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Client Texas Health & Human Services
Disciplines Research, Branding, Design & Content, Marketing, Web Development

Improving lives while setting a national precedent

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This is Necessary

Last week, your doctor told you, “Your daughter has autism.” Or cerebral palsy. Or Tourette Syndrome. Or any one of the hundreds of disabilities that get diagnosed every day. And since the diagnosis, you’ve been at a complete loss:

  • What do I do now?
  • What do I do next?
  • What do I do first?

You jump online to look for some answers. But the “answers” you find are scattered, contradictory, indecipherable.

Until NavigateLifeTexas.org launched in the summer of 2015, parents of children with disabilities or special health-care needs didn’t have a reliable online home. Nothing remotely like this website existed.

Navigate Life Texas  is the only website of its kind in the U.S.

Now it does. Navigate Life Texas — overseen by the Texas Health & Human Services Commission — is the only website of its kind in the U.S.: a comprehensive, birth-to-adulthood guide for families with children with disabilities. It’s written for these parents by these parents.

Here is the story of how this extraordinary — and extraordinarily important — online experience came to be. It starts in a place affectionately called the “Lege.”

Navigate Life Texas features custom photography taken of real Texas families. The goal was to remind new visitors that yes, this is the website for families like theirs.

Straight From the Lege

Several years ago, the Texas Legislature — aka, the Lege — declared that a task force would be formed with a bold mission: Spend five years intensely addressing the needs of families with children with disabilities.

The task force quickly turned their attention to the Internet. Could they create a home online for every mom, dad, grandparent, cousin, and neighbor of a kid with a disability or special health-care need? There was no precedent for their audacious vision. There was no option to say, “Well, look at that website out of Illinois (or California or Tennessee) — let’s just copy them!”

RALLYING THE FORCES

For the next year, the task force invested in a bunch of targeted research — much of which found its way into our designs and content strategy. The biggest takeaway from the research was that if such a website were to exist, it must be in the voice of the parents who’d come to depend upon it. This would be a democratic website fueled by professional expertise, not another bureaucratic black hole with an uptight, academic personality. It had to help.

For the parents by the parents. That was the mandate.

GETTING TO WORK

Enter Mighty Citizen. The statewide research was complete. Ideas had been developed, guidelines and goals established. It was time to begin building.

Earning this project was a milestone for Mighty Citizen. It was bigger than anything we’d done — and in every conceivable way: biggest timeline, biggest budget, biggest user base. Plus, the stakes were as high as they could get. Thankfully, the project’s mission kept us focused: If we nailed this website, it would drastically improve the lives of our neighbors and fellow citizens.

By investing in a range of high-quality, custom photos, the Health & Human Services Commission ensured that every user could “see themselves” in at least one of the images.

Failure-Proofing the Project

Let’s talk briefly about project managers. It’s an unfortunately blah job title, but project management is the single most important factor in the success of a large project. With good project management, success. With no project management — or worse, with bad project management — things tend to crash, over and over again.

We believe that, anyway. Which is why the project managers for NLT were PMP-certified and experienced professionals for whom “effective communication” is second nature. Given the number of stakeholders involved, the vast amount of content, and the countless design decisions to be made, we had to form a top-notch team. Nothing would go unnoticed. No one would go unheard.

We had to form a top-notch team. Nothing would go unnoticed. No one would go unheard.

TESTINGTESTING

If this still-not-named website was going to be “for and by parents of children with disabilities,” those parents would need to be in on the conversations early. And they were. The task force itself included parents of children with disabilities along with state agencies and nonprofits that directly served these families.

As we began the site’s architecture, we turned to these stakeholders time and again:

  • Does this menu structure make sense?
  • Where would you expect to find _________ information?
  • Does this blog article seem helpful?
  • Would you ever use this word? How about this one?
  • When you see this button, what do you expect to happen?

This usability testing — which also included native Spanish speakers — was invaluable. It’s what still keeps the website vibrant and relatable. Navigate Life Texas would become a website that parents of kids with special health-care needs understood instinctively.

Actually, It’s Two Websites

Families with kids with disabilities often don’t receive the support and help they need. This is especially true for native Spanish speakers. The language barrier, cultural dynamics, and geographical resources make access to services more difficult.

The entire website is translated into Spanish by a native Spanish-speaking human being—preventing the confusion that auto-translators regularly produce.

The site would include a Spanish version as well. But a robot translation wouldn’t do: Spanish speakers have long known that “automatic” online translation tools aren’t very good. So every word on the website — from launch onward — has been translated by a professional Spanish translator.

Not only is NavigateLifeTexas.org bilingual, but it’s commitment to human translation ensures that otherwise tricky content — like health terms, sensitive topics, etc. — makes sense to that awake-at-2:30-a.m. mom, no matter which language she speaks.

Keeping It Dynamic

It’s been almost three years since the website launched, but the work continues. It continues because life continues. Every day in Texas, after all, a new family learns of a diagnosis for their child. New stories emerge — and their stories are told on this website.

Not to mention the frequency with which medical knowledge expands and deepens. Because remember, NavigateLifeTexas.org is meant to be comprehensive. If you have a child with a disability — or if you think you might have a child with a disability — this website will tell you everything you need to know.

That’s why, every month, the website receives a new wave of content. We’re in charge of that. Updating information. Clarifying details. Telling stories. Offering specific, concrete help. It’s a living thing, this website. It’s growing, expanding, working its way constantly into new territory, equipped with new content.

And it’s all in the parent’s voice. That’s a filter through which every word makes its way onto the site: Would a parent of a child with a disability understand this? Can they relate to it? Does it make sense immediately?

The blog is written entirely by parents and families of kids with disabilities and special health-care needs. More than 500 articles covering every conceivable part of life — from birth, to education, to camping trips, to finding a job, to getting a license, to legal concerns, and ideas for weekend activities. Twice a month, the best content is curated and delivered to subscribers’ inboxes, further keeping them engaged.

We’re building a community here.

BY THE NUMBERS

400k
visitors since launch
59k
goal completions
39k
visits from paid search advertising

Leading a Team of Professionals

Believe it or not, we’re not experts at everything. We’re not experts, for example, in medical diagnoses. Coming into this project, we didn’t know terms like “ARD” and “IEP.” We had no idea how many state agencies, nonprofit organizations, and individuals are devoted to supporting families with disabilities. (Turns out, it’s thousands in Texas.)

So we formed (and continue to lead) a dream team of partners:

Texas Parent to Parent

A nonprofit on a mission to improve the lives of children with disabilities, and whose network of devoted parent-volunteers stretches to every corner of Texas. At every step, Texas Parent to Parent is the voice of the families we’re trying to support.

SUMA Social Marketing

A research powerhouse that conducted the early research that guided the project. Without SUMA, this project goes very differently. To this day, SUMA continues to craft the most up-to-date and thorough content on disability issues in Texas.

UPG Video

Visual storytellers who have produced more than 50 videos for Navigate Life Texas, UPG is responsible for idea generation, logistics planning, shooting and editing the videos and captioning in Spanish. Their ability to find the humanity in every story is instinctual.

Video Saves the Day

Since the launch of the project, our team has produced more than 50 custom videos that cover a wide range of topics. In partnership with UPG Video, we’ve managed to offer compelling, heart-wrenching, and inspiring stories of families from across the state. 

Here’s one of our latest — the story of how two adults with different disabilities are taking control of their lives and shaping their own futures.

At a Glance

21k
visits from social media
11.5k
conversions from paid search advertising
29%
goal conversion rate from paid search

Numbers Don’t Lie

From the moment the site launched, our eyes were on Google Analytics. Years later, we’re still fascinated by the website’s numbers. Continuously testing, experimenting, aiming always to get more and more eyeballs on the site — and, once they’re there, getting them where they need to go, effortlessly.

We consult monthly on the metrics and the advertising that pushes visitors to the site — explaining in plain language how we intend to push them further in the right direction. It’s a stick-and-move strategy. One section of the site sees a boom one month? Why? Let’s figure it out, and do more of that. One page is almost totally ignored? Let’s fix that, one way or another. And so on. Stick and move.

Where We Are Now

Chuggin’ along. Continuing to improve. Putting the finer touches on, amping up the engine and popping on some performance tires. The site is beginning to dig into more nuanced, sensitive topics — always with professionally researched and group-tested expertise at their core. The team’s still together, gathering around the Mighty Citizen conference room every month to talk about successes, plans, wishes, goals, wins.

Organizations are simply people — people working together, spending their days in pursuit of the same ideal. And when a group of organizations realizes how they fit together, big things happen. That’s the gist of the story of this still-fulfilling, amazing partnership: It’s a pitch-perfect collaboration. Countless people — thousands, really — have contributed to the depth and power of NavigateLifeTexas.org.

We’re honored to lead this important work.

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