Accessibility Case Study

Accessibility, Visual Design

June 2015-January 2016

Nikhil Deshpande, Kendra Skeene, Jenna Tollerson, Jasmyne Dove

The Need

People naturally turn to the web for a range of critical information. As citizens continue to demand higher service levels from advanced technology, government organizations venture into self service to improve efficiency and cut costs. Today, important state government information such as unemployment benefits, veterans’ services and tax information is being accessed via the web everyday.

More than 8% of Georgia residents under the age of 65 have some form of disability. This percentage grows for residents over the age of 65. Many times, this is the population that benefits most from online state services and information.  This is why it is critical that information is presented in a way that makes it accessible to them.

State agencies in Georgia were missing the mark when it came to reaching the masses via their websites.

The Challenge

For years, the federal government has required its agencies to make their content accessible. As awareness spread, state agencies in Georgia were eager to follow — recognizing that Georgia citizens with disabilities are often the people who need online self-service the most. Also, agencies wanted to comply with accessibility standards in order to avoid potential lawsuits.

Despite good intentions and best efforts, making a website accessible or providing universal access can be tricky. Disabilities span a broad spectrum; while we may think of someone who is blind, deaf or with noticeable physical impairment, there can actually be a wide range of issues that may prevent someone from accessing the content of a website.

An Ally for Agencies

From the beginning, our GeorgiaGov Interactive team was well aware how important it was for government to make their online services available to everyone. We wanted to make it easy for state agencies to comply with standards. That is why the initial platform build was tested for and created to comply with the federal Section 508 standards for technical accessibility. Over time, we learned that while our web platform was fairly accessible, there were still ways we could improve the code and designs to make them even more accessible for a wider variety of citizens.

Making Accessibility Our Top Priority

In 2015, we began an initiative to improve the platform code and designs even further, using the same “measuring stick” as recommended by the Justice Department  — Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 (Level AA).

We felt we needed to reach the level recommended by the Justice Department to ensure all citizens had equal access to state agency content online.

GeorgiaGov Interactive turned to the experts for assistance in testing their platform code and themes for accessibility. Partnering with Georgia Institute of Technology’s AMAC Accessibility Solutions & Research Center and the state of Georgia’s ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act,) the team reviewed 13 different design themes used by 76 agencies on the platform.

Our Code Improvements Ensure:

  • Greater color contrast to benefit users with low vision and color blindness
  • Better font legibility
  • More specific link text
  • Upgrades to code consistency for accessibility features
  • Enhanced functionality for screen readers

Subtle, not huge changes were made to the themes’ colors and fonts.

Accessibility for All

With the implementation of these improvements, state agency websites on our platform are now automatically accessible in their code and designs. We’ve also improved our process and testing for new enhancements to the platform, to ensure that all new improvements meet the same high standards for access. However, ultimately the agency content managers play a critical role in ensuring the site’s information is also accessible.

Continued Help for Agencies

Knowing that improved structure and design are only one part of the puzzle, our team has also relied on outreach to agency partners to encourage them to focus on accessibility best practices in their content management as well.  Through blog posts, training, newsletters and GOVTalks, we continually educate and encourage agencies to do their part in maintaining accessibility standards.

Some ways agencies continue to raise the accessibility bar are:

  • Using clear and simple language
  • Adding alternate text to images
  • Using helpful text for links
  • Reserving tables for tabular data only
  • Applying semantic markup (mark headings in the body text, etc.)
  • Making PDFs accessible
  • Providing captions, transcripts, and audio descriptions for multimedia

Georgia's Agencies Are Accessibility Leaders

By the end of January 2016, all the websites on our platform had color contrast and functionality improvements to meet not only Section 508 standards but also WCAG 2.0 (Level AA) standards. Georgia was one of the first states to make its sites compliant with these standards across its platform.