We can all agree that COVID-19 is accelerating digital transformation in many organizations, knocking through long-standing resistance and silos. Government is just one player as remote-work is something every sector of the economy is struggling to do overnight.
Many organizations are rapidly adopting new tools like Zoom. When looking at any new technology it is important to think about accessibility early in the process. Accessibility has to be considered early in any IT project, adding accessibility in later in the project ends up costing considerably more.
We know that the government is fast-tracking certain IT projects and implementing them in weeks when they were planned to be deployed over years. Current accessibility practices in government simply aren’t flexible enough to respond to this rate of change.
Not including digital accessibility early means that:
- Canadians will not be included in critical communications, this could lead to lawsuits or a longer lock-down;
- Some public sector employees may not be able to do their jobs, which will delay any economic recovery and
- Government will have an increasing number of media embarrassments as the digital tools that they put online fail to meet minimum accessibility expectations.
- Citizens are put at risk because they could not obtain information in a timely manner. This makes them more likely to become vectors of transmission which could place even more people in danger.
Government systems are designed to work diligently and not with rapid iterations. In order to scale to meet the challenge of COVID-19, work on accessibility needs to be streamlined.
Governments can invest now in:
- Embracing automated tools to track the low-hanging-fruit of accessibility
- Promoting tools and templates that are building in accessibility best practices (WET, Drupal, GatsbyJS) and support their use.
- Training in accessibility — there are so many free resources out there that the public sector should be encouraging everyone to take.
Before the pandemic, accessibility was one of the government’s priorities. During the pandemic digital accessibility should be of critical importance because we are seeing:
- Citizens are living and working remotely if they can — accessible digital content is more important than ever.
- Public servants are having to work remotely too — decisions are being made asynchronous and online.
- Government needs to deliver services faster than ever — having good systems in place that make accessibility easier is key.
Hopefully our economy is able to recover quickly from this, but with all of the efforts that are being done to digitize in a hurry, we are really going to miss an opportunity if accessibility is overlooked. We need Canada to emerge from the other side of this pandemic with an inclusive digital economy.