Data and insights accessibility is in everyone’s interest, especially when it comes to public sector


In my 25 years in the data and analytics arena, I’ve had the good fortune to work across many sectors. Historically within the private sector, but more recently with the public sector. With digital transformation firmly on the agenda, public sector bodies are leading the way in many ways in the data, analytics and AI space. And none more so than on the topic of inclusivity.

Data and insights accessibility is in everyone’s interest, especially when it comes to Public Sector
Data and insights accessibility is in everyone’s interest, especially when it comes to public sector.

Driven by both cultural values and legislation

Inclusivity is partly driven by legislation. But more importantly, I think, by the values and attitudes of those working in the public sector who simply want to do the right thing. In this case, that means making access to data, insight and analytical tools accessible to all.

Over the last couple of years, I have had the privilege of working with a large number of government organisations, typically around the use of data, analytics and AI to solve their challenges and optimise their operations. And all focused on delivering the best services and outcomes for citizens across public health, public safety and security, and public finance. Accessibility, or rather the need and desire to make systems accessible, is always a topic for discussion and consideration.

May 2021 sees the 10th annual Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD). The purpose of GAAD is to get everyone talking, thinking and learning about digital access and inclusion for the more than 1 billion people with disabilities. At every anniversary of GAAD, I am struck by the enormity of opportunity if we embrace accessibility.

It’s long been recognized that diverse teams are more effective. HBR commented on this in 2016. Being more inclusive means we have a more diverse set of skills, experiences, ideas and even values. This brings different ways of thinking and alternative approaches to solving business challenges, out of which will arise a better, smarter solution.

What can and should a software vendor do?

Technology is a powerful enabler of inclusivity. At SAS, our goal is simple: to enable users of all abilities to access the power of analytics. We are committed to providing accessible software, documentation, training and support materials through the ongoing development and evolution of our products and solutions, as well as our processes.

SAS has adopted WCAG 2.1 AA as our internal accessibility standard for all software, documentation, training and support materials. I’ve experienced some pretty amazing examples of the development work underway to make some of SAS’ more visual products accessible to users with visual impairments or blindness. For example, through sonification, the use of (nonspeech) audio to explain or convey the meaning of data.

SAS Graphics Accelerator (now up to version 5.3) allows users with visual impairments or blindness to create, explore and share data visualisations. It supports alternative presentations of data visualisations through enhanced visual rendering, text descriptions, tabular data and interactive sonification. SAS Graphics Accelerator is compatible with a number of SAS visual interfaces. You can download it from the Chrome Web Store.

One recent development is a virtual cane, which is the digital equivalent of the physical cane that people with blindness use to walk safely. The virtual cane enables nonvisual perception of geospatial maps and network diagrams via sonification. Without sounding cheesy, this is pretty cool stuff. More on this in due course, as capabilities are still in development.

Your turn

Each of us can play a role here. By making analytics more accessible, we help improve inclusivity in each of our cycles. Everyone benefits when a broader spectrum of abilities can participate and contribute.

It starts with awareness. There is a wealth of additional information and resources. Here are my go-to places. You may know of more, and if so, please share via the comments below

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About Author

Caroline S Payne

Having spent all my professional life working with data and numbers - I now work for SAS where we help organisations (large and small) across all sectors to gain intelligence from their vast sources of data and then deploy this insight help make the world a better place. I lead a team of domain and technical experts who work with UKI Public Sector organisations on a daily basis, advise government agencies on the use of technologies such as AI to drive better service delivery and outcomes for all citizens.

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