21st Century IDEA Begins with Accessibility

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Did you know that in August of 2018 the U.S. House and Senate unanimously passed a resolution to modernize and improve government agencies? Here is an overview and an update on the progress of the 21st Century Integrated Digital Experience Act (21st Century IDEA).

American flag in a field of grass in front of a sunrise.

A Modern, Accessible, and Uniform Government

The 21st Century IDEA intends to make government agencies more accessible, modern, and uniform by following these guidelines for digital content.

  1. Accessible – Government agencies’ digital content should be available to people of all abilities, as required by Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act.
  2. Consistent – Digital content should be uniform and easily identifiable to promote a better understanding of the material for everyone.
  3. Authoritative – Government entities should keep digital information current and avoid repeating information from other websites.
  4. Searchable – A search function should be included in order to help people easily access important information.
  5. Secure – People should be able to use government websites to access information without fear of their privacy being compromised.
  6. User-centered – Digital content should be created to provide the best user experience, meaning it’s easy to use and gives helpful, accurate information.
  7. Customizable – Websites should be able to meet the needs of individuals of all abilities by including accessibility features and options that users can modify to improve their experience.
  8. Mobile-friendly – Many people use mobile devices to view digital content and should have access to the same information as people using a desktop computer without barriers or complications.

A Digitally Accessible Government 

The 21st Century IDEA identifies Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act as the minimum standard for digital accessibility. Prior to August of 2018, all government websites and attachments should have been Section 508 compliant. Yet, many agencies still failed to meet those requirements. 

Under the resolution, all agencies had 180 days to comply with Section 508. Additionally, the 21st Century IDEA requires regular manual and automated testing of their website, attachments, and forms. Part of the testing requires human action to ensure accessibility. 

It is clear the 21st Century IDEA intends to start with all people in mind. So, true accessibility is part of the framework, not an afterthought. 

Close-up of the front of a government building with columns

Efficiency in the U.S. Government

The 21st Century IDEA bill stems from research the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) put together regarding how people access U.S. government agencies. The study identified a cost-effective and efficient way to comply with the GSA’s original mission of streamlining government services. 

The GSA’s stewardship to all government agencies consists of three areas: technology, acquisition services, and how the government uses and provides real estate.  

While the 21st Century IDEA’s primary focus is technology, it is easy to see how the other two domains of the GSA will benefit from the modernization of the government. Think about it, would you rather go to a government brick-and-mortar location to fill out forms or access them online? 

As you can see, a more efficient digital experience can reduce the need for many government buildings. This, in turn, reduces the financial burden on the taxpayer and helps lead to a more efficient government. 

Progress with 21st Century IDEA Implementation

The executive head of each government agency must report the progress of implementing the 21st Century IDEA requirements until 2023. The reporting is to be made public and provided to the director of the Office of Budget Management (OMB).

Public reporting of the status of each requirement helps hold agencies accountable. Likewise, reporting to the OMB keeps the President of the United States up to speed on the progress. This is important because the President is responsible for ensuring all government agencies follow the requirements outlined in the 21st Century IDEA. 

Laws like the 21st Century IDEA give millions of Americans with disabilities hope and independence. And Braille Works is here to help government agencies meet their document accessibility compliance requirements.

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This post was written by Christine Sket

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