Enhancing Accessibility to E-Government Processes

Enhancing Accessibility to E-Government Processes

Stefan Richter (Institute for Software Systems in Business, Environment and Administration, Germany), Norbert Kuhn (Institute for Software Systems in Business, Environment and Administration, Germany), Stefan Naumann (Institute for Software Systems in Business, Environment and Administration, Germany) and Michael Schmidt (Institute for Software Systems in Business, Environment and Administration, Germany)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-671-6.ch009
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Many governmental institutions have started to provide their customers with access to governmental documents by electronic means. This changes the way of interaction between authorities and citizens considerably. Hence, it is worthwhile to look at both the chances and the risks that this process of change implies for disabled citizens. Due to different laws or legal directives governmental authorities have a particular responsibility to consider also the needs of handicapped persons. Therefore, they need to apply appropriate techniques for these groups to avoid an “Accessibility Divide”. This discussion is built on the observation that governmental processes are mostly based on the exchange of forms between authorities and citizens. Authors state that such processes can be distinguished into three scenarios, with the use of paper as means of transport on the one end and complete electronic treatment at the other end. For each scenario there exist tools to improve accessibility for people with certain disabilities. These tools include standard technologies like improved Web access by magnifying characters, assistive technologies like document cameras, and more sophisticated approaches like integrated solutions for handling forms and government processes. This chapter focuses on approaches that provide access to governmental processes for people with visual impairments, elderly people, illiterates, or immigrants. Additionally, it sees a chance to enable electronic government processes in developing countries where the citizens have less experience in handling IT-based processes. The main part of the chapter describes an approach to combine scanned images of paper-based forms containing textual information and textto- speech synthesis yielding an audio-visual document representation. It exploits standard document formats based on XML and web service technology to achieve independency from software and hardware platforms. This is also helpful for conventional governmental processes because people within the group of interest stated above often also have problems to access non-digitized information, for instance when they have to read announcements within public administration offices.
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Regarding accessibility to e-Government processes, at first it has to consider the processes that already occur in general (<- or re-write, please). In this aspect, authors explained three main E-Government scenarios in this section showing the diversity of the integration of IT in public authorities. Thereafter, they describe how these scenarios are related to accessibility issues.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Accessibility: In this context it means to give all citizens access to governmental information and processes

Device Profile: Set of parameters describing the hard- and software configuration of the device. E.g. informs the server about the size of the display, or whether a speech synthesis program is available.

Assistive Technology: Standard tools (no matter if hardware or software) offering disabled people the opportunity to compensate some deficiency. In the context of this article: tools to provide access to printed/electronically information

Forms Front End: Interface for the governmental staff for creating the necessary electronically forms and to maintain a document repository.

Generic Document Structure: An entry for a form in the document repository. For each form it comprises its digital image, information about the processes where the form belongs to, help texts, links to further information, textual information, and so on.

Document repository: Storage for the enhanced versions of the governmental forms. Contains for the forms the Generic document structure.

User Profile: Set of parameters specifying the result the user wants to receive from the server. E.g. it can specify color combinations, or the sampling rate of the audio file

User specific Document Structure: Is derived from the Generic document structure. Contains all information a user needs to handle a governmental form.

Visual Impairments: Includes all inherent/not inherent problems preventing people from read and fill out forms

User Front End: Interface for a citizen or a legal unit to access a service of an authority. This may be a browser plug-in or special software that could run on every capable device unit.

e-Government process: Sequence of steps to achieve a certain goal within an authority. The actors involved can either belong to the administrative staff, can be legal units, or citizens. Often, exchange of data is achieved by the exchange of forms.

Standard protocol: Protocol for general use; usually defined and published by a widely accepted organization. Internet protocols are proposed and defined by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C).

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