Stand Up, Be Heard, Make Change | By Ted Boardman

Last fall I finally received the letter I had been anticipating for some time. My IT unit would be replaced by another IT service provider as a means of saving money. Beyond that bad news, the problem was and still is that the State of Indiana website at for unemployment is broken for accessible access.

Even the 30 page PDF handbook was broken for screen reading purposes in random areas, reading characters only. I did not feel up to listening to the document character by character, yet I was required to read and understand the rules and ominous threats of fraudulent screening.

The application process is entirely online. There is no alternative. The process took multiple hours on multiple days just to file my initial claim. Some of that time was spent trying to reach someone by phone or chat. Much of it was battling the website just to get past screens. I was stuck at one point on a page that asked me to individually acknowledge rules and regulations. I could not make it past that page. The screen reader reported everything was completed. Someone else looked at the page for me and couldn’t see what was wrong either. I learned that you cannot go to the page and check the boxes. You had to check one, submit then scroll back to the next one, and repeat. The person on the phone did not know that, so I guess we both learned something. Here is a list of some other, shall we say, challenging features of their website:

  • There is a visual chart of your weekly work you must verify is correct.
  • It takes at least a full minute to fully appear, but usually several minutes. Pressing continue before it loads restarts the loading process.

  • Checkboxes that incorrectly reported their opposite state. Checked was really unchecked.
  • There were modal dialogues that overlayed the page, yet were invisible to the screen reader.
  • At first, I did not know what I was not able to advance.

  • Once you move past certain pages, you were unable to make changes to previous pages, or even visit them to recheck your input.
  • This seemed important, as the threat of a fraud investigation was presented at several points for incorrect input.

  • There is a strict deadline for submitting the weekly multipage report.
  • If you do not get it submitted by 8:59 pm, you lose your benefits for that week.

I was told that all communications could only come through the site. An email was not an option. PDFs that presented themselves with the filename “DECISION” read as empty with the screen reader. I had to run OCR on them, and with tables of information, it didn’t make much sense.

Consequently, I was completely unsure whether I had been declined, was in progress, or was approved. Part of the letter stated the following. “Receiving this form does not mean you will automatically receive benefits. If you are eligible, the Weekly Benefit Amount (WBA) and the Maximum Benefit Amount (MBA) are reflected.” That information was not present.

I applied in October. After reviewing that letter in December, I mistakenly decided that because the benefit amount available to me said “$0.00” that I was not eligible. Yet, I thought I should be eligible. I called, and all they would say, in rigid department language, was that I must continue to file my weekly vouchers in order for my claim to be considered. It seemed like an awful lot of work for literally no benefit.

I eventually wrote an appeal e-mail explaining my dilemma and problems using the State resources. I learned they were waiting for me to FAX a copy of my last paycheck and proof I was not on temporary leave. They asked for a detailed report of my issues, including dates, times, names of people I spoke to and what I was wearing that day. Well, not the last one, but it seemed like it was all about asking me to prove I was having problems.

I was directed to go into my local WorkOne office and use their “accessible” computer to file vouchers or pick up the “hotline” phone there to reach support staff by phone. I had already inquired with that office, and the computer there is set up with software. It just happens to not be software that I know how to use, as I use a computer other than Windows with JAWS. Regardless, my computer and any of the three common web browsers should be perfectly adequate to access a website and submit information. Plus, I can access all the documents I need in order to file.

Now that you’ve read this far, I will share why I am reporting on this. It’s not to commiserate. It is to say that because I persevered, I was able to finally get the attention of the head of the department. She scheduled a conference call with me and three people involved with building the website. We went through my stopping points, and it became clear to them what the problems were. Their site is not old, so if I had not gotten their attention, I think it would likely remain that way for months, or years. They have indicated (not promised) that the issues will be fixed.

If that happens, and the other state sites they work on also improve, I think it will have been worth my time. Sometimes, it just takes one person to effect change.