Improving government services through empathy
The Empathy Lab Project
It may sound simple, but the ability of those of us in information technology to put ourselves in the shoes of all who want or need to use the digital services and resources we offer can do wonders for accessibility and equitable design—and for making state government services available to all.
Empathy (to share or understand the feelings of another) in design steps us outside our own experience or perspective to consider other possible viewpoints, needs or preferences. Realizing that not everybody will experience a given technology exactly as we do provides an important opportunity in the earliest stages of development to ensure it can be used by all.
Enter the Empathy Lab: a virtual empathy/accessibility awareness lab for the Office of Information Technology (OIT)’s Technology Accessibility Program (TAP), to meet people where they are at. The Empathy Lab is a special project funded via grants awarded through SIPA’s Innovation Fund.
We find ourselves in an ever-changing and expanding remote and digital world, where services and resources need to be available, without barriers, online. Unfortunately, that is not always the case for the 1,015,417 adults in Colorado who have a disability—equal to 20 percent or 1 in 5 adults.
Many times it is not a blatant disregard for people with disabilities or other historically marginalized communities, but rather a lack of understanding and awareness by those who are creating and managing these digital spaces.
By creating a partnership among OIT, TAP and representatives from historically marginalized communities that have experienced barriers to digital technology and products (e.g., racial and ethnic populations, people with disabilities, rural community populations, people over the age of 65, LGBTQIA+ communities, people who speak English as a second language, people experiencing homelessness, gender identity) we can further the common goal of developing inclusive, accessible technology.
Our Digital Government Strategic Plan lays out the steps we need to take to make government easier for all Coloradans, especially those with more barriers to the technology we provide. Implementing a virtual empathy lab helps us explore how OIT can advance this goal by way of a Community Steering Committee (CSC).
We don’t want to stop at what’s required, but continue to innovate to ensure that digital government is inclusive and equitable.
The lab’s knowledge building will help make Colorado state services more accessible and equitable for residents.
State agencies will understand the benefit and need for accessible, equitable and inclusive digital technology within their own divisions, thus leading to the creation of services, websites, applications, communications and more that work for all Coloradans.
Other benefits include:
- Build capability across OIT by allowing teams involved in developing digital products to experience how their work impacts Colorado’s diverse communities.
- Increase awareness of accessibility and equitable design principles resulting in accessible, inclusive state services.
- Via the newly formed community steering committee, create a direct feedback loop with Coloradans experiencing barriers to technology, including those with a disability, those identifying as low-income, people of color, rural residents, etc.
- Help further inform the TAP training strategy through lived experiences.
Community Steering Committee (CSC)
The newly formed 10-person CSC is representative of the diversity of our state and will be paramount to the work of the Empathy Lab and in helping Coloradans. The team will provide insight and guidance on the lived experiences various communities are having with digital services.
Learn more about the Community Steering Committee!
Collaborate + Create
- With both internal and external groups
- Data collections and dashboard visualizations
- Inclusive toolkit
- Experiential learning demonstrations
- Utalize the CSC to provide a direct feedback loop with Coloradans experiencing barriers to technology, including but not limited to living with a disability, identifying as low income, being a person of color, living in a rural area, etc.
- Provide demonstrations utilizing assistive technology to grow awareness and understanding about the importance of accessibility and equitable access.
- Produce an inclusive design toolkit (informed by the CSC, personas/prototypes and empathy activities).
- Develop an inclusion, diversity, equity and accessibility dashboard in order to better serve communities that have been historically marginalized. By understanding the current state of our digital products and services, we can work together with the CSC to improve the accessibility, equity and inclusion of our products and through the dashboard provide more visibility and transparency into those efforts.
October - November
- The official kickoff of the Empathy Lab is on November 2. The kickoff will include:
- Introduction of the CSC members
- Overview of the lab's first deliverable - the experiential learning site
- What's to come in the near future