U.S. Digital Response Inclusion Guidelines
The pandemic, like most crises, impacted individuals differently based on race, income, gender, location, disability status, etc., and marginalized communities have been impacted more severely, on average. We want to be sure that any government response for services adequately accounts for the perspectives of those communities disproportionately impcated.
If we incorporate more perspectives, we can have a more thorough, effective response.
The ability to dedicate time to volunteering is a privilege. Many people do not have the resources to do so – leaving fewer perspectives reflected in our response efforts. Since no life experience can be summarized in a page, to supplement this deficit, we’ve created a quick guide to help us build with everyone in mind.
Products built by USDR volunteers keep these best practices top of mind:
- Identify unique needs: Work with government and project contacts to understand the demographics of users and any unique needs they might have. (Here’s an example of how to do this.)
- Consider accessibility: Proactively test for accessibility in all work. We recommend these guidelines as best practices, this list of resources from digital.gov, and the 18F Accessibility Guide with a long list of tools to use.
- When collecting demographics: Follow best practices when collecting demographic/identity information via forms, (referencing this spreadsheet for global perspectives). Demographic data collection should be optional (whenever possible) and should always explain upfront how it will be used and stored. Have a concern? Consult with your USDR contact or reach out to [email protected].
- Develop for mobile users: Mobile readiness is expected for all online resources. (Not everyone has the resources to own a computer.)
- Build for multiple languages/locations/cultures: Apply best practices for internationalization/localization (often referred to as i18n, l10n)
Ultimately, this is user empathy. During this crisis, making technology and information available to the most marginalized groups is more important than ever; it's critical to keep accessible engineering at the forefront of all work.
If we embody these principles we will save lives: preventing deaths from COVID-19 by providing accurate and accessible information; protecting people from racist attacks/hate crimes; feeding people who might have otherwise gone hungry; and reminding people whose struggles society often ignores that we see them and we care.
Below are some of our favorite resources for building inclusive products. Only 2 were written with the pandemic in mind, but they’re all based on building for the most marginalized:
The guidelines on Page 1 are specifically for people building products. If you’re working on things like content, social media, marketing, etc. here are some general principles for thinking about how to best serve everyone. There are some anecdotes below if for further inspiration.
- For each project, ask partners: "who are my users, and what are their specific needs?"
- Ultimately, your government and project partners should know their populations best, but explicitly asking these questions is pivotal to ensuring a complete understanding of the audience.
- Additionally, if you still need more information, do a quick Google search to educate you about how COVID-19 has impacted the communities you’re serving (e.g. COVID-19 + small towns, COVID-19 + Black Americans, COVID-19 + college campuses, COVID-19 + domestic violence, etc.)
- Where possible, solicit feedback on work from people who have different identities or perspectives.
- Once enlightened by your research, use it to inform product decisions to ensure the most marginalized user’s perspectives and needs are represented in all work.
- BONUS: Where possible, suggest that content be translated into multiple locally-used languages. USDR is collecting translation volunteers – connect with the Volunteers Team if you need someone!)
“My wife and I set up a mutual aid group in our apartment building. We left notes on paper outside everyone's doorway saying, "If you need help, contact our group at this email address or this phone number." And I got a call the next weekend from an elderly neighbor saying "I'm so glad you have a phone number with a 415 area code, because I don't have a computer or a mobile phone, just a landline that can only call numbers in San Francisco." This would never have occurred to me because I have a huge blind spot regarding what technologies are accessible to elderly people, the very demographic we wanted to help the most! So accessibility matters, and we run a large risk in not delivering life-saving solutions unless we keep our end users' accessibility needs in mind.” - Raphael Lee
“Covid disproportionately affects the already vulnerable and the disruption in critical government services is also negatively affecting people. I think we're all aware of the levels of unemployment; I was just speaking with someone who works in the courts system about the difficulties domestic violence victims are having filing for restraining orders while the courts are closed, for instance.” - Jennifer Pahlka