Procuring Accessible IT

In order to ensure accessibility of IT products used at the University of Washington, 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 or technologies that affect a large number of students, faculty, and/or staff. Considering accessibility in procurement involves the following steps:

  1. Vendors must be asked to provide information about the accessibility of their products.
  2. The information provided by vendors must be valid, measured using a method that is reliable and objective.
  3. Those making procurement decision must be able to objectively evaluate the accessibility of products, and to scrutinize the information provided by vendors.

Requesting Accessibility Information from Vendors

The following are examples of accessibility language that could be used in requests for proposals (RFP’s) and purchasing contracts:

In the second example, UC has followed the lead of the federal government and is requiring that vendors provide supporting documentation of their products’ compliance with Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act (for more about Section 508, consult our Policies & Standards page). Since many vendors who sell products to higher education also sell products to the federal government, these vendors may already have a mechanism for reporting on their products’ compliance with Section 508 standards.

Evaluating Product Accessibility with a VPAT

The Voluntary Product Accessibility Template (VPAT) is a standard form developed to assist federal agencies in fulfilling their Section 508 requirements. Therefore, one way that vendors may be asked to report on the accessibility of their products is to submit a completed VPAT. This is the approach taken by the University of California in the example in the preceding section.

There are limitations to the VPAT since it is a self-report completed by the vendor. Some vendors do not have adequate technical expertise to accurately assess accessibility. Others skillfully complete their VPATs in ways that trivialize the significance of accessibility shortcomings. Also, Section 508 is itself a limiting standard, purposefully developed to be the minimum standard by which federal agencies are to be held legally accountable. Products can technically meet Section 508 standards yet still present significant barriers in usability for people with disabilities. A VPAT will not catch these barriers.

Evaluating Product Accessibility through Independent Third Party Reviews

As an alternative to the VPAT, or as a second source used to supplement the VPAT, independent third party resources should be consulted about the accessibility of products under consideration. Vendors could be asked to accompany proposals with an accessibility audit from a list of previously approved evaluation companies, or the person or group making the procurement decision could seek the opinions and experiences of their peers in higher education. The following are a few of the communities where higher education professionals share information on IT accessibility:

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