or closed-captioned content. Websites such as statetechmagazine.com support an audio capability that can read stories to visitors. These applications demonstrate a certain elegance in the implementation of Section 508 technologies: When deployed appropriately, they can provide a convenience to everyone, particularly people on the go.

From the start, developers of ­government websites must adopt the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines ­promulgated by the WC3 Web Accessibility Initiative. The guidelines provide a ­single shared standard that supports content accessible to everyone. The guidelines stipulate some content ­planning input (is media presented in a logical flow?) as well as technical ­considerations (are colors and contrast set at acceptable measures?).

EXPLORE: How to make hybrid work successful for the long term.

Augmented and Virtual Reality Can Enhance Accessibility 

Government may be playing catch-up with digital presence in many cases, but in other cases, agencies will find ­cutting-edge communication to be the new normal. As state and local ­governments get swept up in enthusiasm for artificial intelligence, they may find appeal in augmented reality or ­virtual reality content for their ­constituencies. Imagine travelers being able to see overlays describing subway delays or witness virtual representations of traffic congestion.

The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation calls on governments to serve as early adopters of inclusive augmented reality and virtual reality.

As the ITIF says, equity and inclusion specifications will vary among use cases for public services. However, the foundation endorses recommendations applicable to all accessibility approaches. First, gather input from the affected community. Second, integrate universal design principles. Third, look at factors beyond devices or applications, such as what can be done to close the digital divide.

By embracing these ideals, agencies can provide for all citizens with a bridge to the future.

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