Accessible Technology

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 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 UW Procurement Services department has published Procedure 7.2.15 (Procuring Accessible IT, in PDF) which includes the following Policy:

The University of Washington Procurement Services (Procurement Services) department supports the procurement of accessible information technology under Washington State Office of the Chief Information Officer (OCIO) Policy #188, University of Washington Administrative Policy Statement (APS) #2.3, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 along with its 2008 Amendments. Wherever practicable, Procurement Services shall procure information technology that meets accessibility requirements as specified in the University of Washington IT Accessibility Guidelines.

This policy applies to all solicitations, responses thereto, and contracts for websites, web applications, software systems, electronic documents, e-learning, multimedia and programmable user interfaces wherever practicable. It covers the technology’s user interface, access and content; but does not cover content that a user may encounter after leaving the covered technology (example: links to other web content). It applies to all technology interfaces that are intended for use by students, employees, and visitors of the University of Washington.

In order to facilitate the procurement of accessible information technology, the following three steps should be implemented for all products and services that fall within the scope of the above policy. UW-IT Accessible Technology Services can assist with any of these steps. See Getting Help with Accessibility for additional information.

Step 1: Solicit accessibility information.

Procedure 7.2.15 describes this step as follows:

University of Washington bidders and vendors shall be required to demonstrate that information technology provided to the University of Washington conforms to or addresses each of the World Wide Web Consortium’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1, Level AA success criteria wherever demonstrating such performance is practicable. Vendors may do so by providing a Voluntary Product Accessibility Template (VPAT) using VPAT 2.3 or higher. The VPAT templates are available from the Information Technology Industry Council. There are four different editions of the VPAT, based on different accessibility standards. Since IT procured by the University of Washington must meet WCAG 2.1 Level AA, the most appropriate edition for our needs is the WCAG edition (the INT edition is also acceptable since it includes WCAG 2.1 guidelines). NOTE: It is not sufficient for a bidder or vendor to simply provide a VPAT; they must take care to do so accurately. If they have insufficient expertise in-house, they should receive help from an independent third party accessibility consultant. The VPAT 2.x templates includes detailed instructions. Bidders and vendors should be expected to follow these instructions, and complete all required parts.

Step 2: Validate accessibility information received.

Vendors should provide detailed information about the accessibility of their products or services as explained in the preceding section. Note, however, that VPATs or other sources of accessibility documentation should be independently verified and not accepted at face value. The information they provide can serve as a good starting point for a thorough discussion about accessibility with the vendor.

Procedure 7.2.15 provides the following details regarding this step:

Wherever practicable, the University of Washington, in consultation with Procurement Services, UW-IT Accessible Technology Services, or other qualified staff with expertise in IT accessibility, will attempt to validate the information provided by bidders and vendors, by

  • obtaining additional information from the bidder or vendor to develop a complete and thorough understanding of the accessibility of the product or service;
  • consulting with independent third parties who have evaluated the product or service for accessibility; or
  • conducting an internal evaluation of the accessibility of the product or service.

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, employees, and/or visitors.

Step 3: Include accessibility assurances in contracts.

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.

The UW Terms and Conditions website, maintained by Procurement Services, includes an IT Accessibility Rider. Procedure 7.2.15 recommends that the Rider be inserted into all agreements and contracts for the procurement of relevant IT, along with the following statement:

Accessibility.  Vendor represents that it is committed to promoting and improving accessibility of all its products as specified in the University of Washington IT Accessibility Guidelines and will remain committed through the term of this Agreement.