Fulfill our commitment to accessibility and inclusion

The pandemic has shown how inaccessible many of our government institutions and services can be. This is not news. These challenges existed long before the pandemic and many people, including disability advocates, have been calling for improvements for years. But the challenges of the pandemic to have helped make this more obvious to leaders and amplified the need, from education¹ to government². This realization also comes at a time when the digital transformation of the public sector is gaining momentum.

In December, I wrote that we couldn’t miss this moment to build an infrastructure that works for everyone. This extends to government services and operations. We need to integrate accessibility into digital transformation plans. This means changes in technology, in policies and in the way we work.

That’s why I’ve brought together public sector leaders with expertise in accessibility for a Digital Forum. We discussed what to do – and just as important, how to do it – with experts who have done it in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles:

  • Victor Calise, Commissioner of the Mayor’s Office for Persons with Disabilities, New York City
  • Rachel Arfa, Commissioner for the City of Chicago Mayor’s Office of Persons with Disabilities
  • Stephen David Simon, Executive Director of the City of Los Angeles Department of Disability

Our discussion explored what I consider to be six complementary elements that lead to accessible digital transformation.

  1. Digital services should be built with design and technology choices that make those services usable by everyone. It is a baseline that must become the norm when governments create digital services. This includes making web pages accessible to screen readers, including audio descriptions of videos, subtitles and captions, accessible color choices, and more.
  2. Governments must implement policies that promote accessibility. It is not enough to mandate the accessibility of websites and applications, a measure that many governments have already taken. They also need to implement policies and processes that give technology teams the time and operational space to get the job done right. It cannot be a question of checking a box that meets the bare minimum.
  3. Governments must continue their efforts to bridge the digital divide. Governments around the world have recognized the importance of connectivity and devices. They also need to create technologies that perform well regardless of device bandwidth and speed. It doesn’t matter how well an app is designed if the people who need that service can’t access it.
  4. Governments are making services more accessible and ensuring residents can access them. But they should also invest in training and educating their workforce on how to prioritize accessibility in their work among technical and non-technical employees.
  5. Accessible digital transformation also requires outreach to communicate with people about new services and opportunities. In short, people need to know that the services exist and that they will be able to access them. This is particularly important among the same populations that have been excluded from accessing digital government services.
  6. Efforts must be given the necessary resources and funding to make them a reality. This work requires expertise, time and money. Governments must provide all of these elements to implement effective and accessible digital transformation. Policies, mandates, and even genuine dedication to accessibility must be backed by the budget necessary to put it into practice.

Prioritizing accessibility requires adopting a broad approach to digital transformation that does not reduce it to technical changes alone. When we work with our partners and customers on digital transformation efforts, we know that success relies on more than technology. It requires a clear vision, collaboration, buy-in at all levels and a modern approach to IT. When we put it all together, digital transformation isn’t just changing technology, it’s changing the way we work for the better.

As essential as each element outlined above is to increasing accessibility, organizations may still find it difficult to implement them all. Join me for an insightful discussion with officials on the front lines of this file.

Register for the Digital Forum to participate in this vital and timely discussion. Learn more about our Microsoft accessibility initiatives.


Sources:

¹ Digital Accessibility: A Look Back at the Pandemic – and into the Future – UW-Madison Information Technology
²Creating an Inclusive Digital World—Scottish Government

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