The 21st Century Integrated Digital Experience Act (IDEA) is a new law that requires all new and existing government websites to meet standards on accessibility, searchability and security. It also requires agencies to adopt web analytics tools to produce data on how well their web properties are being used. As you enter the new fiscal year, is your government agency set up to meet these new standards? Forum One has extensive experience helping government agencies make digital platforms and documents accessible to people with disabilities. In July, our accessibility experts spoke about the importance of digital accessibility at DrupalGovCon, the annual gathering of government technology managers, Drupalists, and open source evangelists (Forum One always feels right at home at GovCon!). Our talks generated a lot of interest in finding solutions and setting up processes for increasing the accessibility of digital products. Designing for accessibility is something all digital products should follow; however, for government web properties, accessibility requirements are now part of a new law called the 21st Century IDEA Act. As we’ve written previously, government modernization efforts take a number of different forms: replacing legacy systems and software, improving business processes, making sites more secure, and moving data to the cloud. They use innovative program models like GSA’s Centers of Excellence, which is an implementation model to overhaul priority agency-wide systems. All of this is, or should be, aimed at making public-facing websites, online forms, and tools more useful to their primary target audiences.
Accessibility and the IDEA ActThe standards and best practices outlined in the IDEA Act have been around for a while, but the key difference is that these standards are now law for government platforms. Federal agencies must comply with these new standards, and report to Congress on how they are progressing. But that’s not all. The full list includes the following for websites. They must :
- Be accessible to individuals with disabilities in accordance with section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (29 U.S.C. 794d)
- Have a consistent appearance, i.e., use a brand system use it consistently
- Not overlap with or duplicate any legacy websites and, if applicable, ensure that legacy websites are regularly reviewed, eliminated, and consolidated
- Contain a search function that allows users to easily search content intended for public use
- Be provided through a secure connection
- Be designed around user needs and collect data showing how and how well the web property is being used
- Provide users with the option for a more customized digital experience that allows users to complete digital transactions in an efficient and accurate manner
- Be mobile-friendly
- Use electronic signatures on web-based forms
- Accessibility: Three Steps to Get Started
- Demystifying the Cost of Accessible Websites: Is Accessibility Worth the Commitment?
- Accessible Design is Good Design: Humanizing Section 508 & Accessibility
Meeting the IDEA Act compliance deadlinesAs the new act was signed into law in December 2018, the timeline for meeting its standards span across 2019 and 2020, which full compliance required by December 2020. The first deadline was back in June 2019 and required that:
- Any new or redesigned website must meet the standards “to the greatest extent practicable.” (aka, this is the warm-up phase!)
- All paper-based forms and non-digital services an agency currently offers be compiled and listed with a cost estimate for digitizing them.
- A plan to accelerate the use of electronic signatures for docs be signed.
- Share a list of public-facing websites that are most-viewed by the public or most important for public engagement
- Among those, identify which are most important with respect to modernization
- Estimate the cost to modernize those that are of highest priority
- Report on progress towards modernization in a publicly-available report, each year going forward, by December of the current year. This report is expected to be informative about modernization efforts being made.