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Government IT Symposium 2020 – Accessibility Highlights

A Government Technology Conference Through the Eyes of a Digital Accessibility Coordinator

12/16/2020 7:00:00 PM

Government IT Symposium logo in the sky over St. Paul buildings.

By Rita Larson, Accessibility Coordinator, Minnesota IT Services partnering with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency

Editor’s note:
Minnesota’s digital accessibility coordinators share accessibility news, techniques, and resources with their state of Minnesota colleagues. They attend conferences to learn the latest and maintain their certifications. The Office of Accessibility asked Rita Larson to share takeaways from the 2020 Government IT Symposium.

Starting with Accessibility

One seminar, “Case Study: Starting with Accessibility = Project and Team Wins,” focused on the importance and benefits of including accessibility at all stages of developing a web application. The Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources (LCCMR) is updating their Proposal and Grant Management System from a paper-based to online system. At the start of the project, the LCCMR knew that it was important to include accessibility in all stages of planning, but knew they would need help.  

They reached out to the state of Minnesota’s Office of Accessibility for guidance. The Office of Accessibility worked with LCCMR through the entire project. The first step was ensuring the Request for Proposal (RFP) language included the accessibility standards, accessibility testing, and final reviews.

The benefits of including accessibility at all stages of the project include:

  • reduced costs by finding and fixing issues early in the process, rather than having to do rewrites at the end.  
  • increased staff skills and knowledge. Included in the plan was staff training on how and what to test.

The resulting online system will be easier to use. Already, the system is more accessible for staff, members, and all applicants (both those with and without disabilities). 

The speakers packed a lot of valuable information into a short time frame. The most important resource shared was the Office of Accessibility website which provides a tremendous amount of information. Other resources shared include:

Accessibility in Collaboration Tools 

The next accessibility seminar, “Being an Accessibility #A11y with Microsoft 365 & Teams,” focused on how to collaborate in ways that maximize accessibility, diversity, and inclusion, using Microsoft 365 and Teams. The session provided a lot of good information and helpful tips. 

Both speakers presented a lot of information in a clear and easy to understand way. They discussed how our work lives have changed so much, in particular: 

  • The large role of technology in that change.
  • The changing way we communicate with each other.
  • How the Office of Accessibility and many state employees worked together to make the change easier. 

It was interesting to hear what Microsoft is doing to increase accessibility for all people, regardless of any disability. There was information about how it’s even easier to access and use tools that can help us make sure that documents are accessible to all. A YouTube channel was highlighted for the numerous videos to help people learn how to use Microsoft’s tools most efficiently.

The speakers presented a lot of useful, practical information, including actions everyone can take to increase accessibility for everyone. It’s a shame that this presentation wasn’t longer. The speakers provided a lot of helpful links, including the Microsoft YouTube channel. Some of the resources shared:

The Local Digital Accessibility Journey

One panel featured representatives from local governments. “The Digital Accessibility Journey Through Counties, Cities and Towns” included Mel Reeder, League of Minnesota Cities CIO, and Leah Patton, Minnesota County IT Leadership Association Executive Director. This seminar was a great mix of information and questions.  The main topic: assessing where counties, cities, and towns are in their accessibility journey, and the drivers that are pushing them to be more accessible. 

Among the important points discussed were: 

  • Key forces driving these governments to be more accessible are generally negative: recent laws and regulations and the fear of litigation.
  • Nearly half of all poll respondents are doing some accessibility testing and staff are more aware of the need for accessibility.
  • More than half noted significant barriers to being more accessible, including understanding the standards, awareness, and money.

The differences and overlaps between accessibility, accommodations and assistive technology were also discussed. It was interesting to find out that while many people may not consider themselves disabled, accommodations for them are often used and helpful. The discussion also included how the COVID-19 pandemic made accessibility more important. From the increase in virtual meetings to applying for permits online instead of in person, our way of life has changed. 

A very important part of this discussion focused on the importance of developing accessible websites, especially when using vendors. The speakers made a key point: just including accessibility in an RFP is not enough. It is important to verify that accessibility works. Using a third party to verify accessibility is a good idea.

This seminar was really good and provided a lot of information.  

Golden GOVIT Award

What are the Golden GOVIT Awards?

The Government IT Symposium also awards government agencies and individuals for contributions to advance government technology through collaboration, innovation, service and individual leadership. The Government IT Symposium Steering Committee reviews nominations for the Golden GOVIT Awards, which can come from a government body or individual. Sessions featuring the finalists occur at the symposium. The symposium announces the winners on the final day.  It’s a great way to feature and celebrate hard work and innovation.  

The five categories this year were:

  • Collaboration (product/program)
  • Innovation
  • Service (product/program)
  • Individual Leader
  • Rapid Response

The Pathway to Accessible Digital Maps was a finalist for the Collaboration category. The project implemented well-designed and accessible maps. The State of Minnesota’s Maps Accessibility Community of Practice (MCOP) was a key driver in this effort. The team is comprised of over 40 members from 15 Minnesota state agencies, the Legislature, Office of the Secretary of State, Met Council, and University of Minnesota-Twin Cities. 

Although this team was not the winner, the results of the projects are impressive:

  • Website resources have been accessed by 5,700 unique visitors in 46 states, 3 provinces in Canada, and 37 countries, with over 4,000 downloads.
  • Minnesota state agencies have adopted accessibility into mapping products. For example, the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) implemented accessibility in 150 mapping products that receive over 1.1 million visitors.
  • Resources that state employees and the public can access. Check out:

Congratulations to the team. Their efforts have made a difference for many people throughout the world.

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