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Disability Inclusion Planning in Government 2023: Improve Accessibility For All In Your Municipality

By Marisa Pangaro

Disabled citizens are so often pushed aside within their communities, either due to ignorance about how to assist them, or negligence on behalf of the government. Americans with disabilities are as entitled to local amenities and government services as anyone else. Yet, the unfortunate reality is that their access is substantially worse in many cases compared to the access and opportunity awarded to able-bodied people. 

The need for better equity for disabled community-members through improved physical and digital infrastructure is only growing. In this guide, we’ll highlight exactly why local governments need to prioritize disability inclusion and key ways they can improve their digital and physical infrastructure to increase overall community accessibility. 

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Why Do Local Governments Need A Disability Inclusion Plan?

Local governments benefit from a disability inclusion plan because it sets in place permanent guidelines for how to prioritize disabled community-members, highlighting the most important ways the local government can support them. 

What is a disability inclusion plan? 

A disability inclusion plan is a strategic, organized plan from a local government outlining what potential accessibility barriers exist in their city, mitigation techniques, and an action plan for promoting more equity in your community. The goal of a disability inclusion plan is to create a safe work and living environment for people with both visible and invisible disabilities that live in or visit your community. 

Key components of a disability inclusion plan: 

To be the most effective, a disability inclusion plan should include these few key aspects:

1.  Form a Mission Statement

Clearly communicate the intentions of your disability inclusion plan to government employees and citizens alike, with an organized mission statement from your local government. It is vital to inform the public of why a disability inclusion plan is necessary, and what exactly will be implemented in order to make the community more equitable for disabled community-members. 

2. Inclusive Input 

Your local government disability planning should prioritize services and community updates that disabled community members advocate for themselves. Reach out to groups or organizations that represent community-members with disabilities and bring up disability inclusion in public meetings in order to learn exactly what local infrastructure is lacking that would potentially assist them. 

Allow citizens all citizens to report any instances of inaccessible or damaged infrastructure in your community on the spot with GovPilot’s mobile report-a-concern app GovAlert; learn more through our complaint management software guide and GovPilot's resource, How to Report Complaints & Issues to Your Local Government. 

3. Strategic Planning

Government strategic planning for your community should involve designing and planning infrastructure projects to serve people with disabilities. Not considering disabled citizens in the planning and zoning process is why so many communities lack proper infrastructure for disabled community members. 

What infrastructure is lacking in the community? What policies disregard disabled citizens? The development of disability-specific policies/strategies and the establishment of local teams or individuals with expertise on disability inclusion need to be included in creating your disability inclusion plan. 

GovTip: Consider utilizing federal and state grants for boosting your government’s budget for disability inclusive infrastructure. Learn more:

4. Organizational Culture

Challenge your community to consider disabled community members and the kind of access needed to ensure equality. Mindfully considering people with disabilities, starting from the conception of a new infrastructure design or public services, will guarantee disabled community-members can easily utilize the new infrastructure without needing additional accommodations. 

What Are The Requirements The Americans with Disabilities Act Outlines For Local Governments? 

Adequate physical and digital access to government facilities, programs, and events are regulated under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA); government entities ensure that all citizens with disabilities can take part in, and benefit from, the programs and services of local governments. The ADA  also requires government websites are kept up to date and follow disability accessibility regulations. 

Here are some requirements local governments must follow to comply with the ADA: 

  • Perform and record self-evaluations

To ensure that your locality is complying with the ADA, your local government needs to perform evaluations of your own municipal facilities. Pinpoint the facilities, programs and services that must be modified or relocated in their community. Completing regular building inspections is the best practice to certify that your community follows ADA guidelines. 

Streamline self-inspection processes with GovInspect, GovPilot’s mobile inspection app to save valuable time and money. 

  • There is no "grandfather" clause  

Oftentimes, city governments don’t take the proper steps to ensure that all of their programs, services, and activities are accessible to people with disabilities. This is due to a belief that some government services don’t need to meet every accessibility requirement because they were established before the codes and requirements were mandatory.

No such grandfather clause excuses any municipal services, buildings, public spaces, or programs to get by without meeting the requirements explained by the ADA. 

  • Update historic properties

Historically significant facilities are properties that are eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places. Some structural changes to these facilities could threaten the historical significance of the property or fundamentally change the program being offered at the facility; those changes need not be undertaken under ADA guidelines, in order to protect the historical significance. 

However, a city must still provide alternatives to structural obstacles in these instances including innovative solutions such as using audio-visual materials to depict the inaccessible portions of the facility. 

  • Make construction zones accessible 

Even when streets and roads are newly built or are actively being altered, they must have ramps wherever there are curbs or other barriers to a pedestrian walkway. 

Improve construction processes in your community with GovPilot’s Construction Software to review, approve, and track projects from start to finish. 

  • Modify policies based on discrimination 

Dated policies likely do not have enough consideration for community members with disabilities; these policies must be updated to include and protect disabled citizens. City governments are required to make reasonable modifications to policies or procedures in order to prevent discrimination on the basis of disability. Modifications to local laws, ordinances, and regulations that negatively impact people with disabilities are required to be altered.

  • Communicate with disabled community-members 

​​Title II of the ADA requires that city governments ensure communications with individuals that have disabilities are as effective as communications with other citizens. City governments must provide appropriate auxiliary aids and services for people with disabilities in order to effectively communicate community updates or announcements. 

What Are The Physical Infrastructure Requirements For Disabled Community Members?

Equitable physical access, meaning access into public spaces, buildings, and any other place a person might need to go for work, play, education, business, or services must be easily accessible to all community-members. Physical access includes the ability to enter/exit, and fully experience a public space without needing to provide their own accommodations. 

Government leaders and officials need to ensure that the following physical infrastructure in your community is accessible for people with disabilities, and up to the standards set out by the ADA: 

  • Curbs, stairs, and sidewalks

These examples of physical infrastructure in your community must be maintained up to safe standards, and have clear signage directing citizens towards a ramp, or other nearby accessible option. 

Check out GovPilot’s permitting software that allows your local government to digitally issue driveway, curb, sidewalk & apron permits. 

  • Construction obstructions

Obstructions to traffic or foot traffic must be easy to navigate around, even for community members with disabilities. Ensure that ramps or walkways are available to help citizens navigate around any construction obstructions. 

Every GovPilot customer gets access to a localized GIS Map, allowing citizens to see real-time updates on construction projects, obstructions, and temporary ramps and walkways on a 3D map of your community.

  • Entrances/exits 

All entrances and exits to an establishment need to be the appropriate size and width to accommodate citizens with physical disabilities (and any physical aids they may use to navigate). Alternative entrances and exits are also acceptable as long as appropriate signage directs citizens towards a door that they can access. 

  • Audio accessibility 

Audible accessibility is often overlooked, but is vital in all instances where a service will have an audio element. Physical infrastructure must include audio infrastructure because oftentimes audio elements, such as announcements on public transportation are vital to navigate the public setting, but too low or ableist to be any help to someone with a hearing disability. 

Make sure the transit options in your city are accessible and check out this article to learn How to Improve Local Public Transportation in your community. 

What Does The American Disabilities Act Mean For Your Government Website?  

The American Disabilities Act mandates that government websites meet specific criteria so that a website is easy to navigate for all citizens. Failure to provide digital accessibility for all could result in a lawsuit from the Department of Justice, as many localities have historically overlooked the importance of web accessibility for disabled constituents.

Want to learn more about keeping your website up to par? Check out GovPilot’s resource on How To Improve Your Local Government Website Design

To ensure maximum accessibility and inclusion, work on your local government website to make sure it follows the criteria listed below: 

1. Perceivability

Your website should not only be easy to navigate, but it should also be perceivable to all citizens who use it. Your local government should make it easier for users to see and hear content that is posted on your website, through available alternatives. Consider all of the disabilities that might make comprehension of an online platform difficult, and base your website functions off of how to simplify perceivability. 

What you can do: Ensure that text alternatives are provided for non-text content posted on your site, as well as captions and other alternatives for multimedia posts. It is also imperative to create content that can be presented in different ways, including by assistive technologies, without losing the meaning behind the content.

2. Operability

Is your government website intuitive and easy to operate? If not, it is your government's  responsibility to make sure that ALL website functions can be operated by a community-member that has disabilities. 

What you can do: Make all functionality on the website available from a keyboard or alternative keyboard input. Give users enough time to read and use content, and ensure no content on the website causes seizures or physical reactions in constituents. It should not be difficult for average users to navigate and find the information they’re searching for. 

3. Understandability 

Your government website needs to be simple and readable to anyone who visits it. Citizens should be able to take a quick look at your local governments website and feel well-informed afterwards. Ensure that the website is understandable to all readers by dedicating focus towards layout, wording, and other details of your site that will make it more accessible.  

What you can do:  Make all text readable and understandable; take out any complexities or confusing wording to make the text as straightforward as possible. All content on your site should be predictable, meaning citizens should be able to predict where to find certain information based on an organized and understandable website layout. 

4. Is Your Website Robust? 

Just having a local government website that has some information on it is not enough. Your local government website should be robust, offering many different resources and tools for citizens to utilize. Be sure to maximize your website’s compatibility with current and future user tools to ensure your website is able to be used by everyone in the community.

The American Disabilities Act Best Practices For Your Government Website 

The American Disabilities Act provides some valuable insights regarding how to make your website navigation experience positive for people with visual or hearing disabilities. 

Follow these best practices to stay compliant with ADA guidelines: 

  • Clear page titles and subheadings: ensure the website is easy to navigate
  • Alternative text options: different text options should be available for any form of media that is posted on your website so that the information can be read at the very least. 
  • Use simple writing: getting complicated with explanations on your website is not a good idea; keep it simple and easy to comprehend.
  • Options to increase text size: these options provide anyone with visual disabilities different ways to adjust the text in order to retain the information. 
  • Add captions to videos & live streams: captions are a great tool to make videos and live streams more accessible, and are easy to implement. 

  • Easy to navigate website: ideally, your website will be easy to understand visually and easy to navigate so users can find information as quickly as possible. 

  • Take precautions to prevent seizures: some digital effects can trigger dangerous neurological responses such as seizures, keep flashing lights or intense visual effects off your website. 

Want to know more about the ADA Website Compliance Checklist? Here is everything you need to know. 

How Does Government Software Help With Disability Inclusion? 

Maintaining an effective and interactive government website can be difficult, especially for smaller municipalities, but is a vital part of ensuring accessibility in your community. 

Government management software allows for digital government services offered by the Clerks Department like public-facing digital forms and automated workflows to make licensing, permitting, and request fulfillment easy to complete from home. This virtual option provides equal opportunity for disabled community members to engage with government services.  

  • Utilize the government cloud to make all government records/applications available online and eliminate the need for citizens to go out of their way to visit your local government offices, which can be difficult especially for someone with disabilities. 
  • Schedule, manage, and track inspections of public buildings, spaces, and construction zones to ensure that they meet the safety and disability inclusion requirements of The American Disabilities Act. Here are more tips for government scheduling.

Infrastructure projects can get completed more quickly with government construction and permitting software for: 

What is GovPilot’s Special Needs Tracking Module? 

Last year, GovPilot launched a new digital service intended to help emergency responders interact in a safer way with disabled community-members. 

The special needs tracking module allows local governments to attach a convenient digital form to their website, which can be filled out by citizens with emergency contact information for  family-members with special needs. 

This special needs tracking module allows parents or guardians to provide personal descriptive information about their disabled family member that may be hard to communicate in an emergency situation. This information can help responding police officers who receive specific training follow protocols when they come into contact with persons who have “special needs” which will help to resolve potentially dangerous situations quickly and safely.

The tracking module includes information for first responders about the citizen’s: 

  • Home address and emergency contact
  • Noise, sound, or touch sensitivities 
  • Topics to discuss to put the individual at ease
  • Any medications they might be taking 
  • Visual attachments such as a person’s photograph

Embrace Government Software To Implement Infrastructure And Website Features For Disabled Community-Members

Community members that have disabilities deserve the same access and opportunity as any other citizen in your community; it is the job of the local government to ensure that happens through physical and digital infrastructure updates. 

Your local government needs to be proactive about  infrastructure improvements in the community with a strong disability inclusion action plan to maintain ADA accessibility standards. 

Utilize government software solutions to transform your locality and streamline municipal processes across the board. Utilize government software to improve communications between citizens and their local government, automate permit and licensing approvals, streamline building/construction inspections, and increase community accessibility overall.  

To learn more about disability inclusion and how GovPilot can help improve accessibility for all: book a free demo

Government Disability Inclusion FAQs

  • What is a disability inclusion action plan?

A disability access inclusion action plan is an organized and strategic guide that directs officials to improve the social and economic inclusion of persons with disabilities through concrete steps. The purpose of the disability inclusion action plan is to prioritize the wellness and equity of community members with disabilities.

  • Why do local governments need to prioritize the disabled?

Governments must make necessary steps to prioritize disabled community-members due to the fact that most physical and even digital infrastructure is not designed to serve them. Disabled community members typically experience less access to community services and a lack of equity in everyday life due to limitations and obstacles. It is the responsibility of the local government to be more equitable and ensure all community members are taken care of. 

  • How can local governments use software to assist the disabled?

Local governments can use government software to make constituent services more accessible for disabled community members. Offering online services such as permitting/licensing, eliminates the need for in person visits to your local government offices, saving community members with disabilities the hardships of having to navigate to get there. 

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Tags: Government Efficiency, Constituent Experience, Digital Transformation, Public Health