Responsive Web Design Next?

The federal government’s adoption of responsive Web design is lagging behind that of the private sector, but there are good reasons, according to knowledgeable sources.

Responsive Web design can determine the type of device a site visitor is using and tailor its display to that particular access point. For instance, a Web page designed for access by smartphone might have fewer menu options than a page designed for access by a desktop computer.

Federal Websites are lagging because most open-source (free) platforms that are used for responsive design don’t meet the government’s handicapped-accessible (Sec. 508) guidelines.

The main problem is “screen readers” — which translate Web content into audio or Braille for the blind — can be confused by the systems, according to Ken Fang, Mobomo president who spoke during a recent General Services Administration webinar. “It’s the bane of designers’ existence,” Fang said of the competing priorities of accessibility and responsiveness. But Fang added that the federal Web design community is working to create an open source template for 508-compliant responsive design that agencies can easily adopt.

Responsive Web design appears to be a key component of the government’s new federal digital strategy, unveiled in May.

The strategy, which directs agencies to affordably, safely manage mobile devices and to give citizens mobile access to everything from government Websites and applications to raw survey and satellite data. The May 2012 strategy, titled “Building a 21st Century Platform to Better Serve the American People,” gave the U.S. General Services Administration six months to come up with a government-wide contract vehicle for mobile and wireless services, which Federal Chief Information Officer Steven VanRoekel said could save more than 10 percent off what the government now spends.

The federal government’s adoption of responsive Web design is lagging behind that of the private sector, but there are good reasons, according to knowledgeable sources.

Responsive Web design can determine the type of device a site visitor is using and tailor its display to that particular access point. For instance, a Web page designed for access by smartphone might have fewer menu options than a page designed for access by a desktop computer.

Federal Websites are lagging because most open-source (free) platforms that are used for responsive design don’t meet the government’s handicapped-accessible (Sec. 508) guidelines.

The main problem is “screen readers” — which translate Web content into audio or Braille for the blind — can be confused by the systems, according to Ken Fang, Mobomo president who spoke during a recent General Services Administration webinar. “It’s the bane of designers’ existence,” Fang said of the competing priorities of accessibility and responsiveness. But Fang added that the federal Web design community is working to create an open source template for 508-compliant responsive design that agencies can easily adopt.

Responsive Web design appears to be a key component of the government’s new federal digital strategy, unveiled in May.

The strategy, which directs agencies to affordably, safely manage mobile devices and to give citizens mobile access to everything from government Websites and applications to raw survey and satellite data. The May 2012 strategy, titled “Building a 21st Century Platform to Better Serve the American People,” gave the U.S. General Services Administration six months to come up with a government-wide contract vehicle for mobile and wireless services, which Federal Chief Information Officer Steven VanRoekel said could save more than 10 percent off what the government now spends.

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