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Accessible Web Design for Government Agencies

Accessibility benefits more than just people with disabilities. Think about the elevator: this technology allowed individuals with mobility impairments to access buildings, but it also made it easier for everyone to get to their desired floor! All people – regardless of their ability – benefit from accessibility-driven innovations.

In the digital world, accessibility similarly enhances the all-around user experience. Improving the digital user experience quite often down to simplicity: simple design, simple language, a straightforward user experience. 

[READ MORE: This article is another in our series on What is Digital Accessibility?]

For government agencies, an accessible web design is critical. When a citizen lands on a government website, it’s likely with a goal in mind: to find out information, interact with their officials, submit a form or application, etc. Citizens expect to find the information and forms they need on their municipality’s website. A simple experience ensures citizens can find what they need, and can be active participants in their community. 

A complicated journey, convoluted language or clunky interface could result in a citizen giving up. This could mean lower engagement, lost revenue, or even lawsuits. To avoid this, a government website—at a minimum—must conform with:

In order to provide the optimal user experience for staff and citizens, government agencies must ensure that the information provided online and the operation of the user interface are understandable. But ensuring that your government’s website is accessible can be a daunting task. That’s why we compiled answers to commonly asked questions to facilitate your government’s journey toward accessible web design.

Is my government web design accessible?

A 2017 study by the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation found that 85% of government sites are inaccessible. Inaccessible web design is prevalent on all levels of government, though more acutely among smaller local governments that lack the resources to proactively audit and upgrade their web design.

There’s a good chance your government's website isn’t meeting accessible web design standards. To learn more about your State’s laws regarding accessibility and compliance, click here.

Want to check for yourself to see if your government’s web design is accessible? We recommend browser plugins like this Siteimprove Accessibility Checker, which will flag any WCAG violations on your government website.

What online barriers do people with disabilities face?

According to a 2018 report by the Center for Disease Control, one in 4 U.S. adults – 61 million Americans – have a disability that impacts major life activities. That’s 25% of adults that are affected by inaccessible government services.

But what do online barriers to access look like? See below for some common problems associated with inaccessible government websites:

  • Images Without Text Equivalents
  • Videos and Other Multimedia Lacking Accessible Features
  • Forms and Documents Not Posted In an Accessible Format

People with vision impairments will not be able to access these digital resources, which are incompatible with assistive technologies. That’s why you’ll need to incorporate alt text for all your images, add captions and transcripts for your videos and multimedia, and develop online forms and documents that citizens can complete and submit online, using a screen reader.

man at computer

What can I do to make my government website design accessible?

Prioritize the front-end user experience

Principle 3 of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1 states: “Information and the operation of user interface must be understandable,” but what does this mean for creating an accessible user experience in government?

Government websites designed with ideal color contrasts, appropriate text size, and accessible online forms that can be submitted directly through the website, will create a beautiful government experience for all staff and citizens.

Government has historically implemented technology that prioritizes back-end process management, while neglecting the front-end user experience. While it is important to have a tool that can accommodate complex back-end workflows, don’t forget to design a user-friendly front-end experience!

The front-end is what your citizens will interact with, and if they get lost in the process, there will be no back-end for you to manage! Ultimately, you’ll want a beautiful end-to-end experience.

Develop your web content for a lower secondary school reading level

This is a direct recommendation by the WCAG, to develop content as clearly and simply as possible (lower secondary school corresponds to grades 7-9 in the US education system). Simple text benefits a host of users: people with reading disabilities including dyslexia, people with attention deficit disorders, non-English speakers, and more.

Clear and concise language will maximize the understandability of your content, improving the overall accessibility.

Create multilingual opportunities for access

If there is a form or page on your website that non-English speakers access? Embed a translator to allow the end user to translate the content into their language of choice. Check out how SeamlessDocs is empowering hundreds of government to provide multilingual online services to promote accessibility.

In order to create an understandable user experience, you must improve what your online content says, how it says it, and how users interact with it. Once the user experience is understandable, citizens will be able to find what they need faster, interact with their government more seamlessly, and view their government more favorably.

Ultimately, it is the government’s job to curate this user experience to be approachable to the citizen. In other words, accessible government web design is essential for some, but useful for all.

To learn more about how you can help build a more accessible, understandable government, check out our new ebook: Best Practices for Driving Constituent Engagement through Digital Services.

In this ebook, we draw from over six years of learning and insights from our government partners to recommend ten best practices for implementing accessible digital services in the public sector.

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