Forms—online and paper—are a major interaction point in how the public engages with government.
According to analytics.usa.gov, government forms such as the U.S. Transportation Security Administration TSA Pre✓® application and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services case status are two of the most accessed federal government web pages.
The ‘Select One’ chapter in Sara Wachter-Boettcher’s book, “Technically Wrong: Sexist Apps, Biased Algorithms, and Other Threats of Toxic Tech,” emphasizes the importance in being mindful of the fields included on forms, as many are either unnecessary or not inclusive, providing only binary options in a non-binary world.
Fields like race, ethnicity, salutation and gender are potential points of alienation for those who may not have an option that suits their identity. If we are to include these fields on government forms, they should either be optional or fully inclusive, accounting for identities anyone can associate with.
In the above examples, TSA makes binary gender (male or female) required, and USCIS offers salutation an an unnecessary, non-required option.
As Wachter-Boettcher writes:
Is being forced to use a gender you don’t identify with (or a title you find oppressive, or a name that isn’t yours) the end of the world? Probably not. Most things aren’t. But these little slights add up–day after day, week after week, site after site–making assumptions about who you are and sticking you into boxes that just don’t fit. Individually, they’re just a paper cut. Put together, they’re a constant thrumming pain, a little voice in the back of your head: This isn’t for you. This will never be for you.
Governments must take a proactive lead on inclusivity, making all members of the communities they serve feel welcome in their interactions with them.
Being mindful of these identity-related form fields, opting out of their use when they are irrelevant, is a small, simple step towards showing government is for everyone.