New Study Underscores Continuing Challenges Facing Online Benefits Systems

Jul 01, 2010

By Josh Bone

One of the primary ways that state and local agencies have attempted to increase access to public benefits in recent years is by improving online services.  Applying online is often easier and more convenient than appearing in-person at an assistance office.  People can apply outside of standard business hours from the comfort of their own homes.  Additionally, the opportunity to apply for benefits online can reduce the perceived stigma of public benefits. 

However, a recent study conducted by the National Center for Law and Economic Justice (NCLEJ) shows that many of these online systems are inaccessible to persons with disabilities.  For instance, the report indicates that many online benefits application systems are virtually impossible for people with vision impairments to use, even when those people have access to vision assistance software.  Moreover, the poor design of many of these websites makes it difficult for anyone, whether or not they have a disability, to access important information and online forms.

While states and localities should be lauded for setting up online systems to provide information and access to public benefits, those systems need to be accessible for all users.  NCLEJ offers assistance to those seeking to improve the accessibility of their systems. Moreover, in order to maximize access to benefits, states and localities should provide several alternatives alongside online systems, including continuing to offer in-person meetings at local assistance offices. 

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