AN EXAMINATION OF E-GOVERNANCE POLICY AND PRACTICE ISSUES CONCERNING ACCESSIBILITY AND USABILITY IN OPEN GOVERNMENT
University at Albany Rockefeller College SUNY (UNITED STATES)
About this paper:
Appears in: INTED2011 Proceedings
Publication year: 2011
Conference name: 5th International Technology, Education and Development Conference
Dates: 7-9 March, 2011
Location: Valencia, Spain
Abstract:This session examines issues surrounding accessibility and usability as gateways to e-governance. In the United States, accessibility is addressed as a civil right for individuals with disabilities as codified by law. Usability encompasses all users of a particular website and the ease with which they can find information and accomplish tasks. Central to usability is the concept of user-centered design. The standards for usability and accessibility and the relationship between accessibility and usability are examined in terms of universal design and variability. Accessibility and usability jointly affect the degree to which citizens who use the web are empowered.
Another focus is implementation of accessibility and usability in the design and development of government websites. A model for conceptualizing how higher education can influence how usability and accessibility are implemented is presented. Establishing standards for accessibility and usability are critical, and they occur at the intersection of Information Technology (IT) developers, political policy leaders, and citizen-users. Citizen-users and disability advocates are critical to implementation in two ways. First, their feedback is critical to usability testing. Second, they need to hold their government accountable for accessible and usable sites. It is the responsibility of the citizen-user to provide feedback, and for IT to implement changes that are supported by political policy leaders. Studies of accessibility and usability in government websites point to on-going difficulties in meeting legal and professional standards. Standardizing and enforcing practices that enhance usability is difficult to achieve. Since implementation of standards in e-government is ultimately in the hands of the technicians a survey of webmasters was conducted in New York State agencies to obtain a better insight to how standards were set. Interestingly but not surprising, the study reveals that serious tensions exist between IT professionals and agency policy leaders with respect to the perceived relative importance of accessibility and usability, and provision of resources to enhance usability. While IT developers make daily decisions that affect usability and accessibility, it may be concluded from the survey results that there is less interest expressed from those in policy leadership positions.
Notwithstanding, the emergence of e-government has changed what United States citizens have come to expect and even demand from its government at local, state, and national levels. The rapid advancement of the World Wide Web (WWW) into all phases of everyday life has given new meaning to how government should conduct day-to-day business affairs. The notion of open government has spurred the call for transparency, participation, and collaboration, and increased access by the public at all levels of government.
Upon assuming his leadership role in January 2009, President Barack Obama stated, “My administration is committed to creating an unprecedented level of openness in government. We will work together to ensure the public trust and establish a system of transparency, public participation, and collaboration.” In spite of the lofty goals set by President Obama there still remains a significant gap between stated outcome and current practice.
This session will conclude with a discussion of the role higher education can play in influencing the implementation of open government.
Keywords: Open Government, E-Goverance, Accessibility, Usability.