House of Commons of Canada
Written on January, 2023
In our contemporary era, digital transformation has ushered in significant changes across various institutions worldwide. This powerful shift is fundamentally altering how organisations function, communicate, and deliver services. The House of Commons in Canada is one such institution that has embraced this transformation. However, the focus of this digital transition extends beyond just adopting cutting-edge technologies. The House of Commons is actively fostering an environment of accessibility, particularly prioritising individuals with disabilities. This essay will examine the digital transformation in the Canadian House of Commons, with a focus on enhancing accessibility, inclusivity, and improving user experience.
The cornerstone of the digital transformation in the House of Commons is the Canada Accessibility Act 2019, which mandates a barrier-free Canada by 1st January 2040. The Act is a response to a societal issue prevalent in many countries, where systems and services are primarily designed and operated for individuals without disabilities. The Act is intended to take into account the needs of individuals with disabilities more seriously and ensure compliance with the law.
In Canada, a considerable percentage of individuals with disabilities report facing barriers related to Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs). For instance, among Canadians with disabilities who interacted with federal organisations, 44.6% reported facing an ICT-related barrier. This scenario underscores the importance of focusing on digital accessibility.
The House of Commons has adopted an approach that caters not only to physical, mental, sensory, or intellectual disabilities but also to cognitive disabilities. This comprehensive approach recognises that cognitive disabilities, such as dyslexia and anxiety, can also pose significant challenges to individuals in accessing digital content. A percentage of people with disabilities in Canada have reported barriers using in-person self-serve technology and online services, underlining the need to address this issue.
The House of Commons’ vision is anchored in user consultation and engagement. Over the past years, user consultation has become the preferred approach and forms part of their standard practices. These consultations include workshops and surveys, which help understand user requirements better. Based on these consultations, an accessibility plan for the next five years was created and approved.
To ensure adherence to the law and encourage attitudes that promote equity, diversity, and inclusion, an Accessibility Secretariat was established. Its role is to ensure equal access and participation for people with disabilities, remove and prevent technology barriers to accessibility, and meet the requirements set by the Accessibility Canada Act.
The Digital Services department plays a crucial role in ensuring compliance with the latest accessibility standards. They perform assessments, measure progress, and provide support to all teams. Their work encompasses various areas including accessibility assessment, assistance to teams for compliance, learning and training awareness, and quality assurance processes.
In addition, they employ users with disabilities as testers, ensuring that products are thoroughly checked for accessibility before being deployed. Audit and reporting processes are also in place to measure and track progress towards full compliance with the most recent standards.
In the House of Commons, the user experience is a key element of digital transformation. They understand that usability and accessibility go hand-in-hand. While usability is about the effectiveness, efficiency, and satisfaction with which users can use a product to reach their goals, accessibility is about the usability of a product, service, environment, or facility by the widest range of capabilities.
Inclusivity is another vital aspect that the House of Commons is addressing in its digital transformation journey. Recognising the importance of being inclusive, they aim to design their products and content with inclusivity in mind. The inclusive design approach takes into account a full range of human diversity, including ability, language, culture, gender, age, and other forms of human difference. This approach aims to eliminate barriers and make digital services more accessible to a broader audience, thereby ensuring that everyone, regardless of their circumstances or abilities, can have an equal opportunity to participate in the democratic process. By adopting this inclusive design approach, the House of Commons is not just complying with legal requirements but also promoting a culture of inclusion and diversity, reflecting the diverse makeup of Canada itself.
The House of Commons has established a robust framework to ensure digital accessibility. The foundation of this framework is a comprehensive assessment and user testing process, which includes employing users with disabilities as testers. This is a crucial step in ensuring that products are thoroughly assessed for accessibility and any potential barriers are identified and addressed before deployment.
In addition, the House of Commons focuses heavily on quality assurance and has processes in place to test for accessibility before deploying any digital product. This approach ensures that accessibility is not an afterthought but an integral part of the development process.
Another important aspect of the framework is the continuous audit and reporting once the product is deployed and in use. This allows for ongoing tracking of the state of compliance with the latest accessibility standards and ensures that any emerging issues can be quickly identified and addressed.
Finally, the House of Commons is committed to continuous learning and raising awareness about digital accessibility. They provide training to their teams to help them understand the importance of accessibility and how to design and implement accessible digital services.
In conclusion, the digital transformation in the House of Commons is a comprehensive process that goes beyond just adopting new technologies. It is about creating an inclusive and accessible digital environment where everyone, regardless of their abilities, can participate fully. Through their focus on user experience, inclusivity, and continuous improvement, the House of Commons is setting a benchmark for other institutions on how to successfully navigate the digital transformation journey while ensuring accessibility for all.
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