On May 24th, Howard County Executive Calvin Ball launched Transform Howard, a digital equity initiative to expand digital inclusion and increase community access to broadband. Ball also unveiled the County’s new website at www.howardcountymd.gov, highlighting features that make the mobile-friendly site more accessible to people of all ages and abilities. The new website is one of many projects under the Transform Howard initiative. Photos of the event can be found here. Video can be found here.
“Transform Howard is our blueprint for digital equity and inclusion in Howard County,” said Ball. “This initiative builds on the progress we’ve already made to expand broadband during the pandemic but will take us into the future where Howard County is a national model for digital inclusion. We know how critical digital access is to our community – no matter your age or ability, because it provides great opportunities for our residents and businesses to learn and grow. The new website is just one step we’re taking to improve digital inclusion in Howard County and make online services more accessible to our residents and businesses. We’re always looking for ways to make the online experience better. For so many people our website is their first interaction with the County and we want to make a good impression. The new site is more accessible to people of all ages and abilities and makes our most requested services one click away.”
In September 2020, the County established a partnership with the Howard County Public School System (HCPSS) and the Bright Minds Foundation to provide devices and mobile hotspots to students. As students returned to in-person learning, the County worked with the school system to increase broadband capacity in school buildings to support a hybrid learning model. Howard County was able to provide a seamless learning experience for students, whether they were in-person or remote learners. Looking forward, Howard County has expanded the partnership to provide all internet services for the school system, including upgrading their broadband infrastructure. Howard County has also expanded free public Wi-Fi to 12 new locations around the region, including Long Reach Village Center, public libraries, parks, and fire stations, and will continue to increase the number of sites.
The new initiative aims to Transform Howard County into a national model for digital inclusion by ensuring all residents can access the digital world by:
- Expanding WiFi at parks and other community areas
- Providing broadband to underserved areas
- Distributing devices to residents
- Creating a digital inclusion study and long-term plan
- Providing low-cost internet service for Long Reach Village Center tenants
- Establishing an Office of Broadband and Digital Inclusion
Howard County has begun a study to determine areas of digital needs across the county. This includes an upcoming mailed survey to some residents, and we are encouraging residents to complete and return the survey when received. The study will result in a detailed plan to increase digital equity over the next 3 to 5 years.
New County Website
Howard County developed the new site to be “everything friendly”. On any device, be it mobile, PC, or tablet, to any browser, like Safari, Edge, or Chrome, the new website is designed to respond to the ever-changing needs of a resident on the move.
The new site also prioritized making important content easier to find for residents, businesses, and visitors. By organizing information in ways that make sense for users, visitors to the new site can easily navigate through many services and find the most popular information right on the homepage. Content is also more accessible through an improved search. The prominent search bar has integrated type-ahead and structured content that puts relevant information at your fingertips.
The newly redesigned site provides a modern experience and a consistent style to allow users to find information across departments and pages. It also meets strenuous accessibility requirements and follows key Website Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.1.
“The pandemic has shifted how we work and learn significantly, and now is our chance to be leaders in digital inclusion and address the gaps in digital access throughout Howard County,” said Brandee Ganz, Director of the Department of Technology and Communication Services. “To be successful, residents need access to the digital world. Howard County is committed to ensuring all of our residents can thrive in this new way of doing business.”
The website will continue to evolve as community input is gathered. To provide feedback, click “Website Redesign” or complete the form here.
“Technology quality is increasingly important, a reality that has been made even more apparent by the pandemic. It is critical that our residents are able to access the County’s available resources and this access often begins with being able to move seamlessly through our website,” said Michelle Henry from the Office of ADA Coordination. “The website was repeatedly evaluated for accessibility, using a combination of automated analysis tools and manual testing with assisted technology. We look forward to continuing to work with residents of all abilities so that this and all other resources in the county as accessible to all.”
This demonstration video of the new website can also be accessed on Dropbox here.