What it means
Clients should have access to the same opportunities and have the same dignified experience no matter how they access services—whether that’s in person, over the phone, on a desktop computer, or a mobile device.
Clients should also have access to a welcoming door no matter where they are in the process: filling out an application for the first time, renewing their benefits, or reporting a change in their circumstances.
Why it matters
- Case Workers
- State Leaders
“I don’t have a desktop computer, and my mobile phone is my only connection to the internet. I need to apply for benefits, but my state’s application isn’t mobile-friendly and I can’t complete the application on my phone. I need a way to access benefits programs that works for me and my circumstances.”
Case workers say:
“I’d like the tools to be able to handle communication with clients gracefully and efficiently, no matter what channel they’re using.”
State leaders say:
“I know that the clients we serve need many diverse access points to our system. I’d like our system to function efficiently for those who use it, with no bottlenecks.”
How to do it
1. Build for all digital services, but build for mobile first.
83% of Americans own smartphones, and 25% of low-income households rely on a smartphone for internet access. Online applications need to work on mobile browsers to be accessible.
- Design and test all screens on a mobile layout first, and then expand to fit desktop screens. This ensures access on mobile devices.
- Collect data on which devices clients use to access your service, and ensure that usability testing and quality assurance include testing on the majority of those devices.
- Build a responsive website that serves both mobile and desktop users, rather than creating a native phone application. Responsive websites are simpler for administrators to manage and easier for clients to access.
2. Provide a dignified, supportive experience.
Services should support clients and shouldn’t include overly complex barriers to access.
- Limit the use of legal language and bold warning text, which can be intimidating for users.
- Login procedures often serve as a barrier to access for clients. Simplify login procedures or, even better, don’t require a login at all.
- Don’t require clients to complete remote identity proofing to apply for benefits or access services.
- Track frequently asked questions and offer answers in an easy-to-find FAQ section on your website.
3. Ensure all clients can access services.
Information should be accessible for all clients in multiple languages and across all levels of ability.
- Make content available in all of the most common languages spoken in your region.
- Make sure websites are compatible with screen readers so that those with visual impairments and disabilities can access the content.
- Measure reading level with tools like Hemingway editor and Readable. Information should be written at a fifth grade reading level.
- Aim for compliance with the WCAG 2.1 web accessibility guidelines.
What we measure
Shorter Wait Times
A client should be able to find or get a response to a simple question in under 15 minutes.
At least 50% of applications should be coming in online and from mobile devices.
Parity in Outcome Metrics
A client’s likelihood to enroll and be approved for benefits should be the same regardless of how they apply.
Michigan: Design for Mobile First
The Integrated Benefits team partnered with Civilla to open multiple welcoming doors for people applying for benefits in Michigan. We developed a mobile-first digital assister to apply for SNAP and Medicaid simultaneously, as well as a two-way text messaging tool. The result? Days to determination decreased and approval rates went up.
GetCalFresh: Expanded Language Accessibility
The GetCalFresh team worked to close the participation gap in California’s SNAP program by creating new welcoming doors to expand the service beyond English and Spanish. Through human-centered research and testing, we successfully translated all enrollment content into Traditional Chinese—one of the most common languages in California.
Alaska: Equity and Access
Alaska is a far-reaching state with many citizens living in extremely remote rural areas. Code for America worked in Alaska to create welcoming doors by exploring new solutions for reaching remote and home-bound people who can’t get to an office to apply for benefits. The team prototyped several possible solutions and tested them with Alaskans in order to imagine a more supportive and connected benefits system.