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Inaccessible is not an option

Accessing city information and services online should be accessible for all.

The majority of us take for granted the ease with which we can pull up a website and find what we’re looking for in a matter of minutes. We might define a “bad site experience” as having outdated images, retro color schemes, or poorly organized content. But those characteristics only scratch the surface of a bad site experience when the visitor has a disability or other communication limitation.

Put yourself in the seat of a person with dyslexia, low vision or blindness, hearing loss, limited or restricted movement, speech disabilities, photosensitivity or a combination of the above. Suddenly, a simple information look-up on your city’s website is anything but simple.

It is estimated there are over 575,000 people who are blind or vision impaired currently living in Australia, with more than 70 percent over the age of 65.* As for the U.S., a 2016 study showed more than seven million (or 2.4%) of the general population have a visual impairment. Also, an estimated 48.9 million people, or 19.4% of non-institutionalized civilians, have a disability and another 34.2 million people have a functional limitation.

And let’s not forget those who do or will experience temporary impairments such as a broken arm or eye surgery. An accessible website can be of huge importance to an even larger cross-section of the public at any point in time.

The facts are clear … “accessibility” is not a buzz word, it’s a necessity for every government entity wanting to make a real digital transformation and improve their ability to serve all residents. The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1 Accessibility standard released in 2019, provides cities with valuable direction. But how do you take clear, practical steps in order to ultimately create a more inclusive site that delivers your residents the best possible digital experience?

Designing for inclusivity

Residents with disabilities face a significant challenge in accessing city information and services online. When your site design and format don’t take into account those with visual, audio or mobility limitations, you fail to serve an important contingency within the community.

Their only option? To make calls or in-person visits to city offices, delaying bill payments and issue resolution—and impacting your ability to make a true channel shift from manual interactions to a more modern online experience.

The WCAG 2.1 updates provide relevant examples and guidance for making website content and user experience more adaptable, distinguishable, keyboard accessible, time-sensitive, compatible and more. By designing your site with these considerations in mind, you can address potential compliance issues upfront. It’s also a clear indication that you are placing high value on meeting the needs of the elderly and those with disabilities—creating a more inclusive platform for serving every resident.

Communicating in a mobile world

Accessibility goes beyond WCAG or Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements. The goal is inclusion and equity among all digital users—regardless of limitation. And often that limitation takes the form of the device people use.

The number of Americans using smartphones as their primary means of online access at home has exploded over recent years. According to a 2019 Pew Research study , roughly one-in-five American adults are “smartphone-only” internet users. This means they own a smartphone, but do not have traditional home broadband service.

The study also shows that reliance on smartphones for online access is especially common among younger adults, non-whites and lower-income Americans. This represents a cross-section of urban residents who may rely heavily on your government services and are accessing those services on a 4” screen.

Writing for the masses

Accessibility also pertains to a site’s ability to communicate information effectively to its users. Did you know the average reading level for most of the public is 6th grade? Yet many government websites contain largely post-graduate language.

It is possible to simplify your website’s content without losing its meaning and impact. Avoid jargon, choose shorter phrases and use more common words when writing content. Consider that for many readers, English may be their second language. So conciseness and clarity is key. This goes for not only web pages but online forms as well.

Accessibility in action

Broken Hill City Council is in the far west region of New South Wales, Australia, with a population eight years older than the national average. As the Disability Inclusion Act was implemented, the city set out to develop a four-year action plan that would deliver a more accessible website, inclusive of the entire community.

Focus was on creating a mobile-first site, with multi-language support and text-to-speech solutions. Many of the staff members at Broken Hill City Council were related or personally connected to someone in the community who needed diversity, disability or inclusion services. This meant their hearts were truly in their work, which helped them thrive during training exercises that focused on skills that would make their new website accessible.

“When we focused on creating a high-level user experience, it removed the barriers to entry and access for all our users,” said Luke Dart, Digital Officer. “We started to understand that when we built better online experiences, using the features in OpenCities, we covered everything, including accessibility.”

Meanwhile in the U.S., the City of Lakewood, Colorado, was undertaking a website update with a proactive eye to ADA compliance and a more inclusive experience for the community. “Our goal was to do more than just replace the old website. It was focused on creating better ways to communicate with, engage and serve residents,” said Kit Lammers, Communications Manager.

The City of Lakewood’s efforts using OpenCities were rewarded with recognition from the National Association of Government Web Professionals as a 2019 Pinnacle Award Winner in the City Large Population group.

6 Simple Accessibility Tools We Can’t Live Without

Check your content with Hemingway
Check the clarity of your published content / web pages, and get recommendations to make it more useful and usable for visitors.

Get real-time writing tips with Grammarly
A browser plugin that helps your content publishers produce better content, maintain a consistent tone of voice, and more, as they publish.

Ensure your fonts are readable with Contrast Ratio
A popular tool that makes it easy to check whether your foreground fonts have sufficient enough colour contrast against the background.

Create Accessible Table Builder
A tool to help you create accessible tables.

Evaluate vendors against an accessibility checklist
Accessibility checklist for evaluating vendors that power any sort of citizen facing interaction

Check how Google ranks your mobile website
Accessibility is about making it easy for everyone to use your website. For many people, their mobile phone is the only access point to the internet. Check your website is mobile friendly.