Paperwork underpins almost everything we do in society. Applying for jobs, citizenship, loans, schools, and government programs all require the completion of paperwork. Despite its necessity and ubiquity, paperwork can be exclusionary; it unintentionally impedes people from participating in society. In order to increase accessibility to services, we have to use technology to make paperwork easier for all.
Imagine someone is filling out a government application on paper and accidentally formats an address incorrectly. Their entire application can get rejected (which is pretty common) because there simply isn’t a way to validate that data. Now, imagine this process at scale: government employees sifting through millions of forms manually; hundreds and thousands of error-ridden applications being rejected. This level of chaos and dysfunction makes it particularly problematic for marginalized groups whose livelihoods rely on access to critical services that are only accessible through paperwork.
Pair that inefficiency with the confusion that accompanies physical paperwork and the result is significant barriers in receiving necessary services. Tax forms are the canonical example of slow and complex paperwork. Each form is accompanied by complicated instructions that require decoding to accommodate individual tax situations. In fact, paper tax returns are the primary cause of delays and this disproportionately impacts low income taxpayers. The same can be said for medical, financial, and immigration paperwork.
Making paperwork more accessible requires addressing issues beyond physical accessibility - it means meeting people where they are, in the real world. By using technology to transform paperwork into a mobile-friendly, simplified, and personalized experience, we can provide more people with access to the services they need.
Whether relying on physical or digital forms, the onus of correctly providing information is almost always on the person filling them out. If the PDF is simple enough, there might not be any errors. But most PDFs (like hiring or tax documents) come with complicated instructions that often lead to inadvertent errors. To make it easier for people to provide the correct information, separate the PDF itself from the data collection. One way to do this is by investing in an automated solution that relies on a simplified webform for the collection of data.
Take the example of Seso, a labor marketplace for the agriculture industry. Relying on PDFs, even digital ones, is a major hurdle to quickly hiring workers in the field. With the help of Anvil Workflows, Seso provides each farm with customized webforms that can be completed anywhere, from any device. The webforms are used to collect the data and automatically complete PDFs on the backend. New hires never have to interact with complicated PDFs again and they gain access to employment quickly.
Paperwork has a bad rap for being rigid and difficult to scale. Consider a service like the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), established to protect the livelihood of millions of Americans. The US government quickly rolled out PPP during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in an effort to support small businesses, but speed came at the expense of clarity. The convoluted and ever changing rules, along with the exhaustive documentation requirements, had the unintended consequence of shutting many minority-owned businesses out of the first round of funding.
Sunrise Banks saw an opportunity to simplify the loan process into clear steps that could be followed by any business owner. Using Anvil Workflows, they were able to create a personalized experience with dynamic webforms that guided applicants through the process. As a result, Sunrise Banks was able to process five times more loans, extending pandemic relief to thousands of small businesses that would have otherwise been excluded.
With more than half of internet traffic being executed from a smartphone, mobile accessibility is a necessity. It’s no surprise that the majority of Anvil Workflows are completed on a mobile device. More importantly, mobile is the most common way for the economically disadvantaged to connect to the internet. Migrating from PDFs to mobile-friendly webforms can help underserved populations gain greater access to critical programs for food, jobs, healthcare, shelter, etc.
DollarFor is a non-profit helping thousands of Americans escape medical debt and bankruptcy. So far, they have helped Americans eliminate $14M of medical debt. To further increase access to medical debt relief, they partnered with Anvil and created a mobile-friendly form that gathers applicant information and then prepares hospital-specific PDFs with the gathered data. DollarFor applicants can now complete their applications from any device increasing their access to much needed debt relief.
Paperwork isn’t going anywhere, anytime soon. It is deeply embedded in the fabric of our society which is why we need to strive for paperwork that is inclusive and equitable. By applying technology to create simplified and personalized experiences, we can make paperwork and therefore critical services more accessible to all.