Report: 39% Federal Leaders Rate Accessibility as a Top Priority

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Budget constraints and old technology add challenges to fully realizing digital accessibility.

The public sector is making progress to make service delivery and customer experience more equitable and accessible to people, according to an Ernst & Young underwritten report issued Thursday.

According to the report—which surveyed government customer experience and IT leaders—39% of federal respondents said making sure “constituents of all abilities can easily obtain the information and services they seek” was a top priority. 

Moreover, about 70% of federal respondents stated their agency has a formal accessibility policy or framework in place for physical or mobility disabilities. Meanwhile, the report stated that more federal agencies had frameworks for blindness or low vision (54%) and deafness or hard of hearing (58%) than state and local respondents. However, state and local agencies surpassed the government for formal documents addressing the needs of those with limited English, limited digital literacy and limited or unreliable broadband and digital access.

Those formal policies also tracked with agencies’ tendencies to consult impacted populations, as “federal respondents have been more active than state and local respondents over the past 12-24 months in surveying various population groups about accessibility needs—particularly the hard-of-hearing.” However, state and local agencies are surveying those with limited English fluency, digital literacy and broadband or digital access issues more than the federal government. 

Meanwhile, about 80% of federal respondents said their leaders are mindful of the potential obstacles “all” or “some” populations can experience when interacting or accessing agency information and services.

According to the report, approximately half of respondents stated their agency utilizes universal design—or creating products and environments accessible to a people regardless of ability, disability or other characteristics, so as many people as possible can utilize it. However, 22% of federal respondents focused their design on different disability groups and about 30% of federal focused on meeting regulatory requirements. The report found that two-thirds of federal respondents noted their agency is continuing to innovate to improve access.

As noted in the report, federal agencies were often further along in the maturity process to meet accessibility needs. For example, 21% of federal respondents stated they fully achieved or optimized barrier-free, equal access to digital products, services and content, in comparison to 12% for state and local respondents. In addition, 31% of federal respondents had fully established web content accessibility guideline standards; 40% had reached full compliance with diversity, equity and inclusion standards and 26% were fully mature in promoting digital accessibility. 

The report found that respondents thought that constituents with disabilities were less satisfied with access to content and services than those without disabilities, and 52% of federal respondents noted that general accessibility training would help improve constituents’ digital access. 

According to the report, a lack of a sufficient budget is a challenge for delivering accessibility, as is the reliance on legacy technology. Federal respondents were also more likely to receive outside help to address accessibility.