Maryland Governor Issues Executive Order on Accessibility, Tech and Artificial Intelligence

By: Sarah Roberts
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Maryland Governor Wes Moore recently issued an executive order that aims to update the state’s digital presence, including by making websites, content and resources more accessible. The timely move recognizes the critical role that technology plays in today’s society.

While the scope of the order extends beyond accessibility, the digital accessibility policy is the first of its kind for the state. The order’s four main focuses will interact with and strengthen one another, hopefully ushering in more user-friendly experiences for everyone in Maryland. States that haven’t yet taken these steps should give thought to the order and start to develop their own roadmaps for digital accessibility, adoption of AI and other concerns surrounding the role of technology in their government.

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The Four Focuses of the Order

The Moore Administration’s order looked at four categories related to technology: artificial intelligence, information technology, accessibility and cybersecurity.

Responsibly incorporating AI

The administration is looking to incorporate AI into the state government functions responsibly. A new AI subcabinet will develop and oversee an action plan, statewide principles surrounding the technology and “guardrails” to protect against potential misuse of these tools. Additionally, the subcabinet will help the state find personnel with AI-related skills and promote training and knowledge about the technology’s use cases for state employees and agencies.

Initiating Maryland digital services

Maryland will establish a new team of engineers, designers, researchers and product managers to work on redesigning websites and applications. The state has never employed an in-house team with this focus. Together, the team will improve digital user experiences, design and cost-effectiveness for state agencies.

A digital accessibility policy

Maryland has never had a formal digital accessibility policy. The Moore Administration plans to remedy this by creating one and providing the best possible usability for everyone in the state, including those with disabilities. Additionally, accessibility requirements will extend to those services that the state procures from outside vendors.

Creating a cybersecurity task force

The Governor’s Office will coordinate with the Maryland Department of Emergency Management, Maryland Department of Information Technology and the Maryland Military Department to promote cybersecurity measures within the state. Taking such steps immediately is critical as many local and state governments have sustained attacks in recent years. Also, as the election season approaches, fewer than 4% of states are ready to detect or recover from election-related cyberattacks, highlighting the dire need for state and local governments to invest in such protections.

Maryland State House, in Annapolis

Why an Accessibility Policy is Smart for State Governments

Maryland’s move to update its digital policies should serve as an example for other states. According to the Office of Management and Budget, paperwork for the Federal government costs the public around 11.5 billion hours a year. The individual administrative burden may be much greater for some citizens, for instance, those with cognitive differences or lower levels of education.

In many cases, technology could reduce the time people spend on government-related administrative tasks. However, if digital tools aren’t accessible, they will just create greater burdens on some of the most vulnerable members of society. Barriers to government resources may prevent people from accessing critical services like healthcare, food, housing and education. When people can’t access these programs, it places extra economic and health-related hardships on people experiencing poverty with negative effects on overall economic stability. For instance, when people can’t access regular healthcare, they’re more likely to use the emergency room, which results in higher costs.

What Digital Accessibility Means

Prioritizing digital accessibility for a state government not only demonstrates a commitment to inclusivity and equal access but also addresses legal requirements like the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act. It involves embracing design principles and technologies to ensure that digital platforms, websites and documents are accessible to all citizens. Taking a proactive approach to digital accessibility also contributes to a more inclusive and responsive governance.

While digital accessibility is about so much more than checking boxes, there are some common considerations that government officials should consider when trying to make their content more accessible, including:

  • Craft text using concise and straightforward sentences to improve overall readability.
  • Optimize PDFs for accessibility considerations.
  • Include alternative or “alt” text for images, aiding screen reader descriptions for individuals with visual impairments.
  • Implement responsive design to adjust page sizes automatically for mobile and tablet devices.
  • Incorporate headings for swift page navigation and effective communication of page structure.
  • Notify users when a link redirects to another page or opens a document.
  • Conduct tests on text and background color combinations to adhere to contrast best practices, specifically 4:5:1 and 3:1 for large-scale text.
  • Improve form accessibility by offering straightforward navigation, form labels, descriptions and extensions for ample completion time.
  • Develop accessible documents (Word, PDF, PowerPoint) with evident structure, tagging, alternate text, form field labeling and descriptive hyperlinks.
  • Offer captions and transcripts for audio/visual content to cater to users with hearing and visual impairments.

The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) are a great resource for specific accessibility standards.

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Finding the Right Partners for Accessible Government

Although a complete digital plan involves many complicated considerations, achieving the accessibility piece isn’t something that government agencies have to do alone. Partnering with vendors that offer professional accessibility solutions can make offering better access simpler.

Verbit works with federal, state and local government agencies to provide captioning, transcription, audio description and more. Reach out to learn more about how Verbit’s GSA schedule services and solutions can help your agency improve access for all citizens.