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A Mandate for Usability: A Mexican manifesto on usability and accessibility for government websites

By Sarah J. Swierenga, Ph.D., C.P.E.

At the end of July 2007, I was excited to have the opportunity to participate in an important international accessibility event, namely the signing of the first “Manifesto on Usability and Accessibility for Mexican Government Websites” at the conclusion of the Usability and Accessibility for the Web International Seminar (UA Web 2007), held at the University of Monterrey (UdeM) campus in Monterrey, Nuevo León, Mexico.

Marta Sylvia del Río, director of graduate studies in engineering and design at UdeM provided a brief history of the manifesto effort:

“It all started in November 2006 with an academic discussion among the UdeM usability professors/instructors, including Luis Aceves (who came up with the original idea), Teresa Treviño, Marta Sylvia del Río, Arnaud Chevallier, Marina Garza, and José Alfredo Galván. The group was concerned about how little effort and attention the Mexican government had devoted to creating and implementing legislation regarding usability issues. Worldwide, there were no manifestos focused on government portals either. Thus, in late November, Luis proposed our idea to the Observatorio Ciudadano, which is a group that analyzes usability issues in the Nuevo León portal (http://www.nl.gob.mx/?P=observatorio). They were receptive to the concept of a manifesto declaring the need for usable government websites, as well as a conference to promote the effort. UdeM agreed to host the conference and handle the academic proposals—which speakers to invite, what tutorials to include, and how to incorporate the manifesto signing ceremony into the conference. By March 2007, the State of Nuevo León authorized the event and became actively involved in the project, taking care of the website, logistics, and promotion; they also ‘spread the word’ to other State governments. UdeM and the Mexican government team then drafted the manifesto. Finally, the week of the conference arrived….”

The group of speakers who drafted the manifestoA group of conference speakers was invited to participate in a pre-conference working group session with the Mexican government team, reviewing the draft of the Manifesto. Our lively three-hour discussion of core usability, accessibility, best practices, and strategies for implementing government initiatives resulted in ten principles laid out in a manifesto to guide the Mexican government in creating more useful and usable websites.

Honing the wording of the document was a very interesting exercise. The manifesto team was committed to having the usability and accessibility design principles stated and communicated in such a way that the same wording in both Spanish and English would be preserved in the document, which turned out to be quite a challenge. While the draft that we reviewed at the beginning of the day was well-written, when the wording was read and discussed in both languages, we discovered overlapping and ambiguous language. Throughout the course of the afternoon, the original set of principles and the introductory paragraphs evolved significantly. By the time the phrasing was decided upon, the number of principles had increased, and the clarity of each was much improved.

The manifesto effort was presented and signed on July 27, 2007 as part of UA Web 2007, which was organized by the Government of Nuevo León, a leading state in e-government strategies, and UdeM, the pioneering Mexican university in usability-focused curricula. The sessions were attended by more than 200 people, clearly showing how important the concepts of usability and accessibility are for the government and technical professionals of Mexico.

Lou Rosenfeld and Paulo Saavedra gave informative and entertaining keynote presentations at the conference on “A Brief (and Practical) Introduction to Information Architecture,” and “Managing Government Web Projects for Citizens,” respectively.

Photo of people after conference dinner
Photo of speakers at the conference panel discussion
Above: Conference dinner group
Below: UA Web conference panel

Closing the seminar, Raymundo Pérez Lancón thanked the speakers for their participation and presented us with formal certificates. He emphasized the strategic importance the Web has taken for governments and said he was confident that this event had been a productive one. Then Dámaso Fernández Sepúlveda, general manager of technology, information, and communications of the State Administrative Office, formally read the preamble and ten commitments of the Manifesto that had just been signed by representatives of twenty-three states and three municipalities.

The Manifesto (English version)

The spread of digital technology has opened new opportunities, challenges, and responsibilities for governments.

The Web allows us to offer more efficient and innovative services and to share information thoroughly and openly, and it makes it easier to involve citizens in the decision making process.

The Web can be the most democratic tool a government has because it allows for direct communication, overcoming geographic, cultural, economic, and hierarchical barriers, as well as those faced by people with disabilities.

But technologies do not do this on their own. They can either reduce or widen the gap between those with more and those with fewer opportunities, and they can enrich or hurt the relationship between citizens and government. It is the duty of the creators and administrators of these technologies to guide them and improve people’s quality of life.

As administrators, our objective is to create and maintain websites that are both useful and easy to use for the widest possible audience: usable and accessible websites. We believe that government, academia, and the private sector should work together to achieve this objective.

Our Commitment

1. To ensure the democratic access to government information and services by everyone, including users with disabilities, by embracing W3C recommendations

2. To facilitate the creation, archival, and management of information with systems that are accessible

3. To ensure that information and services are easy to find, discover, and use, following best practices in web design and development

4. To ensure the transparency of public information, and specifically information on the use of public resources

5. To facilitate and promote citizen participation in governmental decisions, as well as collaboration between governments

6. To promote the convergence of systems in the national, state, and local levels so that users can navigate between them without barriers

7. To take full advantage of information technologies to better serve citizens

8. To make content easy for everyone to understand by following Lenguaje Ciudadano (plain language) recommendations

9. To promote the ideals and concepts expressed in this manifesto

10. To continuously improve the methodologies referred to in this document

 

En Español

La difusión de las tecnologías digitales ha creado nuevas oportunidades, retos y responsabilidades para los gobiernos.

La web permite ofrecer servicios más eficientes, compartir información de manera más transparente y facilitar la participación de los ciudadanos en la toma de decisiones.

Al mismo tiempo, la web puede ser el medio más democrático de un gobierno porque le permite establecer lazos directos y superar las barreras geográficas, culturales, económicas, jerárquicas y de discapacidad.

Sin embargo, las tecnologías no hacen esto por sí solas. Lo mismo pueden reducir o ensanchar la brecha que hay entre quienes tienen más oportunidades y quienes tienen menos, y enriquecer la relación entre ciudadanía y gobierno, o bien empobrecerla. Los responsables de crear y administrar las tecnologías deben hacer un esfuerzo consciente para guiarlas y mejorar la calidad de vida de los ciudadanos.

Como administradores, nuestro objetivo es crear y mantener sitios web gubernamentales que sean útiles y fáciles de usar para el público más amplio posible: sitios usables y accesibles. Creemos que gobierno, academia y el sector privado deben trabajar juntos para conseguir este objetivo.

Nuestro Compromiso

1. Asegurar el acceso democrático, inclusive a personas con discapacidad, a los portales gubernamentales cumpliendo con los estándares del W3C

2. Facilitar la creación, el archivo y la administración del contenido utilizando sistemas accesibles

3. Asegurar que el contenido y los servicios sean fáciles de encontrar, descubrir y usar según las mejores prácticas de diseño y desarrollo web

4. Garantizar la transparencia de la información, específicamente en el uso de recursos públicos

5. Facilitar y promover la participación ciudadana en los temas gubernamentales, así como la colaboración entre gobiernos

6. Promover la convergencia de sistemas gubernamentales en los niveles federal, estatal y municipal para una interacción sin barreras

7. Aprovechar el potencial de las tecnologías de información para mejorar la atención a los ciudadanos

8. Asegurar que el contenido sea entendido fácilmente por todas las personas siguiendo las recomendaciones de Lenguaje Ciudadano

9. Promover los ideales y los conceptos expresados en este manifiesto

10. Mejorar constantemente las metodologías referidas en este documento

Overall, being part of this dynamic group of usability, accessibility, and government strategy experts was an amazing experience. The level of respect and true collaboration demonstrated in the Manifesto working group and throughout the conference was especially rewarding for me as a user experience professional.

The official version of the manifesto is available at: http://www.uaweb.org.mx/content/view/61/79/

Sarah J. Swierenga, Ph.D., C.P.E. , is the director of the Usability & Accessibility Center at Michigan State University. A researcher and practitioner with twenty years of experience in the scientific study of users in commercial, military, and academic environments, she is skilled in user interface design, data collection tools, and methodologies. She co-authored Constructing Accessible Web Sites (with J. Thatcher, P. Bohman, M. Burks, S. L. Henry, B. Regan, M. D. Urban, and C. D. Waddell ) , and, more recently, she contributed a chapter to The User-Centered Design Casebook (C. Righi and J. James, editors). She is an alternate member of the U.S. Access Board 508/255 Refresh Committee, and a member of the UPA Voting and Usability Project.

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This article was originally printed in User Experience Magazine, Volume 7, Issue 1, 2008.
http://www.usabilityprofessionals.org/upa_publications/past_issues/2008-1.html.

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