Procuring Accessible IT
The University of Washington strives to ensure that IT products developed at, purchased by, or used at the University are accessible to all faculty, students, and staff, including those with disabilities. To reach this aspirational goal, those responsible for making decisions about which products to procure must consider accessibility as one of the criteria for acquisition. This is especially critical for enterprise-level systems and other technologies that affect a large number of students, faculty, and/or staff. The following three steps provide an example of how accessibility can be considered in the procurement process. UW-IT Accessible Technology Services can assist with any of these steps. See Getting Help for additional information.
Step 1: Ask vendors to provide information about the accessibility of their products.
Following is an example of accessibility language that could be used in requests for proposals (RFPs):
Mandatory Scored Requirement
Bidder must describe how their IT products or services are accessible to users in accordance with the University of Washington IT Accessibility Guidelines at www.uw.edu/accessibility/guidelines/.
UW refers to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 developed by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) Level AA for guidance in meeting its IT accessibility commitments. A checklist for understanding the requirements of WCAG 2.0 Level AA is available at www.uw.edu/accessibility/checklist/.
If there are issues that prevent Bidder’s IT product or service from meeting these requirements, Bidder must describe efforts underway to address these issues, including anticipated timelines for completion.
Step 2: Validate the information provided by bidders and evaluate the product for accessibility. UW-IT’s Accessible Technology Services can help.
Vendors should provide detailed information about the accessibility of their product or services. One common method is by providing a Voluntary Product Accessibility Template (VPAT). This is a standard form developed to assist federal agencies in fulfilling their Section 508 requirements. VPATs can sometimes be informative, but they have limitations since they are self-reports completed by the vendors. Some vendors do not have adequate technical expertise to accurately assess their products’ accessibility. Others skillfully complete their VPATs in ways that trivialize the significance of accessibility shortcomings. Therefore, VPAT claims should be independently verified and not accepted at face value. A VPAT could provide a good starting point, but ultimately vendors, particularly those whose products are selected as finalists, should be engaged in a thorough discussion about accessibility of their products.
Few IT products are fully accessible. However, vendors should at a minimum be willing to make a commitment to address their accessibility problems. Without this commitment, using the product may place the University at risk for discriminating against some of its students and/or employees.
Step 3: Include accessibility assurances in contracts with vendors.
If ultimately the best product for meeting a particular need is one that fails to fully meet accessibility requirements, vendors should be asked to make a commitment to improving accessibility over a specified timeline, perhaps working with campus staff.
After a procurer discusses accessibility issues with a vendor, the procurement contract should include language that specifically documents the agreement between vendor and procurer as to how satisfactory progress on accessibility will be measured. For example, the vendor might provide a roadmap as an addendum to the contract with a prioritized list of accessibility issues and a timeline for addressing each issue. Then, contract extensions might be contingent upon satisfactory progress toward resolving the issues identified in the roadmap.
Even if the product is currently accessible, the contract should include language that assures continued accessibility as the product is updated. This is especially important for products that are developed on an ongoing rapid release cycle.