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Understandable User Experience for Accessible Government

Curating an understandable user experience is Principle 3 of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1, but what exactly does this mean for accessible government?

Principle 3 of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1 states: “Information and the operation of user interface must be understandable,” but what does this mean for creating an accessible user experience in government?

It all boils down to simplicity. Simple design, simple language, a straightforward user experience. When a citizen launches a government website, it’s likely with a goal in mind: to find out information, interact with their officials, submit a form or application, etc. It is the government’s job to curate this user experience to be approachable to the citizen.

If a user experience is complicated by a clunky interface or convoluted language, the user journey could take a number of turns. The citizen might give up entirely, resulting in potentially lost revenue if the service that the citizen gave up pursuing was tied to a fee or payment. In other cases, a truly desperate user might finally find the service they’re looking for, but feel incredibly disappointed with the time and effort it took. Low citizen satisfaction is not a desirable outcome for government, either.

In order to provide the optimal user experience for staff and citizens, government must ensure that the information provided online and the operation of the user interface be understandable. This is not only a best practice for creating web content, it is legally recognized as a necessary facet of digital government – Section 508 enforces this principle explicitly and the Americans with Disabilities Act requires this principle in accessibility lawsuit settlements.

See below for some ways you can create an understandable user experience for your staff and citizens, to allow for truly accessible government:

1. Prioritize the front-end user experience.

Government has historically implemented technology that prioritizes back-end process management, while neglecting the front-end user experience. While it is important to have a tool that can accommodate complex back-end workflows, don’t forget to design a user-friendly front-end experience! The front-end is what your citizens will interact with, and if they get lost in the process, there will be no back-end for you to manage! Ultimately, you’ll want a beautiful end-to-end experience.

2. Develop your web content for a lower secondary school reading level.

This is a direct recommendation by the WCAG, to develop content as clearly and simply as possible (lower secondary school corresponds to grades 7-9 in the US education system). Simple text benefits a host of users: people with reading disabilities including dyslexia, people with attention deficit disorders, non-English speakers, and more. Clear and concise language will maximize the understandability of your content, improving the overall accessibility.

3. Create multilingual opportunities for access.

If there is a form or page on your website that non-English speakers access? Embed a translator to allow the end user to translate the content into their language of choice. Check out how SeamlessDocs is empowering hundreds of government to provide multilingual online services to promote accessibility.

In order to create an understandable user experience, you must improve what your online content says, how it says it, and how users interact with it. Once the user experience is understandable, citizens will be able to find what they need faster, interact with their government more seamlessly, and view their government more favorably.


To learn more about how you can help build a more accessible, understandable government, check out our new ebook: Best Practices for Driving Constituent Engagement through Digital Services. In this ebook, we draw from over six years of learning and insights from our government partners to recommend ten best practices for implementing accessible digital services in the public sector.

10 Best Practices for Driving Constituent Engagement through Digital Services

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