Nathaniel Konzon 13 September 2019

How AI can support the local government accessibility challenge

How AI can support the local government accessibility challenge image

The world is moving online – and public services are no exception. From passport renewals and self-assessment to paying for parking and making Universal Credit applications, digital access is transforming lives by simplifying processes for citizens. It also reduces costs at a time when efficient use of taxpayers’ money is one of the hot topics.

Yet, accessibility for all is still an issue. The ‘digital revolution’ has not fully democratised access to online resources. One-tenth of the UK adult population is still affected by digital exclusion, according to a report by the Office for National Statistics (ONS). A recent survey of UK council websites published by Better Connected also found that 40% of local authority gov.uk website pages are not accessible to people with disabilities. This needs to be addressed by September 2019, when an EU Directive on the accessibility of public sector websites and mobile applications comes into force.

AI is a fantastic opportunity for the public sector to address accessibility challenges. Technologies like Machine Agents and voice recognition can transform how local authorities interact with people, particularly with vulnerable groups, enabling residents that need additional support to engage with online services easily and effectively.

Understanding the accessibility challenge

The digital divide is often attributed to the lack of digital skills or the inability to afford the technology. However, it is a much more complex issue. Public services are generally much harder for people to navigate, when we take into consideration individuals who have learning difficulties, are visually impaired, are non-English speakers or have poor language skills. These particular groups need support and guidance to access online public services, or risk further social isolation.

The Journal of Health Psychology conducted research into socio-demographic factors associated with health literacy and access, and the use of the internet to seek health information. It found that individuals who most need health advice are the least likely to have access to technology that can easily provide that information.

AI personalises and improves the accessibility of public services

Local councils hold a wealth of data on their residents. When analysed, this data can offer insights on demographics, social and health conditions, as well as education, language and digital skills. AI can draw on this data to personalise every resident interaction to provide a seamless experience and fast resolution.

For example, people with a visual-impairment usually find voice interfaces easier to use, but phone interactions are not always cost-effective for public sector organisations. In this case, utilising intelligent automation and augmented information minimises the need to involve human contact centre agents – especially for routine calls. The experience is tailored using home addresses or postcodes to identify the person at the first point of contact.

Natural Language Processing (NLP) can capture data from free-flowing spoken interactions to quickly direct people to the right resources. The fact that local councils already have experience of the questions users are likely to ask, means that conversational interfaces can be trained to address targeted queries, speeding up interactions.

The need for people to read or type in data is kept to a minimum. But, even when it is essential that people use further interfaces or complete forms, AI can personalise the interaction and cater for their needs. For instance, it can recognise if an individual has a visual impairment and can ensure the online webchat offers bigger font sizes.

AI can also identify the language that a person prefers to use. This saves valuable time and effort for both the agent and the caller because the person does not have to go through different menus and options to choose their language. Multilingual Machine Agents can provide high-quality translation across numerous languages in real time through a single interface. People who speak foreign languages are offered a personalised customer experience as soon as the interaction starts.

There are exceptions where human agents are better placed to handle enquiries, with older people for example. However, Machine Agents can be used in the first instance to answer simple queries and then hand over to a human agent when needed.

AI and the road to an accessible public sector

The public sector should be harnessing the potential of AI to better serve people with different needs. AI is primed to utilise the large volume of data available to provide simple and intelligent services. This will have a significant positive impact on citizens’ lives, especially if they were previously excluded due to a lack of skills or physical ability to actively engage. Public sector organisations have the opportunity to set a shining example in terms of accessibility and inclusion, showing that technology does not simply create, but can also bridge social divide.

Nathaniel Konzon is business development manager at Content Guru

#AI
Highways jobs

Air Quality Monitoring Project Manager

Birmingham City Council
£34,788 - £42,683
Seeking a skilled and dedicated individual with a background in environmental protection and air quality to... Birmingham, West Midlands
Recuriter: Birmingham City Council

Recycling Operative

London Borough of Richmond upon Thames and London Borough of Wandsworth
£21,188 - £25,675 depending on skills
Are you looking for an opportunity where your health and well-being will be promoted? London (Greater)
Recuriter: London Borough of Richmond upon Thames and London Borough of Wandsworth

Home Improvement Agency Officer

Sandwell Metropolitan Borough Council
£29,636 - £33,799 per annum
Have you got experience working with Aids and Adaptations? If so we have an exciting opportunity. Sandwell, West Midlands
Recuriter: Sandwell Metropolitan Borough Council

Health & Safety Lead Officer

Sandwell Metropolitan Borough Council
£34,788 - £39,782 per annum
This is an exciting opportunity to join Sandwell’s corporate Health and Safety Unit. Sandwell, West Midlands
Recuriter: Sandwell Metropolitan Borough Council

Co-opted Governor - Joseph Turner Primary School

Sandwell Metropolitan Borough Council
No Salary
If you care about the education children receive, you can make an important contribution to your local community by becoming a school governor. Sandwell, West Midlands
Recuriter: Sandwell Metropolitan Borough Council

Local Government News

Latest issue - Local Goverrnemnt News

This issue of Local Government News explores how councils can tackle modern slavery and trafficking in their supply chains, finds out more about Cambridge's first cohousing scheme and the launch of a new project to build a shared service pattern library for local government.

This issue also contains a special focus on children's services and how councils are protecting children following local safeguarding children boards being abolished.

Register for your free magazine