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White Paper - Universal Design: Transforming Accessible IT in the Federal Government

Cover image of Universal Design White Paper, showing title and table of contents We’re excited to share a new white paper. Universal Design: Transforming Accessible IT in the Federal Government (PDF, May 2018) explores the benefits of adopting universal design in the federal government to improve IT accessibility. Universal design promotes the concept that all products should be designed to be used by all people. 2018 has marked a year of changes in the accessibility world, with the Revised 508 Standards and the Connected Government Act. These efforts push agencies to develop IT products that are more inclusive, usable and accessible to all users of government IT.

Federal information technology (IT) is rapidly evolving, and agencies must make sure IT products meet the needs of staff and customers. As Federal Chief Information Officers (CIOs) invest in IT modernization, and emphasize improving customer service, agencies should also build tools and products with the customer at the center of the process.

This white paper explores the benefits of adopting universal design, by providing recommendations to agency CIOs about how to shift digital strategy approaches and putting the customer at the center of the procurement, design and development processes. The strategies include:

  • Think about accessibility in the same way as cybersecurity: The government needs to prioritize accessibility and recognize its importance, alongside efforts like cybersecurity and IT modernization. Citizens expect tools, products and services provided by the government to be usable by everyone. Cybersecurity makes sure no one can access information they shouldn't, but accessibility makes sure those who should, can.
  • Involve universal design principles in (agile) implementation methodologies: If agencies use an agile methodology to upgrade or build new IT products, they should incorporate universal design in development sprints. Developers will get real-time feedback about accessibility requirements and can address them along the way.
  • Establish a return-on-investment for accessibility: CIOs want to make intelligent investments. Procuring products that can be used by as many customers as possible, without a need for retrofitting, is a smart investment. CIOs can take this one step further and define customer experience as a measurable factor. Expect to gain a return on investing in accessible tools to serve and improve the customer experience for all customers, both internal and external.
  • Invest in customer experience management and put users first: Agencies need to understand their users and design for them. Universal design is a user-centric approach that can help agencies map customer needs and experiences and build to them.

By adopting universal design, agencies can design, build, and buy the most accessible products on the market. Using best practices employed by private sector technology leaders, universal design enables agencies to think about accessibility from the beginning of the procurement, or design and development, process. It also encourages cross-collaboration to resolve accessibility issues early on. This results in better products that are more usable and accessible by the greatest number of people.

Let’s continue to improve government IT products to ensure everyone can easily use them.

For more information on how to adopt universal design at your agency, contact GSA’s Government-wide IT Accessibility Team at section.508@gsa.gov