Evolving tools and emerging technologies reinforce the benefits of accessible design

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As states and cities went into lockdown during the pandemic, more citizens quickly embraced online solutions to conduct government business. For many people, 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 exist. This lack of access puts people with disabilities at an increasingly disadvantageous position as digital government expands. The ultimate responsibility of government is to serve all of its citizens. Agencies need to be ready to deliver accessible digital platforms, and we as government contractors need to be ready in the pre-planning stages to produce those solutions. Here are a few things to keep in mind.

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

The State’s Letter of Accessibility Law

With respect to the federal government, Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 mandates agencies to ensure that federal information and communications technology remains accessible to persons with disabilities. This requirement is often referred to as 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, governmental code section 7405 requires states to follow federal section 508. In Illinois, the separate Illinois Information Technology Accessibility Act directs state agencies and universities to maintain the accessibility of websites and other computer systems. And an updated Massachusetts policy asks executive agencies to establish “equitable access to online information and the services they provide.”

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Agencies need scalable tools to make multimedia accessible

Meeting Section 508 requirements is aided by a growing interest in web multimedia today. Along with the explosion of video content has come a dramatic increase in captioned or captioned content. Websites such as statetechmagazine.com support an audio capability that can read stories to visitors. These apps demonstrate a certain elegance in implementing Section 508 technologies: when deployed appropriately, they can provide convenience to everyone, especially those on the go.

From the outset, developers of government websites should adopt the guidelines for web content accessibility promulgated by the WC3 Web Accessibility Initiative. The guidelines provide a single shared standard that supports content accessible to everyone. The guidelines stipulate certain content planning inputs (is media presented in a logical flow?) as well as technical considerations (are colors and contrast set to acceptable measurements?).

TO EXPLORE: How to make hybrid work a long-term success.

Augmented and virtual reality can improve accessibility

Government can catch up with digital presence in many cases, but in other cases agencies will find cutting-edge communication to be the new norm. 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 constituents. Imagine travelers seeing overlays depicting subway delays or witnessing virtual representations of traffic congestion.

The Foundation for Information Technology and Innovation is calling on governments to be early adopters of inclusive augmented reality and virtual reality.

As the ITIF indicates, the specifications of equity and inclusion will vary depending on the use cases of public services. However, the foundation subscribes to recommendations applicable to all accessibility procedures. First, collect feedback from the affected community. Second, incorporate universal design principles. Third, look at factors beyond devices or apps, such as what can be done to bridge the digital divide.

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

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