Accessibility Resources for Purchasing Professionals
Section 508, an amendment to the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, requires Federal agencies to make their electronic and information technology accessible to people with disabilities (Section508.gov).
This law applies to the procurement of Electronic and Information Technology (EIT). As a public university, we are obligated to include accessibility as a major consideration when choosing which electronic systems to purchase.
Considering accessibility during purchasing decisions instead of afterwards makes it much easier to accommodate individuals with disabilities consistently. When accessibility is only a secondary consideration, accommodations have to be provided on a case-by-case basis, which is an inefficient use of resources.
EIT Accessibility Standards
The Access Board provides a set of guidelines for what to look for when evaluating the accessibility of EIT. These guidelines help determine what is reasonable for an institution to expect from vendors.
A VPAT is a Voluntary Product Accessibility Template broken down by categories of Section 508 standards. Vendors use this to tell you where their product stands in regard to accessibility standards and compliance with Section 508.
- When you are making a purchasing decision, ask the vendor to provide you with a VPAT.
- In cases where more than one vendor provides the same service, the one with better accessibility should be given preference.
- A VPAT can reveal the level of awareness that a vendor has for accessibility concerns, and their commitment level to resolving problems.
- A VPAT does not have to be perfect in order for you to make a purchase. The key is to determine whether the vendor can commit to a plan for making improvements in a timely manner.
Interpreting the VPAT: Warning Signs
Getting a VPAT is the first step, but keep in mind that simply having one does not guarantee full accessibility of the product. Claims made in a VPAT still need to be verified.
- Does the VPAT claim perfection? In fact, the more reliable VPATs do not. Instead, they acknowledge areas of concern and detail areas that they have specific plans to improve.
- Does the vendor have a VPAT readily available when you ask for it, or does it seem like they had to create one especially for you? If it took a while to get the VPAT from the vendor, it could be a sign that accessibility has not been an active concern of theirs.
Additional questions and product testing are helpful ways to gain a more complete picture of the product's accessibility status.
Additional Questions to Ask
- Can you use your product without a mouse?
- Have you tested your product with Assistive Technology? If so, what were the results?
- Have you had users with disabilities do any testing for you?
- Does your company have an accessibility policy?
- Do you have anyone assigned to accessibility issues in your company?
- Do you have a roadmap for accessibility improvements?
- Do you have a plan for resolving any issues that come up during the period of a contract?
Product Testing: Try Before You Buy
When VPATs only take you so far, it is important to supplement that information with real life testing. Below is a Manual Accessibility Testing Checklist that can help with the testing phase.
You can always request a trial version of the product that can be tested in-house for a period before purchasing a product.
You can also request that the vendor themselves fill out the Checklist.
- Manual Accessibility Testing Checklist (ATRC)
- Contact the ATRC for assistance with testing products or interpreting test results before you commit to a purchase.
Accessibility in the Contract
When agreeing to a contract with a vendor, include language about accessibility in the contract that requires them to address accessibility problems that are encountered after purchasing their product. This way, any issues that are not discovered during testing have a hope of being dealt with by the vendor when they arise.
- Contact the ATRC for assistance with specific contract language.
There are several sites that help to sort through the information about common vendors used by federal agencies. These can save a lot of time, as the work has already been done.