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Digital Echo, CityGrows Partner on Document Accessibility

The digital age is leaving behind some people with visual, cognitive or motor disabilities. A digital services company and an ADA consulting firm think they can help governments get up to code.

by / February 6, 2020
Massachusetts has created an account to help agencies fund needed accommodations for disabled employees -- like technologies that help the visually impaired use computers.

When the Americans with Disabilities Act passed in 1990, it required that state and local government programs and services, including their communications, be accessible to people with disabilities. Thirty years later, public documents are widely digitized and accessible via screens and formats that are not always legible, or usable, to everyone.

As of last week, CityGrows, a digital-services startup in Pennsylvania, has partnered with ADA-accessibility consulting firm Digital Echo to help clients bring their digital documents up to code.

Digital Echo founder John Mulvey, who is also a certified professional in accessibility core competency (CPACC), told Government Technology that he founded the company in January 2019 when he saw a growing number of lawsuits around the issue of digital accessibility. He said roughly 15 percent of people identify as having a disability or impairment, or about 41 million Americans. He said 2-3 percent of people have a visual impairment, which could prevent them from reading text or navigating interfaces without special devices, called screen readers. Cognitive and motor impairments could impact a user’s ability to read documents or manipulate a mouse as well.

But assistive devices such as screen readers might only work if a document is formatted in a specific way. So Digital Echo seeks to help governments create documents that are meant to work with assistive devices.

“So much business, transactions and whatnot are being conducted via digital means that a large segment of the population has been overlooked and left behind,” Mulvey said. “What I realized was, it really piggybacks on the whole push for diversity and inclusion, and that’s where it comes in to state and local governments.”

According to a news release last week, the partnership between CityGrows and Digital Echo will improve each other’s services on this point. Through consultation with Digital Echo, CityGrows has added the ability to replace PDFs with accessible, interactive forms that have workflow tools attached. Digital Echo in turn added CityGrows to its list of vetted "solution partners," and may refer clients to CityGrows who need to fix their online forms or rebuild them from scratch to be ADA-compliant, which Mulvey said can be prohibitively expensive.

CityGrows CEO Catherine Geanuracos said her company, which has mostly small to medium-sized government clients in six states, scales its prices according to population size, so any government can work with them.

“We’re combining forces to respond to RFPs and connect with folks that are starting to pay attention to this issue,” she said. “There are a few companies like Siteimprove that do automated auditing of your site, and [Mulvey] works with several different technology partners, and we’re the first partner that’s related to this forms-automation, digital-services side. That’s why it’s exciting for us.”

Editor's note: A description of CityGrows' PDF replacement tools has been corrected.

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Andrew Westrope Staff Writer

Andrew Westrope is a staff writer for Government Technology. Before that, he was a reporter and editor at community newspapers for seven years. He has a Bachelor’s degree in physiology from Michigan State University and lives in Northern California.

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