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Making (government) services accessible — what needs to be considered

787## Design
Dec 5, 2019 · 5 min read

What is Accessibility? Resident experiences are key.

For the last couple of months, my team has been working with residents to define accessibility. Asking people, in-person and online, “What does it mean to be accessible?” and “What barriers do you face when trying to obtain services at the city?” Getting diverse input from residents has been vital to our work because accessibility means different things to different people, in different situations.

Group of people attend an accessibility workshop “Making services accessible.”
Group of people attend an accessibility workshop “Making services accessible.”
Accessibility workshop where residents discussed the barriers they encountered accessing services.
Image for post
Image for post
Residents and city staff look through outreach data to find clusters and craft insights.

What We Learned

Services have hidden costs and requirements, which create barriers for residents, especially those with limited resources.

People need help immediately, but receiving a service can take weeks or months. Service timelines aren’t built for urgency. A long wait time discourages people causing them to disengage, and in some cases results in additional costs, which leads to a more desperate situation for residents.

The systems that enable services suffer similar accessibility issues and dependencies.

Accessing services digitally is conditional. It requires infrastructure like wifi, devices to access the internet, content that’s resident-friendly and responsive to mobile or desktop devices, and digital literacy.

Limited options restricts the people who are able to receive a service.

Several services only offer a single option for entry, which excludes individuals and whole communities. For example, requiring residents to make an appointment by phone excludes individuals who have hearing or speaking impairments. Additionally, only offering services online excludes people who need in-person help or have digital barriers.

Services aren’t designed for comfort or safety, putting residents in a vulnerable position that forces them to weigh personal wellbeing against services.

There are permanent, architectural barriers, and temporary, movable barriers. These barriers make infrastructure, like sidewalks, and physical space where individuals receive service inaccessible. Individuals want, need, have every right to know whether a space is safe. The lack of information regarding a space’s accessibility makes people unlikely to engage in services.

Staff are stuck in a continuous cycle when trying to provide more accessible services.

Inaccessible services hamper engagement. Staff realizes that’s there’s a need to partner with people in the community with lived experience. But because services are inaccessible people with lived experience don’t bother to engage in those services. So city staff isn’t exposed to residents who could identify accessibility barriers in their services.

Sticky note with the “burden is always on the resident — burden to understand, know programs, requirements, et. ” text on it.
Sticky note with the “burden is always on the resident — burden to understand, know programs, requirements, et. ” text on it.
Post-it with meta-insight.

What we’ll do with what we learned

As city employees, we’re responsible for continually improving services to make them as accessible and effective as possible. Because we are empowered, we have agency to operate the levers and tools that affect the institution in which we work. We make decisions, which determine whether or not someone receives services. As well as the type, amount, and quality of the service delivered.

Feedback is our watchword.

In the meantime we’d love to hear from you. What are your thoughts and experiences in making services accessible? Please leave a comment below or reach out to us at access@austintexas.gov.

civiqueso

Stories of Design, Technology, and Innovation in the civic…

787## Design

Written by

A Native Austinite, Chicana, and Civic Designer. A little bit qualitative, a little bit quantitative, not much rock & roll.

civiqueso

civiqueso

Stories of Design, Technology, and Innovation in the civic melting pot of Austin, Texas.

787## Design

Written by

A Native Austinite, Chicana, and Civic Designer. A little bit qualitative, a little bit quantitative, not much rock & roll.

civiqueso

civiqueso

Stories of Design, Technology, and Innovation in the civic melting pot of Austin, Texas.

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