Technology can help make services accessible to vulnerable and disadvantaged citizens.
Let’s face it: Interacting with many government services can be a hassle for many citizens. Whether obtaining an identification card or registering a new business, people are often faced with obstacles like making appointments in advance, filling out paper forms, and going to a government office in person.
These government services can especially fail to serve vulnerable and disadvantaged communities. Non-English speakers may struggle to make an appointment over the phone. Those with physical impairments may find it difficult to attend an in-person appointment.
Fortunately, technology is now stepping in, making government services more accessible to anyone and everyone and effectively democratizing civil engagement. And one of the biggest pieces of this puzzle is form automation. By digitizing and automating processes that have traditionally relied on paper forms, governments are reducing barriers to access critical services.
Reaching Non-English Speakers
Many governments struggle to serve their non-native language speakers. By digitizing forms, applications, and other constituent-facing processes, governments can better serve the non-English speaking segment of their population.
For example, governments can take advantage of automated translation technologies such as Google Translate. By integrating such software into their form automation processes and workflows, governments can easily offer the necessary forms in almost any language. The U.S. Social Security Administration, for instance, has now implemented a Multi-Language Gateway in combination with form automation processes to better serve non-English-speaking individuals.
Assisting the Mobility-Limited
Until the advent of the internet and digital technology, many government services required an in-person visit to a physical office. Documents had to be signed, photos had to be taken, or identification had to be verified. This has traditionally put citizens with mobility impairments at a disadvantage in accessing many services.
Citizens with issues like paralysis or Parkinson’s Disease that limit their ability to get around often depend on government services for assistance, but have trouble getting to the offices they need to in order to complete paperwork.
This disproportionately affects low-income people that might not have access to a vehicle. However, form digitization is bringing the necessary paperwork and processes right into their own homes. Disabled or mobility impaired residents of California can now apply for assistance entirely online, as can residents of Austin apply for reasonable accommodations under the Fair Housing Act. Whether it’s completing forms necessary for receiving critical government assistance or even registering an internet business they can run from home, form digitization is empowering the mobility-impaired to engage with their governments.
Helping the Physically Impaired
Physical impairments that prevent citizens from engaging with their governments, unfortunately, aren’t just limited to mobility. Citizens who are deaf, blind, or have other physical (and potentially mental) impairments also face similar hurdles. For a blind person, for instance, simply getting to a government office is only half the battle. They’re then faced with the process of filling out paper forms, which is usually a lengthy process, even assuming the forms are available in braille.
Form automation technology proves to be an excellent solution to these basic issues of access that physically impaired citizens face. When governments take their forms online and integrate them with digital technologies such as text-to-voice, deaf or blind individuals can more easily complete the necessary forms. Form automation for the physically impaired is one example of the broader movement in what’s known as Human Centric Design, where governments are employing digitally-focused innovation teams to redesign services to enable more, quicker, and easier access for all citizens.
While office visits and physical forms are still necessary for some services, form automation is going a long way towards democratizing access to government services for every citizen, no matter their circumstances or limitations.
Jonathon Ende is the founder and chief executive officer of SeamlessGov.
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