State governments across the United States have made it a priority to deliver improved customer experiences as a means of increasing trust and satisfaction with public services. During the COVID-19 pandemic and ensuing social challenges, equity gained momentum as a key characteristic of government services. Research shows minorities, lower-income individuals and families, and other marginalized communities lack equal access to benefits. Agencies across all levels of government are taking action to mitigate these inequities.
The U.S. Department of Labor (USDOL) has outlined a plan to identify and overcome barriers to equitable access for programs and services, part of which includes improvements to the federal-state Unemployment Insurance (UI) system. The UI system offers income replacement to workers who have lost jobs and functions as a support system for the economy during downturns. The Department of Labor’s Equity Action Plan sets out specific steps to advance equity for all workers, especially those from historically underserved communities.
The USDOL and state programs have an opportunity to close the equity gaps that exist in the current system by designing their portals and processes with inclusivity in mind. We’ve gathered some tips below for designing a more accessible and equitable experience for all users.
Industry-specific terminology is difficult to understand and creates unnecessary obstacles to accessing services. Avoiding jargon in favor of simpler language or providing a definition when an industry-specific term is necessary means that more users will be able to understand and follow instructions. This reduces the burden on users in terms of both effort and time. Enhancing self-service experiences with clearer language also benefits support teams; if the basic functions of the service are easier to understand, they will be free to assist users with more complex issues.
Additionally, simplified language improves the quality of translations for non-English speakers. Expanding the population of users who can access services without assistance has the immediate benefit of higher usage and satisfaction, and it also allows governments to capture more diverse and reliable data through their UI portals.
Inclusive design comprises two aspects of an equitable UI solution. The first is accessibility in a portal’s appearance, layout, and features. Users with disabilities and poor English proficiency often encounter challenges when navigating websites. For example, low-contrast or clashing colors can impact readability, and content that is structured using text size and placement rather than with HTML tags can interfere with screen readers. Similarly, an estimated 15 percent of the world’s population has some form of neurodivergence, including dyslexia and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, which can make navigating large blocks of text difficult. Features such as colors, fonts, kerning, and the ratio of text to space all have a role in accessibility for web design.
The second aspect concerns the design of a user’s interaction with the solution. University of Maryland professor Ben Shneiderman’s “Eight Golden Rules of Interface Design” are considered the gold standard for creating an easy-to-navigate web experience. The eight measures are:
- Strive for consistency.
- Enable frequent users to use shortcuts.
- Offer informative feedback.
- Design dialogue to yield closure.
- Offer simple error handling.
- Permit easy reversal of actions.
- Support internal locus of control.
- Reduce short-term memory load.
This standard demonstrates the importance of transparent and clear communication. For UI, this means that communication with constituents should include a path of action. For example, after a constituent has filed a claim, they should receive a message that thanks the applicant, validates the action, and summarizes the encounter. The applicant should then receive a follow-up communication informing them of their claim status. Providing constituents with clear communications about their path of action and status empowers them with information and reduces their emotional and mental load.
Continuous Access and Consistent Experience
Technology has become seamlessly integrated into many Americans’ lives, but not all UI users access the Internet in the same way. More than 83 percent of people in the U.S. access the internet via a smartphone, tablet, or other mobile device, and at least 15 percent of that population relies on these devices as their sole means of Internet connection. This reliance, which is correlated with low household income, results in a heavier use of smartphones to access sites designed with larger screens in mind. Given UI’s importance for constituents who fall into this low-income group, it is essential that applications work consistently across devices and platforms so that all users can have full access to the services they require.
Anticipate Users’ Future Needs
The week of March 28, 2020, saw nearly 7 million unique initial UI claims. While the circumstances of these layoffs were unique because of the pandemic, these constituents, like others who apply for UI, had to process the emotional burden of losing their job and the stress of finding a new one on top of the strain of navigating an unfamiliar application process. State UI programs can help ease this burden by providing resources and guidance before users request them. For instance, a constituent searching for a new job may fit most of the qualifications for a position but lack a few key skills. States can connect claimants with educational and training opportunities to develop the required skills, benefiting both workers and employers looking to fill positions.
Using these best practices to revitalize UI programs will enhance governments’ ability to reach their constituents more effectively. Putting equity at the center of design is key to ensuring all constituents have equal access to programs and services that can improve economic opportunities for workers.