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Before licensing that product or service, STOP. Is it accessible?

Stop sign

Technology used at the UW falls into either of two categories: Things we create and things we purchase or procure. For the latter, accessibility is the responsibility of the person making the procurement decision. Anyone making those decisions is assuming legal risk on behalf of the university. As risk owners, they must take steps to ensure the product or service they’re procuring is accessible to all users, including those with disabilities.

There are three steps described on our Procuring Accessible IT page:

  1. Solicit accessibility information.
  2. Validate accessibility information received.
  3. Include accessibility assurances in contracts.

A key resource in each of these steps is the Voluntary Product Accessibility Template (VPAT). VPATs are a standard form that vendors complete in order to document the accessibility of their products or services, as measured by accessibility standards such as the W3C Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.1.

VPATs are self-reports, typically completed by the vendor, who often doesn’t have sufficient accessibility expertise to fill out their own VPAT. Therefore, VPATs should not be accepted as the final answer for whether a product is accessible. Rather, VPATs provide a good starting point for a thorough discussion with the vendor about their product’s accessibility. In order to be used for that purpose, risk owners need to understand the basics of IT accessibility, including how to read a VPAT. They don’t need to be accessibility experts, but they need to have enough knowledge to be able to judge whether a vendor’s self-report is credible, as well as identify what follow-up questions are necessary in order to be able to make an informed decision about the level of risk associated with procuring the vendor’s product or service.

UW-IT Accessible Technology Services is available to help, but there are practical limits to our involvement, and generally, we only get involved in enterprise-level purchases that affect a large number of students, faculty, and/or staff. ¬†For all others, it’s the responsibility of risk owners to educate themselves on how to consider accessibility when making IT procurement decisions.

On June 30, 2021, I will be joined by Lynn Magill of UW Procurement Services to offer a webinar titled “Accessibility in Procurement: Partnering for Success and How to Read a VPAT”. This event is free, but requires registration. To attend, please submit our webinar registration form.

If you are unable to attend the live event, the webinar will also be recorded and available online via the Webinar Series Archives page.