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A transparent look into Seattle’s digital accessibility practices  

The website is the gateway to digital interactions with the City of Seattle. The Digital Engagement Team developed the website’s About Our Digital Properties section to provide transparency into City practices. We display analytics about the website and explain the City’s approach to all public-facing web applications. The goal of inclusivity is broken down into user experience, accessibility, digital equity, and privacy topics. These topics are also woven throughout internal policies for City staff, explaining the requirements for creating and managing digital technologies and digital content. 

Focus on Digital Accessibility 

Over the last several years, the Digital Engagement Team has made concerted efforts to educate both technologists and communication professionals about the importance of digital accessibility and the impact on the people left out of our government services. Digital accessibility principles focus on whether a software application is perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust for people with disabilities. The Digital Engagement Team manages an automated tool for web content editors to validate accessibility as they make updates. We also developed a manual accessibility checklist for evaluating compliance with software applications and new features. In collaboration with the Citywide ADA Program, we celebrate Global Accessibility Awareness Day with presentations that provide actionable steps for City staff to apply digital accessibility principles to their daily work.  

This year, the Digital Engagement Team utilized budget savings to work on a Voluntary Product Accessibility Template (VPAT) for the website. A VPAT is a standard international template that provides a snapshot of a web application’s level of digital accessibility at a point in time. Typically, a VPAT is required for a software vendor to respond to a government procurement request to confirm its understanding of and compliance with accessibility and is updated with major releases. 

VPAT Initiative 

We embarked on this initiative with two goals:  

  1. Identify and learn about accessibility errors to improve our compliance with U.S. Federal requirements in Section 508 and WCAG 2.1 international guidelines
  1. Share the findings publicly to demonstrate our commitment to inclusivity through digital accessibility. 

Working with a third-party vendor specializing in accessibility testing and evaluation, we obtained both automated and manual audits of our website templates. Using assistive technology, such as a screen reader, they identified accessibility errors regarding engineering issues and the expected content issues.  

Many people, including technology staff, consider accessibility a cosmetic issue visible on the user interface. However, how a web application interacts with assistive technology is not always apparent on the front end, and every person working on a software application has a role in ensuring it is accessible.  

Our developers spent five months reviewing the errors and rewriting code to make improvements and resolve those errors across the website. There are some areas where we face constraints because separate applications are embedded in our web pages. For example, maps and data visualizations are typically not accessible, though we will continue to work with those teams and their software vendors to adopt more accessible solutions.  

The Outcome 

We’re excited to share the results of our initiative by publishing the resulting Accessibility Conformance Report. This report details our level of support for each of the elements of WCAG 2.1. It also summarizes the results broken out by the impact on people with different types of disabilities:  

  • Without Vision 
  • With Limited Vision 
  • Without Perception of Color 
  • Without Hearing 
  • With Limited Hearing 
  • Without Speech 
  • With Limited Manipulation 
  • With Limited Reach and Strength 
  • With Limited Language, Cognitive, and Learning Abilities 

On the new Web Accessibility page within the About Our Digital Properties section of the website, you will find an explanation of the City’s approach to its web applications, the results of our accessibility audit, the official Accessibility Conformance Report (ACR), and a description of our next steps to improve the accessibility of all web applications further. We learned so much from these efforts, and hope that sharing this information continues to build trust and engagement with our residents. 

The city’s Digital Engagement Team is part of the City of Seattle’s Information Technology Department (Seattle IT). Seattle IT is a trusted partner that provides secure, reliable, and compliant technologies, enabling the City to deliver equitable and responsive services to the public. To learn more about Seattle IT, including the Technology Matching Fund Grant program, reduced-cost cable and internet opportunities, Affordable Connectivity Program, and other programs, visit  

Michal Perlstein leads the City’s digital services team, including the user experience program. Michal is passionate about the intersection of technology and social impact and has spent the past 14 years working in the public sector.