Published on November 02, 2023
It is disheartening to observe that government agencies worldwide are falling short in their efforts to achieve true accessibility and inclusivity in their digital services and products.
The data strongly indicates that mere compliance with accessibility guidelines is not sufficient to create a truly inclusive experience for all citizens.
Governments must not treat accessibility as a mere checkbox, but rather, it should be an essential and inherent aspect of their digital initiatives.
Also, I find it unsettling to witness how some governments seem to approach accessibility as an afterthought rather than incorporating it into the initial stages of development.
This approach not only perpetuates exclusion…. but also wastes valuable resources in retrofitting services later on.
Consequences of neglecting proper accessibility measures
Websites and digital platforms:
● Exclusion and limited participation: When websites and digital platforms are not accessible, people with different abilities are excluded from accessing critical information, services, and opportunities available to others. This limits their participation in society and can perpetuate disparities in education, employment, and healthcare.
● Violation of laws and regulations: Many countries have laws and regulations in place that require websites to be accessible to people with different abilities. Neglecting these measures may lead to legal repercussions and potential lawsuits for non-compliant organizations and businesses..
● Diminished user experience: When websites are not user-friendly for everyone, user engagement and satisfaction suffer. Simple as that.
● Lack of inclusive design: Neglecting accessibility during website design means missing out on valuable insights that could improve the overall user experience for ALL users (not just those with different abilities.)
● Life-threatening consequences: During emergencies, timely access to critical information can be a matter of life and death. Without accessible emergency messaging, people with hearing or visual impairments may not receive crucial evacuation instructions or safety alerts.
● Increased vulnerability: People with disabilities may face increased vulnerability during emergencies due to a lack of accessibility to evacuation plans, shelters, and emergency services. This can result in higher injury rates and difficulties in getting assistance.
● Delayed response and assistance: Inaccessible communication channels can cause delays in emergency responses. For example, a deaf/mute person may not be able to contact emergency services using traditional voice calls, leading to potentially dangerous situations. (A great example is the Text to 911 in the US.)
● Community trust and inclusion: By prioritizing accessibility in emergency services, public institutions demonstrate their commitment to inclusivity and build trust with all community members. This fosters a sense of belonging and safety for everyone.
● Adaptability and preparedness: Ensuring accessibility to emergency services means being prepared to address the needs of all individuals, regardless of their abilities. This adaptability enhances the overall effectiveness of emergency response systems.
It’s critical government agencies keep accessibility a priority from the very start
As I stated before, ensuring accessibility from the outset is not just critical…. it should be a non-negotiable mandate for all government agencies.
Some public agencies seem to overlook the importance of accessibility, treating it as an optional feature rather than an essential human right.
In my view, it is imperative that government agencies hold vendors accountable for their proficiency in developing accessible websites and digital products.
Cutting corners and compromising on accessibility not only fails the citizens but also wastes taxpayer dollars in the long run.
We must demand excellence and ensure that vendors prioritize accessibility as a fundamental aspect of their work.
Moreover…. it is not enough to just check the boxes and hire vendors without thoroughly assessing their proficiency in developing accessible digital solutions.
Why do we keep entrusting critical projects to vendors who may not prioritize accessibility (leading to costly retrofits later on?)
We must demand accountability and ensure that our taxpayer dollars are put to GOOD use by investing in vendors who truly understand and prioritize accessibility as a fundamental requirement… not an afterthought.
A truly accessible digital landscape not only empowers individuals with disabilities but also enhances the experience for all users, making it easier for everyone to navigate and interact with digital platforms.
Everyone benefits when barriers are removed, and you’re making your community inclusive, at least online…
About the Author
Mohammad J Sear is focused on bringing purpose to digital in government.
He has obtained his leadership training from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, USA and holds an MBA from the University of Leicester, UK.
After a successful 12+ years career in the UK government during the premiership of three Prime Ministers Margaret Thatcher, John Major and Tony Blair, Mohammad moved to the private sector and has now for 20+ years been advising government organizations in the UK, Middle East, Australasia and South Asia on strategic challenges and digital transformation.
He is currently working for Ernst & Young (EY) and leading the Digital Government practice efforts across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), and is also a Digital Government and Innovation lecturer at the Paris School of International Affairs, Sciences Po, France.
As a thought-leader some of the articles he has authored include: “Digital is great but exclusion isn’t – make data work for driving better digital inclusion” published in Harvard Business Review, “Holistic Digital Government” published in the MIT Technology Review, “Want To Make Citizens Happy – Put Experience First” published in Forbes Middle East.
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