Accessibility is a crucial part of government product design. First, it’s the law. Federal agencies face legal consequences when they don’t meet accessibility requirements. Second, it affects us all. Whether you have a motor disability, you sprained your wrist playing dodgeball, you need a building to have a ramp for your wheelchair or stroller, or you literally just have your hands full, we all find ourselves unable to do certain things at different points in our lives.
This past year, I led an effort to redesign the staff Intranet site for the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). After months of surveying, planning, and testing (see the part 1 blog post, How Do You Redesign a ‘Dinosaur’? Redesigning an Intranet Site: the Beginning Stages), the site was launched in Fall 2017. I learned several helpful lessons along the way that I wanted to share:
My team at the Federal Reserve is about to launch our first style guide and now that we have gone through the process and created this valuable resource, I can’t imagine creating another app or website without it. Here’s why your team needs a style guide and lessons learned from our experience. CFPB Design Manual, Page Components: A pair of 50/50 image and text components, as seen on a landing page template.
In January 2017, the U.S. Access Board published a final rule updating information technology (IT)accessibility requirements covered by Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which includes IT that is developed, procured, maintained, or used by federal agencies. The Rehabilitation Act is a federal law which requires programs and activities funded by federal agencies to be accessible to people with disabilities, including federal employees and members of the public.
The team behind the U.S. Web Design Standards (the Standards) held their first Ask Me Anything (AMA), in August, to answer questions from their public Slack channel community. There was great excitement in the channel leading up to the chat, and more than 40 new people joined the already robust community of federal, state and local government, higher education, industry, nonprofit, and U.K. and Canada government officials that are interested in working with–and growing–the Standards.
At the beginning of 2017, the ITIF (Information Technology and Innovation Foundation) released a report that benchmarked 300 federal websites in four areas: page-load speed, mobile friendliness, security and accessibility. Some sites fared better than others, but the report highlighted that our federal sites have a ways to go (DigitalGov included) in these areas. Looking at these four metrics is important as they directly impact our customers’ first perceptions of the quality of our government’s digital services.
According to the World Bank, approximately one billion people worldwide live with a disability, making up the world’s largest minority. Designing from an accessibility-first standpoint has the potential to benefit all stakeholders, not just people with disabilities, because accessible design typically delivers a better user experience. Currently many websites and digital platforms are inaccessible, which makes them difficult or impossible for people with disabilities (including visual, auditory, physical, speech, cognitive, or neurological) to use.
We hope you are finding it easier to get the information you need on USDA.gov following the launch of our site redesign in March. We’ve already welcomed over 1 million visitors to the new site and we are pleased with the positive feedback we’ve received thus far. Our redesign makes it easier for you to get the news you care about quickly and get on with your busy life. Now, you can explore “USDA in Action,” an area designed to quickly share what’s happening across the department.
The U.S. Web Design Standards were created by the government, for the government. They’re currently implemented on hundreds of government sites, with an audience of more than 26 million monthly users. They’ve also been recommended by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for all government agencies to ensure a consistent look and feel of their public-facing digital services. Over the coming months, the team will be doing a series of blog posts to share information about the how different agencies are using the Standards.
The Information Technology & Innovation Foundation (ITIF) recently published a report, Benchmarking U.S. Government Websites, that looks at the performance, security, and accessibility of the top 297 government websites. ITIF is a think tank in Washington, D.C. whose mission is to formulate, evaluate, and promote policy solutions that accelerate innovation in technology and public policy. Over the past 90 days, government websites were visited over 2.55 billion times. According to the Analytics Dashboard, 43.
Mythbuster’s Guide to Accessibility: What We’ve Learned About 508 Compliance That All Technologists Can Use
As government technology improves and accelerates, the U.S. Digital Service has the opportunity to improve the most critical public-facing services across agencies. The services and products we create need to be accessible to everyone. Too often, we’ve seen others neglect accessibility because of some common misconceptions that make things difficult. In this post, we’ll debunk these myths, so you can easily create universally accessible content. Myth #1: Government accessibility is harder than it is in the private sector.
The U.S. Web Design Standards are a library of design guidelines and code to help government developers quickly create trustworthy, accessible, and consistent digital government services. Last month, we announced the 1.0 release of the Standards, a milestone that signals the Standards are a stable, trustworthy resource for government designers and developers. By using the well-tested and easy-to-implement code from the Standards, developers can quickly create new websites or have a leg-up in updating existing services to have a modern, consistent feel.
DigitalGov University (DGU), the events platform for DigitalGov, provides programming to build and accelerate digital capacity by providing webinars and in-person events highlighting innovations, case studies, tools, and resources. Thanks to your participation, DGU hosted over 90 events with 6,648 attendees from over 100 agencies across federal, tribal, state, and local governments. DGU strives to provide training throughout the year that is useful and relevant to you. One of the most resounding comments from digital managers last year was people wanted to be able to attend all of our classes virtually.
What does Snapchat, the disappearing message-and-video platform most used by teenagers, have to do with government outreach and communications programs? Well, Snapchat has quickly become an incredibly effective digital storytelling medium, and content creators across multiple government agencies have adopted it as an important part of their programs. A recent New York Times article described how nearly 35 million users in the United States watched highlights and stories from the Summer Olympics on Snapchat.
Many content managers in the digital world understand the irrepressible desire to improve, fix, edit, add, and move things around. It’s our job, after all, to nurture the ongoing process of creating, updating, and testing. But, there are those sites or pages that never seem to make it to the high-priority list. For our Web team, this was our Center’s staff Intranet site. Our Web team recognized that the Intranet was in need of attention.
Our goal for a more veteran-centered and innovative VA is shared. Our approach to innovation is collaborative. Our approach to innovation is driven by listening, understanding and responding to the experiences and stories of the Veterans we serve. We were huddled on squeaky chairs in the social room of a transitional housing facility in Los Angeles. It was early fall of 2014, when Chris gently picked up his trumpet, raised it to his lips, and began playing.
August 8, 2016, marks the 18th anniversary of the amendment to the Section 508 Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which covers access to information technology in the federal sector. To recognize the importance of IT accessibility, we wanted to highlight some agency initiatives to improve accessibility across the federal landscape. As amended, the Act requires: …access to the federal government’s electronic and information technology. It applies to all federal agencies when they develop, procure, maintain, or use such technology.
Today, I am happy to announce the newly optimized DHS.gov website. Over the past year, DHS has worked behind the scenes to update and modernize our flagship website, making it faster and easier to use. Some of the specific differences you’ll see are: Compatibility for both desktop computers and mobile devices (phones and tablets) Cleaner, easier-to-read site format and presentation Faster and more accurate site navigation using our internal search function and external search engines (like Google and Bing) DHS.
About a year and a half ago, the Federal Citizen Information Center—today called USAGov—embarked on a very ambitious task: integrating our content operations. We blurred lines that defined silos and adopted a bilingual content approach to offer a more consistent experience, regardless of language preference or point of access to our information. See more about our rebirth. As we were figuring out our new content model, we saw the need to reinvent our style guidelines to reflect our new organization.
One of the biggest things we take into account whenever we consider launching on a new social platform is how we can make the information we share through that tool as accessible as possible. In its current form, Snapchat isn’t a highly accessible platform. This isn’t a problem that’s unique to Snapchat. Many emerging technologies are not up to government accessibility standards, which poses a challenge for the innovative agencies that want to adopt them.
“My Disability is One Part of Who I Am” was the theme of the 70th National Disability Employment Awareness Month this past October. We celebrated the many contributions of our friends and co-workers with disabilities and recognized the diverse skills and talents they bring to our workplace. However, the real question is: how do we create a comfortable work environment that provides equal access and growth opportunities for all? The Department of Defense’s Computer/Electronic Accommodations Program (CAP) created a free app that is available for download at the iTunes App Store and Google Play.
Too often, usability and accessibility are confused with each other by our clients (stakeholders). They shouldn’t be, because while they are related, they are very different. So, how do you bring these two concepts together? They should really be working side-by-side throughout the ENTIRE process. This might seem like a no-brainer but it can be a challenge. First things first, Section 508 of the U.S. Rehabilitation Act is a LAW.
The Portable Document Format, or “PDF” file, is one of the staple productions of many communications professionals. It’s compact, prints exactly as formatted, and allows for clean, multiplatform distribution. However, it’s the old “U.S. Route” on the Digital Interstate. Let’s take an average user of a U.S. government website: a 45 year old PC user with Internet Explorer 10. Her child has a fever after eating at a restaurant, and wants to look up information on foodborne diseases.
Federal agencies do not get a free pass on accessibility for mobile—as we stated earlier this month, Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act applies to ALL information and communication technology (ICT). Luckily, there are a number of organizations working on guidelines and practices to help the private and public sectors create accessible mobile websites and applications. The M-Enabling Conference, an annual event dedicated to making mobile technology accessible, brought experts from around the world to talk about guidelines and practices for these efforts.
Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act requires federal agencies to use accessible information and communication technology (ICT), whether procured, developed, or maintained. Since the U.S. Access Board issued regulations for the law in 2000, much implementation guidance has been prepared by various agencies. While the regulations are being refreshed to account for changes in ICT over the years, we can take advantage of existing guidance that applies accessibility guidelines in contemporary contexts.
It’s a forgone conclusion that usability studies are effective in identifying weak points within a website, but what about testing people who are visually impaired? How hard is it to accommodate them? There are some additional challenges that you may encounter when conducting testing with people with disabilities; however, these challenges should not be considered overwhelming. I spoke with Peter McNally, a Senior Usability Consultant at the User Experience Center at Bentley University, to get his take on usability testing with users who have visual impairment.
I used to teach 8th grade science in inner city Denver in the 1990s. After that, I supported special education students and their teachers in North Carolina. Around that time (mid-late 1990s), the Internet wasn’t really designed for kids –most of the electronic materials I came across for the classroom were on CDs and such. After learning more about design, Information Architecture, and now user experience, I began to realize that while digital services for kids looked really good on the outside, on the inside they were awful.
How do you define user experience (UX)? That was the question posed to more than 100 people at the GoodGovUX event at the Artisphere in Arlington, Virginia, on February 24th. Attendees learned how government can improve the user experience of digital products, from intranets to forms to good ol’ fashioned websites. GoodGovUX co-founder Keith Deaven collected responses from the crowd, which was a diverse mix of people working in private industry, federal, and local governments.
The word accessibility breeds misconceptions. Why? Because accessibility is something that scares you. Accessibility is hard. Accessibility needs people with specialized expertise. Accessibility problems often depend on the context of the website or Web application in question. Accessibility takes time. Accessibility is a legal mandate. Accessibility is a moral obligation. These statements are both true and misconceptions. The misconceptions happen when you try to solve accessibility problems with just accessibility solutions.
Resolutions and predictions abound this time of year. If you’ve already lost the fight to finally give up sardine ice cream, you can always resolve to maintain or improve your digital media accessibility. Some people say that accessibility and Section 508 compliance squashes innovation and new trends, but with the right approach, you can make them accessible. When you consider accessibility at every project’s onset, you’ll make the most of these trends and engage your audience and, perhaps, gain new users.
When the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was passed in 1990, there was no Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn. Since then, the number of social media channels, and their use for communication among all demographics, has grown exponentially. Unfortunately, however, despite newer ways to reach individuals living with disabilities, many individuals in this community face challenges in gaining full access to the content and conversation on social media platforms.
While we’re anticipating the Section 508 refresh, many government digital media teams are facing the task of incorporating WCAG 2.0 standards (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) in their projects despite having limited staff resources and budget constraints. We can use creative solutions, such as crowdsourcing, to overcome those challenges and make our works accessible. Our teams can call on the public to share their time and skills at events or in projects where they’ll work with others to solve accessibility problems in design, development, content, etc.
The cream of the crop of the top of the mountain of ALL of the surveys I run has to be the Federal User Experience (UX) Survey. It’s the second time I’ve had the privilege of running it with Jean Fox, research psychologist extraordinaire from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. When I start thinking about learning what all of my UX colleagues are doing, and designing solutions for them based on real data, I start clasping my fingers together like Mr.
Bob goes to a popular federal government site, using his assistive technology, and starts reading a teaser for an article. Just below the teaser, there’s an embedded video on the page. He presses the tab key, trying to navigate to a link for the full article, but suddenly he’s trapped—he can’t tab past the video. He’s stuck, and he can’t access the content. Frustrated, Bob leaves the site.
Happy anniversary, baby! Seventies pop songs aside, July 26, 2014, was the 24th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and on August 7 of this year, Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended in 1998, will have its 16th anniversary. Sometimes these two laws are mistaken one for the other, but they serve different purposes. The ADA is a law that protects the rights of people with disabilities, by ensuring that they have equal access to the same opportunities, benefits, and services that people without disabilities have.
Making Web content and video accessible to people with disabilitiesis the law. Ensuring a video is accessible requires planning. Taking steps from day one will save you time and money. To verify that a video is accessible you’d need to incorporate three elements: Captioning Audio descriptions An Accessible video player Why Accessibility Matters Many government agencies are taking advantage of the popularity of online video to further their missions and meet the Presidential mandate forincreasing the efficiency and effectiveness of government information to serve the American public.
When you watch a video on your computer, the window that displays your video is called a “video player.” It usually has start, pause, and other buttons. You might not be aware that you’re using a player at all—you just watch your video. A fully-accessible video player (e.g. Section 508-compliant) can be used by a person with disabilities, including, for example, someone who may be paralyzed and can’t use a mouse.
What are Audio Descriptions? Audio Description, also called descriptive video or video description, is an additional audio track that describes and gives context for essential visual information. Audio Description makes videos and multimedia accessible to people who have “low vision” (very poor vision), or who are blind, by capturing what is happening on screen into audible descriptions that are played during natural pauses in the audio track. Here is a video that explains why audio descriptions are important to include.
What are Captions? In a video, captions collect all audio information and describe them using text. They include not only spoken content but also non-speech information such as sound effects, music, laughter, and speaker identification and location (for example, audio spoken off-screen). Captions appear transposed over the visual elements in a video, and are synchronized so they appear at the same time as they are spoken or generated.
The Art of Social Media by mkhmarketing CC BY 2.0 The more public information is digitized, the more it lands on or sprouts from social media channels. This is why there needs to be a greater level of awareness and consideration for those who can benefit most from that information—people with disabilities—since they have the least access to it. Like many websites, social media platforms present some of the greatest barriers in digital accessibility.
The Federal #SocialGov Community, a collective of almost 700 digital engagement managers from more than 120 government agencies, marked the 2nd anniversary of our program by releasing a suite of new collaborative services to help us better work together and with partners in the private sector to share resources and build public services of the 21st century. The online event, U.S. Federal SocialGov: 2 years of Smashing Silos + Elevating Citizen Services, focused on how collaborative, open participation in the development process will help public services better tackle performance analysis, policy development, accessibility for persons with disabilities, international partnerships and global digital engagement support.
On Thursday, July 17, the FCC’s Accessibility and Innovation Initiative will host a public event called “Accessing Social Media.” The purpose is to promote collaborative, cross-sector problem-solving on how to produce and consume accessible social media, considering authoring tools, client apps, and best practices for various disability constituencies. The event will be held in the Commission Meeting Room at FCC headquarters and will include panels of industry, consumer, and government representatives.
It is undeniable the reach of online video into our modern lives. From cats in shark costumes riding on Roombas to the 2.1 million people live streaming the 2012 Super Bowl. Online video inspires us with TED talks and allows us to feel the rush of Felix Baumgartner jumping from space. With online video so embedded (online video geek pun) in our lives, it makes perfect sense for Government to use online video to engage its citizens.
Usability and accessibility are slightly different lenses to assess user experience. It is possible to be strong in one area and weak in the other. Using either approach alone could result in an inaccurate view of your site’s user experience. Evaluating your website with both usability and accessibility in mind gives all users the best possible user experience. What is Usability? Usability relates to the how easy things are to use.
MobileMarketingWatch released an article explaining why it is important for the workplace to be making the move to mobile. When it comes to marketing, it is essential to understand your customer and be easily discoverable or else your product will go unseen. It is all about “place, place, place.” It is no secret the use of smartphones and tablets is increasing all the time, so being easily discoverable on these devices is absolutely essential.
Accessibility testing is a subset of usability testing and is the inclusive practice of making websites and mobile applications usable by people of all abilities and disabilities. You do this by testing mobile websites and/or applications on all leading browsers, mobile devices and screen readers. This article was developed as part of the Mobile Application Development Program. See our general guidelines to testing article for more resources on mobile product testing.
Guest post by Mario Damiani, Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) at the Department of Labor. ODEP spearheads the Social Media Accessibility Working Group within the Federal Social Media Community of Practice. The working group recently released a toolkit for agencies to make their content more accessible for citizens with disabilities, including recommendations from agencies across the federal government and collaborators in Australia. As a representative of the Office of Disability Employment Policy at the Department of Labor, I’ve had the privilege of visiting with numerous individuals and organizations to promote the value of social media accessibility.
The recent #SocialGov Summit on accessibility of government social media raised emerging issues faced by agencies in their effort to make sure the information citizens need is communicated to them when and how they need it. For many, the most eye opening exercise was simply to hear their tweets read back to them through an iPhone VoiceOver screen reader, experiencing firsthand how vision-impaired citizens receive their content. While we’ll share more from the summit in an extended post, here are some initial key takeaways from among the hundred participants:
Introduction USA.gov and GobiernoUSA.gov use social media to make government information easy for people to find, access, and use. Among the essential tools we use are videos, which we host on USA.gov YouTube and GobiernoUSA.gov’s YouTube channels. We are always looking for opportunities to feature and leverage important government information, by posting videos from various government agencies. We welcome and invite all government agencies to collaborate with us on providing useful and relevant information to the public.