The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic brought about numerous changes to life as we knew it. We had to adapt to the “new normal” which included staying put and relying on our digital devices to keep us updated and connected to the rest of the world.
While governments across the country have quickly adapted to the growing demands to digitize their processes for the public, there is more to be done. Simply ensuring all your information and services are available online is not enough. Governments and businesses alike must ensure that their information and/or services are easily accessible by people with varying ability levels. In other words, all content must be compliant with digital accessibility standards.
What is Digital Accessibility?
The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), a set of standards from the Worldwide Web Consortium (WC3), are considered the gold standard for digital accessibility. It provides organizations with benchmarks and essential elements required to ensure digital accessibility for all. Adhering to these standards is especially important for governments so that ALL members of their constituencies, regardless of ability level, can engage with their governments.
How Can Local and State Governments Enhance Digital Accessibility for their Constituents?
For local and state governments, budget transparency is critical for increasing trust with the public, particularly through an easy-to-understand visual representation of the constituency’s budget data.
Needless to say, it’s best to convey to constituents all the policies, action plans, and subsequent budget allocation details, which can be summarized in a formal report of how the government body plans to address the concerns and needs of their constituents. Additionally, it is imperative that governments ensure this document is digitally accessible by people with varied abilities.
The Importance of Digital Accessibility in Government
Think of digital accessibility as a mobility device. For example, government buildings and town halls are required to install wheelchair ramps to make their buildings more accessible to people with disabilities. But, if the ramp is not constructed properly and ends up being too narrow or too steep, it does not fulfill its intended purpose.
Digital accessibility is similar. It must be considered from a holistic perspective, accounting for the many diverse needs that can come up. For example, can a person with colorblindness access your government’s public-facing financial data or would they have a challenging time doing so?
Therefore, it is also important to understand the difference between actual compliance vs. “token compliance,” which can be described as superficial compliance with laws and regulations. As highlighted by the example provided above, a wheelchair alone will not help ensure accessibility. Similarly, many organizations end up doing the bare minimum to provide digital accessibility, which usually involves ensuring that their digital properties can be accessed using a screen reader.
While this may seem like a big step in the right direction, it merely scratches the surface of digital accessibility. Following are some of the common types of compliance errors identified by WCAG:
- Low contrast text
- Unavailability of alternative text for web images
- Links without any related text (to enable easy translation by screen readers)
- Missing document language in the website code
- Not accounting for accessibility for downloadable content
- Code that fails to identify the main language of the document
- Buttons without text
While these errors might seem situational, in the context of digital documents, these cannot be overlooked. This directly points to the next question: Why?
- Budget books are extensive documents and contain additional notes, attachments with information related to the cause, and rationale behind the allocated budget–all of which are important to the document viewer. That is why each element must be screened for seamless digital accessibility.
- Many financial transparency solutions in the market claim compliance but it is up to the users to determine that compliance is demonstrated.
How to Ensure Compliance with Digital Accessibility Guidelines
While it is important to do your research before purchasing any public-facing software, the following are some methods you can implement to ensure your budgeting software demonstrates maximum compliance with digital accessibility requirements:
- Conduct checks on a regular basis
- Check for local navigation and site structure
- Use an automated accessibility checker
- Consult an accessibility expert
- Conduct real-life tests
At Questica, we believe in leading by example. With our focus being on the public sector, making our software compliant for individuals with different ability levels is of utmost importance in helping governments and public-sector organizations better serve their constituents. That is why we strive to ensure Questica’s citizen engagement and transparency software, OpenBook, meets the digital accessibility requirements to facilitate seamless information exchange between government bodies and their constituents.
What to expect from OpenBook’s Accessibility Release?
We teamed up with Level Access to ensure compatibility with WCAG’s digital accessibility standards. We conducted tests against many sub-standards within WCAG and Section 508. We also tested against WCAG 2.1 A & AA, which is the industry standard for guidelines to ensure the following:
- Compatibility with WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) “AA” standards
- Testing of the software by real people with varying ability levels. This helped us identify issues that were overlooked during the technical scans to ensure that every user enjoys a quality experience while using our software.
- The use of a third-party certified Voluntary Product Accessibility Template (VPAT)
With this update, OpenBook can now provide interactive government transparency that is accessible to ALL members of your constituency!
Are your technology solutions truly accessible or are you assuming they are? If you want to know why you can trust our software for use by people of all abilities, schedule a demo and see OpenBook for yourself, today!