Accessing Democracy: Washington State’s Website Team Empowers Voters with Disabilities
Jul 21, 2017
During July, as the EAC continues to highlight election innovations in accessibility, we caught up with Washington State’s Lori Augino, Director of Elections for the Office of the Secretary of State.
In spring of 2016, a focused team of Washington State election administrators set out to produce a highly accessible website for voters with disabilities and those with language needs. The final result was one of the nation’s leading elections websites for people with disabilities and other access requirements. Washington State’s MyVote portal is an excellent model of how providing fully accessible websites must be at the top of every election official’s to do list.
This week is the second annual National Disability Voter Registration Week and this month is the 27th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). It is with these milestones in mind that we feature the MyVote portal and the tips and best practices learned by the Washington State website team.
EAC: Please tell us about your MyVote portal effort and some of the site’s accessibility features.
Lori Augino: The new version of MyVote was developed in collaboration with the Statewide Disability Advisory Committee, which includes voters who are blind or have sight impairment; the Washington Talking Book & Braille Library; election experts in Washington and other states; and designers and application developers.
MyVote was independently tested for usability, using 14 different combinations of internet browsers and screen readers and is available in English, Spanish, Chinese, and Vietnamese.
MyVote and supporting web pages are compliant with Section 508 of the United States Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended, the ADA, Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 Level AA, and other accessibility best practices and recommendations.
EAC: Since launching the new MyVote in spring of 2016, how has the response been from voters with disabilities?
Lori Augino: Since launching the new MyVote it has received 1.8 million views and peaked with over 217,000 page views on October 9th alone. Voters from all walks of life, media, election professionals, disability advocates and outreach organizations have commended the increased accessibility and access to information.
EAC: In news articles about your website modernization initiative, you mentioned challenges in finding independent third party accessibility testers during the development phase. As election officials modernize their website, what recommendations can you share in this area?
Lori Augino: Finding an experienced and qualified vendor was not easy. Procurement timelines took longer than we anticipated. However, our contract specialists helped us keep the vendor procurement process as quick as possible. Once identified, the independent testing vendor was extremely quick and helpful. Not only did they identify and recommend changes but they included simple and easy to understand explanations on how they could be accomplished. Additionally, they provided accessible web design training opportunities for our web team.
We not only hired an independent testing vendor but we collaborated with the Washington State Talking Book and Braille Library who tested the tool with voters living with disabilities.
EAC: What role did your Disability Advisory Committee and other advocacy groups play in the website modernization effort?
Lori Augino: The Disability Advisory Committee was a critical partner on this project and there is no way we could have done this without their expertise and insight. They challenged us to provide the best solution possible and by the end of the project were celebrating our accomplishment.
MyVote is used as more than a tool by voters. Voter outreach and registration drive organizations use this tool to educate and register voters. Also, state agencies use MyVote to offer voter registration to their customers. It was very important to us to include feedback and features that allowed for them to be successful in their mission.
EAC: What were the primary resources that made this a successful project?
Lori Augino: This project was a true ‘team effort’. Without any piece of the team, we would not have been successful. Our Disability Advisory Committee, Web & Application Developers, County Elections Departments, Communications and Executive Leadership were all working together with a unified goal while under an aggressive timeline.
EAC: Please describe a few tips or best practices for election officials looking to make their site more accessible.
Lori Augino: The best advice we can give is to think ‘accessibility’ first, where ‘accessibility’ includes voters using assistive technology or mobile devices and voters who’d prefer to view the content in another language. It is much harder to ‘build-in’ accessibility later, while it is very easy to include it from the beginning.
Don’t provide a separate ‘accessible’ document or page. All voters, no matter what technology they are using, should access the same page. This will simplify updating your website and ensure consistent messaging.
Check and validate any assumptions. Work closely with your communities of voters who have a disability and work with them to see how they use your application or website. Additionally, you yourself should understand how each piece of assistive technology works. Take it out for a spin! Many tools have a trial period or a free license.
We would like to thank Director Augino and her team for their outstanding commitment to elections accessibility and voters with disabilities. The EAC will continue to showcase best practices throughout July in hopes of helping election officials meet the promise of accessible elections for all voters. In keeping with July as accessibility month, Earlier this week the EAC conducted a panel discussion on serving veterans with disabilities in the voting process.