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Article
May 30, 2024

Addressing the divide: Digital accessibility in the public sector

Janet Szczesny
Sr. Product Experience Designer
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28.6 — that’s how many accessibility errors you’ll find on the average government homepage, according to a 2023 study. While the public sector does a better job than some industries, these organizations exist to serve their constituents. One in four American adults lives with some form of disability,1 but this shouldn’t hinder their access to critical government services.

Digital accessibility is no longer a nice-to-have for public sector entities, but rather an increasingly pressing priority. Organizations who lag behind risk both regulatory and reputational backlash — here’s why.

An evolving regulatory landscape

Regulation is a major part of the reason why public sector organizations tend to have fewer accessibility errors on their websites than other businesses. In the late 90s, the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C)’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) established global standards for digital accessibility that have evolved through the years. Compliance is not a legal requirement, but many countries and agencies have used WCAG as the basis for their own laws and standards.2

In the US, Section 508 of the 1973 Rehabilitation Act is enforceable legislation that makes digital accessibility a requirement for federal agencies and their contractors across a wide range of IT products including hardware and software. At the non-federal level, 15 US states3 have adopted similar standards within their jurisdictions. But further and more widespread regulation is on the horizon.

In 2023, the Department of Justice (DOJ) proposed a rule under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) that will require government entities to comply with WCAG for materials they make available to the public online and through mobile applications regardless of whether the content is on the entity’s own website or elsewhere online, including social media.

The proposed guidelines would also impact private companies who supply the third-party web content and apps that government entities use to provide services to the public, including websites to pay parking tickets or taxes, register for benefits, or sign up for classes. While the proposed regulations are still under review, it is likely that if adopted the new rules would take effect before the end of the decade.

Digital accessibility is no longer a nice-to-have for public sector entities, but rather an increasingly pressing priority. Organizations who lag behind risk both regulatory and reputational backlash.

Most federal organizations will have digital accessibility considerations in place under Section 508, but state and local governments face the most disruption from evolving regulations. There are 35 US states that lack accessibility requirements, and local governments can pick and choose whether they want to adhere to WCAG or not. This creates an inconsistent experience for people with disabilities, and that needs to change.

A duty of care

Public sector entities shouldn’t just care about digital accessibility because they’re required to. These organizations exist to serve the public, and if a select population of their constituencies cannot access critical services or information, they have failed to live up to their duty of care.

The problem is that legacy IT stacks, siloed teams and systems, hefty backlogs, and overall lack of cohesion plague most public sector organizations. At the state level, there are so many disparate properties that it's hard to audit and understand it all. Change takes longer to implement and is difficult to scale. Some states have undergone major transformation projects to remedy these issues, but true digital accessibility means creating engagement beyond usability.

Here at Launch by NTT DATA, accessibility is table-stakes in every product we design, and we’re helping one western US state operate the same way. They are dedicated to ensuring accessible experiences for all residents and have taken steps to improve, but like many others  in the public sector, they have struggled to manage accessibility governance, update their processes, and train their staff. We’re employing a three-step process to create real impact and develop an actionable roadmap for digital accessibility, clear out the state’s backlog of accessibility issues, and produce products that meet or exceed industry accessibility standards. The key to successful digital accessibility in the public sector is to employ the curb-cut principle: when things are designed for people with disabilities in mind from the start, experiences are better for everyone.

To discuss how Launch by NTT DATA can help your organization strategize, ship, and scale ambitious digital experiences to connect with your constituents and improve services, get in touch with our experts.

Article
May 30, 2024

Addressing the divide: Digital accessibility in the public sector

28.6 — that’s how many accessibility errors you’ll find on the average government homepage, according to a 2023 study. While the public sector does a better job than some industries, these organizations exist to serve their constituents. One in four American adults lives with some form of disability,1 but this shouldn’t hinder their access to critical government services.

Digital accessibility is no longer a nice-to-have for public sector entities, but rather an increasingly pressing priority. Organizations who lag behind risk both regulatory and reputational backlash — here’s why.

An evolving regulatory landscape

Regulation is a major part of the reason why public sector organizations tend to have fewer accessibility errors on their websites than other businesses. In the late 90s, the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C)’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) established global standards for digital accessibility that have evolved through the years. Compliance is not a legal requirement, but many countries and agencies have used WCAG as the basis for their own laws and standards.2

In the US, Section 508 of the 1973 Rehabilitation Act is enforceable legislation that makes digital accessibility a requirement for federal agencies and their contractors across a wide range of IT products including hardware and software. At the non-federal level, 15 US states3 have adopted similar standards within their jurisdictions. But further and more widespread regulation is on the horizon.

In 2023, the Department of Justice (DOJ) proposed a rule under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) that will require government entities to comply with WCAG for materials they make available to the public online and through mobile applications regardless of whether the content is on the entity’s own website or elsewhere online, including social media.

The proposed guidelines would also impact private companies who supply the third-party web content and apps that government entities use to provide services to the public, including websites to pay parking tickets or taxes, register for benefits, or sign up for classes. While the proposed regulations are still under review, it is likely that if adopted the new rules would take effect before the end of the decade.

Digital accessibility is no longer a nice-to-have for public sector entities, but rather an increasingly pressing priority. Organizations who lag behind risk both regulatory and reputational backlash.

Most federal organizations will have digital accessibility considerations in place under Section 508, but state and local governments face the most disruption from evolving regulations. There are 35 US states that lack accessibility requirements, and local governments can pick and choose whether they want to adhere to WCAG or not. This creates an inconsistent experience for people with disabilities, and that needs to change.

A duty of care

Public sector entities shouldn’t just care about digital accessibility because they’re required to. These organizations exist to serve the public, and if a select population of their constituencies cannot access critical services or information, they have failed to live up to their duty of care.

The problem is that legacy IT stacks, siloed teams and systems, hefty backlogs, and overall lack of cohesion plague most public sector organizations. At the state level, there are so many disparate properties that it's hard to audit and understand it all. Change takes longer to implement and is difficult to scale. Some states have undergone major transformation projects to remedy these issues, but true digital accessibility means creating engagement beyond usability.

Here at Launch by NTT DATA, accessibility is table-stakes in every product we design, and we’re helping one western US state operate the same way. They are dedicated to ensuring accessible experiences for all residents and have taken steps to improve, but like many others  in the public sector, they have struggled to manage accessibility governance, update their processes, and train their staff. We’re employing a three-step process to create real impact and develop an actionable roadmap for digital accessibility, clear out the state’s backlog of accessibility issues, and produce products that meet or exceed industry accessibility standards. The key to successful digital accessibility in the public sector is to employ the curb-cut principle: when things are designed for people with disabilities in mind from the start, experiences are better for everyone.

To discuss how Launch by NTT DATA can help your organization strategize, ship, and scale ambitious digital experiences to connect with your constituents and improve services, get in touch with our experts.

Article
May 30, 2024
Ep.

Addressing the divide: Digital accessibility in the public sector

0:00

28.6 — that’s how many accessibility errors you’ll find on the average government homepage, according to a 2023 study. While the public sector does a better job than some industries, these organizations exist to serve their constituents. One in four American adults lives with some form of disability,1 but this shouldn’t hinder their access to critical government services.

Digital accessibility is no longer a nice-to-have for public sector entities, but rather an increasingly pressing priority. Organizations who lag behind risk both regulatory and reputational backlash — here’s why.

An evolving regulatory landscape

Regulation is a major part of the reason why public sector organizations tend to have fewer accessibility errors on their websites than other businesses. In the late 90s, the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C)’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) established global standards for digital accessibility that have evolved through the years. Compliance is not a legal requirement, but many countries and agencies have used WCAG as the basis for their own laws and standards.2

In the US, Section 508 of the 1973 Rehabilitation Act is enforceable legislation that makes digital accessibility a requirement for federal agencies and their contractors across a wide range of IT products including hardware and software. At the non-federal level, 15 US states3 have adopted similar standards within their jurisdictions. But further and more widespread regulation is on the horizon.

In 2023, the Department of Justice (DOJ) proposed a rule under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) that will require government entities to comply with WCAG for materials they make available to the public online and through mobile applications regardless of whether the content is on the entity’s own website or elsewhere online, including social media.

The proposed guidelines would also impact private companies who supply the third-party web content and apps that government entities use to provide services to the public, including websites to pay parking tickets or taxes, register for benefits, or sign up for classes. While the proposed regulations are still under review, it is likely that if adopted the new rules would take effect before the end of the decade.

Digital accessibility is no longer a nice-to-have for public sector entities, but rather an increasingly pressing priority. Organizations who lag behind risk both regulatory and reputational backlash.

Most federal organizations will have digital accessibility considerations in place under Section 508, but state and local governments face the most disruption from evolving regulations. There are 35 US states that lack accessibility requirements, and local governments can pick and choose whether they want to adhere to WCAG or not. This creates an inconsistent experience for people with disabilities, and that needs to change.

A duty of care

Public sector entities shouldn’t just care about digital accessibility because they’re required to. These organizations exist to serve the public, and if a select population of their constituencies cannot access critical services or information, they have failed to live up to their duty of care.

The problem is that legacy IT stacks, siloed teams and systems, hefty backlogs, and overall lack of cohesion plague most public sector organizations. At the state level, there are so many disparate properties that it's hard to audit and understand it all. Change takes longer to implement and is difficult to scale. Some states have undergone major transformation projects to remedy these issues, but true digital accessibility means creating engagement beyond usability.

Here at Launch by NTT DATA, accessibility is table-stakes in every product we design, and we’re helping one western US state operate the same way. They are dedicated to ensuring accessible experiences for all residents and have taken steps to improve, but like many others  in the public sector, they have struggled to manage accessibility governance, update their processes, and train their staff. We’re employing a three-step process to create real impact and develop an actionable roadmap for digital accessibility, clear out the state’s backlog of accessibility issues, and produce products that meet or exceed industry accessibility standards. The key to successful digital accessibility in the public sector is to employ the curb-cut principle: when things are designed for people with disabilities in mind from the start, experiences are better for everyone.

To discuss how Launch by NTT DATA can help your organization strategize, ship, and scale ambitious digital experiences to connect with your constituents and improve services, get in touch with our experts.

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