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Award for Accessibility: NASCIO Recognizes Improvements to Georgia's Web Platform

September 20, 2016
The GeorgiaGov Interactive has been awarded by the National Association of State CIOs for their accessibility initiative.

On Sept. 19, 2016, the National Association of State CIOs awarded the GeorgiaGov Interactive team the State IT Recognition Award for Digital Government: Government to Citizen.

We’re in the internet age. Have a question? Making a purchase? Need contact information? Find it all online. For most of us, interacting with websites is an experience we take for granted.

Unfortunately, the online experience can be excruciating for citizens with disabilities if they’re interacting with a website that’s not accessible. “Accessible” here means that anyone can use a website, regardless of the user’s level of ability. Organizations need to invest in design and development efforts to make sure that everyone can easily access needed information and perform necessary online interactions.

The Problem

Government plays an important role in citizens lives and all of us depend on finding information and important services from government agencies. For the past few decades, we’ve turned to the internet as the primary source for these services and pieces of information. It’s critical that government websites are accessible. If you can’t access these web properties, that means that we, your government, are not properly serving you. Accessible websites provide equal access and opportunity to all citizens.

A significant portion of Georgia’s population experiences disabilities. 8.7% of Georgians under the age of 65 have a disability — cognitive, motor or sensory — and the percentage only increases from there. Furthermore, about 1 million Georgians experience vision loss (based on Georgia’s population in 2015 and 2013 vision loss percentages).

But even when we look outside of these numbers, we see that accessibility benefits everyone. You don’t need to be in a wheelchair to appreciate an accessible building entrance. Whether your hands are full or you’re in a large group of people, having the option to open a door by pressing a button can make your morning a lot easier.

By the same token, an accessible website benefits everyone. Even a user with 20/20 vision will find it easier to read text with an appropriate level of color contrast than text that blends into the background. Websites and online services that are designed and developed to accommodate people with disabilities truly benefit all of us.

Our Solution

The GeorgiaGov Interactive team within the Georgia Technology Authority recognized the need to make state websites accessible for everyone. Currently, accessibility is not mandated for state web properties but we decided that the need was too great to wait for a requirement. Web accessibility is every citizen’s right.

GeorgiaGov Interactive partnered with the State ADA’s Office and Georgia Tech’s AMAC Accessibility Research Center to form AccessGA. This joint initiative supports state agencies with Information and Communication Technology (ICT) accessibility, promoting equal and timely access for employees and citizens with a wide range of disabilities.

With a focus on improved color contrast and code functionality, the GeorgiaGov Accessibility Initiative was the first enterprise-wide initiative to make our web platform accessible by federal standards and even beyond.

Today, I’m thrilled to announce that the National Association of State CIOs recognized our accessibility initiative and awarded the State IT Recognition Award for Digital Government: Government to Citizen for 2016.

We are honored to be recognized at the national level for pursuing an initiative which is nearly invisible to many users. Organizations need to address web accessibility because it is simply the right thing to do. Now, any new state agency or an elected official who chooses to be part of this platform inherits the accessibility features on their website. I’m happy that Georgia is the forerunning state with an enterprise web publishing platform that is accessible to a very high standard.

Looking Forward

This is a great start but we have a long way to go. Several of our agencies’ web properties, such as digital documents, are still not accessible. We will continue to work with our agency partners to bring their website content up to accessibility standards. After all, accessible websites and applications not only benefit disabled users, but also improve search engine optimization (SEO) and visibility.

While making online content accessible will reduce legal liabilities for organizations, our motivation at GeorgiaGov Interactive is to empower the citizens. We want to enable you to interact with your government. No matter your abilities and limitations, we will make sure that your voice can be heard in the digital world.

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About the Author

Nikhil Deshpande is Director of GeorgiaGov Interactive, where he oversees the strategy and operations of Georgia.gov, and the GeorgiaGov web publishing platform hosting around 75 websites for state agencies and elected officials. Nikhil has 15 years of public and private sector experience in the web services area.

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