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How Can Government Make Digital Services More Inclusive?

When it comes to accessibility and inclusion, there are steps local and state agencies can take — and others that should be avoided — to provide an equitable government service experience across populations.

A light source illuminates a room with code through an open door.
As more government services move online, some agencies have taken concrete steps to improve the accessibility and inclusivity of digital services and resources.

From revamping websites to hosting virtual town halls, how can agencies establish or maintain an inclusive government during this sea change?


Philadelphia’s Office of LGBT Affairs has collected data on the gender and sexuality of city employees through the Employee Self-Identification Census to both foster an inclusive culture and make the city’s workforce diversity more transparent.

“It was important for us to begin collecting that data because we can fix what we can see,” said the office’s executive director, Celena Morrison.

This activity started shortly after Morrison joined the city in March 2020. The effort is in its early stages and will likely be an ongoing process, she said. Work is currently being done to publicize the census to increase participation. Morrison believes the data will help ensure city workers represent the communities they serve.

The data will live in OnePhilly, the city’s internal HR system, and will be used internally to improve policies and directives.

There’s another project Morrison would like to pursue this year. The idea is to have the Mayor’s Commission on LGBT Affairs develop a grading system for organizations and businesses that provide community services to make sure people are receiving the best resources and treatment possible for their needs. She underlined the goal of having the commission’s work be driven by community engagement and data.

Morrison also commissioned a digital resource guide at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic with resources related to mental health, housing, digital inclusion and more. This guide is continuously updated.

The city also audited its social media to identify topics that received the most traffic to gauge what resources the community wants to learn more about. Morrison said the audit led the department to focus on sharing more employment opportunities.

Morrison also spoke about the importance of intersectionality in inclusion work, citing a collaborative relationship with the Office for People With Disabilities.


Karen Tamley, former commissioner of the Chicago Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities, has focused on accessibility work in her time with both the public and nonprofit sectors. She now works as the CEO of Access Living.

In her time with the city of Chicago, she said she helped put accessibility on the map, dealing with topics ranging from how the city creates forms to how website content is displayed.

“You can’t be a smart city if you’re not also a smart and accessible city,” she said.

Tamley stated that even prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, government services were moving to a virtual world, and the accessibility piece of this shift is still in progress.

She emphasized the importance of acknowledging the “disability digital divide,” meaning that without broadband connectivity and digital literacy, services won’t be accessible. She explained that throughout the pandemic, she started to see the digital divide’s correlation with well-being.

Tamley’s belief is that government agencies should start with education, as an agency can’t provide digital access without understanding what that means and how people with disabilities might use digital platforms. Agencies should look at accessibility standards but also go beyond that by including people with disabilities in user testing, she said.

Given that agencies put out new content all the time, she said infrastructure must be in place to continually monitor the accessibility of an agency’s “virtual front door.”


Los Angeles County provides a comprehensive set of digital resources from its Department of Mental Health (LACDMH). This evolving collection of resources came about in large part due to the county’s inability to provide as many in-person services at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to H. Chung So, LACDMH public information officer.

This resource library includes access to Headspace and iPrevail, through partnerships launched in 2020 and 2021 respectively, which offer a remote therapy option at no cost to residents.

LACDMH collaborates with Headspace and iPrevail to gather usage data, including how many people sign on, how often they sign on and what language they use on the platforms.

The resource page also offers resources for anti-racism and for LGBTQ+ residents. Being the most populous county in the country, Los Angeles is also one of the most diverse, requiring LACDMH to be cognizant of different cultural groups and what they may need to improve their mental well-being.

He also noted that L.A. County has passed legislation to pursue anti-racist initiatives throughout all county departments.

“It’s a really big, collaborative effort for all the county agencies to initiate something to be more inclusive and be more equitable in how we deliver services,” So said.

LACDMH continually works with stakeholders in the community to coordinate culturally specific services and to adapt programs as needed. The agency is also making its website more compatible with assistive technologies for people with disabilities.


In contrast to agencies that are working to ensure marginalized populations are included in the digital government experience, the Texas Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recently removed a LGBTQ+ youth resource from its suicide prevention page.

The page, titled Suicide Prevention, offers two suicide prevention call lines and one text line. However, information about The Trevor Project, which offers crisis support for LGBTQ+ young people, is no longer listed.

HHS declined to comment on this removal.

“This is a constitutional issue that should concern everyone, not just the LGBTQ population and their allies,” said Daly Barnett, a staff technologist with Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Barnett stated that when it comes to an infrastructural platform, government agencies should remain neutral in the content they host. As soon as platforms take a stance, or implement an algorithmic mechanism, marginalized communities often face negative impact.

The HHS action follows a 2021 removal of two webpages from the Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) website. Specifically, the Texas Youth Connection website has a message stating that it has been “temporarily disabled for a comprehensive review of its content.” The page states that it is being done to “ensure that its information, resources, and referrals are current.” A DFPS page on gender identity and sexual orientation now shows an error message.

Patrick Crimmins, DFPS director of communications, told Government Technology in an email that the pages were removed for a content review, which will be conducted by the department.

“We don’t know yet if/when they will be restored,” he wrote.
Julia Edinger is a staff writer for Government Technology. She has a bachelor's degree in English from the University of Toledo and has since worked in publishing and media. She's currently located in Southern California.