Accessibility Strategy for Procurement

This is the second in a series of posts looking at accessibility strategy from the perspective of different roles and organizational types. This post will focus on the role of procurement.

Note: For effective, lasting impact, organizational accessibility requires executive-level support—without this, other roles will have only limited authority and capability to advance accessibility. This series of posts assumes that your organization has a degree of high-level support for accessibility.

Accessibility is increasingly recognized as an essential part of digital products. But many organizations might not yet have come up with strategies to effectively include accessibility in processes that affect the internal and public-facing digital resources that they create, procure and provide. Making sure that people in key roles understand their accessibility responsibilities, and that they have what they need to meet those responsibilities is essential for an organization’s accessibility strategy.

This post shares accessibility considerations for procurement or purchasing processes that cover digital products and services.

Digital products can include websites, web applications, mobile apps, other software, digital documents, and other digital content. Digital services include software-as-a-service engagements and consultancy services with those who build digital products or create digital content for your organization. Users of digital products and services might be employees, customers or other members of the public, including people with disabilities.

What are the risks of ignoring accessibility in procurement?

Choosing a digital product or service from a third party means that you’ve invested in something to help meet your organization’s objectives, something that you can’t—or won’t—create yourself.

When your organization’s objectives include accessibility, ideally you’d select a product or service that will help you meet those accessibility objectives. At a minimum, you wouldn’t want a product or service that makes it harder for you to meet your accessibility objectives.

Whether you outsource your needs to a vendor or select a free product or service, you’ll need to verify that the product or service meets your accessibility needs (more on this later). The alternative to verifying that it’s accessible is to take on the risk that the tool or service won’t have an acceptable level of accessibility. Your organization will then have to deal with the consequences of accessibility flaws.

How can procurement processes support accessibility?

When you include accessibility considerations as part of your procurement processes, you increase your chances of selecting the most accessible product or service. And in cases where that’s not possible, effective processes can help you manage the risks of any accessibility shortcomings.

Here are some areas where you should consider accessibility in procurement processes.

Defining accessibility in product or service requirements

Always include accessibility requirements when you procure products or services. This lets potential vendors know that you expect accessibility, and it primes them to demonstrate how their offering meets those needs.

Your accessibility requirements need to cover two key areas:

  1. The accessibility of the digital product. You should express that you expect that the product will conform to recognized accessibility standards such as WCAG.
  2. How the vendor’s processes and practices incorporate accessibility. You should express that you expect to see evidence of a vendor’s commitment and ability to deliver and maintain their product’s accessibility over time. This is especially important when you’re procuring a product that will be updated and changed during the lifetime of a contract, or when you’re looking for a vendor to provide design or development services.

Include standard accessibility requirements in any formal procurement documentation, such as requests for proposals or invitations to tender. Encourage those who procure digital products and services to include accessibility in requirements documents.

It might also be worth listing specific types of evidence that you expect from vendors, such as an Accessibility Conformance Report (ACR, often referred to as a VPAT or Voluntary Product Accessibility Template) or other comparable reports.

Evaluating candidate products and suppliers

Once you’ve narrowed down some candidate options, include accessibility in your evaluation process. In particular, you should evaluate those same key areas identified in your accessibility requirements:

  1. the product’s accessibility
  2. the vendor’s capacity to deliver and maintain accessible products and services

Vendor-supplied evidence of their product’s accessibility is useful because that provides an indication of the vendor’s awareness of accessibility. But keep in mind that an ACR or VPAT isn’t necessarily a complete reflection of a product’s accessibility.

You’re better off verifying vendor claims through an independent review of the product. Ideally, if you can conduct or commission an accessibility audit of a candidate product, you should do so because that will let you gain first-hand evidence of the product’s accessibility—or lack of it. If that isn’t possible, look for evidence of the product’s accessibility from third parties, such as independent accessibility reviews, feedback shared in accessibility discussion groups, or evidence of accessibility bugs. For example, if a product has a presence on GitHub, look for accessibility issues filed there.

You’ll want to assess how responsive and engaged vendors are when it comes to accessibility. Do they provide details of how they manage accessibility during their products’ development processes? Do they give the impression that accessibility is a core value and essential quality? Are they responsive to feedback? Have they committed to improving accessibility over time?

Depending on the capacity of your organization’s central procurement office, you might want to ask an accessibility specialist to help you with the evaluation process.

Understanding risks of selecting a product or supplier

Once you’ve assessed the candidate products or vendors, you should identify the accessibility risks of selecting your top pick.

For example, if the product contains known accessibility barriers, what impact do they have on affected users? What workarounds may exist for these barriers? What options are there to fix these flaws? What plans does the vendor have to fix them? Could your organization fix them?

If you don’t see much evidence for a product’s accessibility or much evidence for a vendor’s capacity to deliver and maintain that product’s accessibility, that might help you decide not to go with the vendor. But if you move forward anyway, that can increase the risk that your organization will need to manage significant accessibility issues.

Managing accessibility risk

There are many situations where you might not be able to purchase a product that fully meets your accessibility requirements. In those cases, you’ll need to manage the accessibility risks associated with the product as best you can.

Your options include:

  • Defining accessibility requirements in any contracts with a vendor to cover vendor commitments to fix known issues at the time of procurement, and commitments to maintain accessibility over the lifetime of the contract.
  • Establishing a productive relationship with the vendor so that you can work together to enhance the product’s accessibility.
  • Working with people with disabilities who use the product to monitor its accessibility issues, and figure out ways to reduce the impact of issues.
  • Establishing relationships with other customers to discuss options for improving accessibility and providing harmonized, prioritized requests to the vendor.

Conclusion

Procuring digital products and services can address organizational needs, and they can even help you with your accessibility strategy. But procurement also brings accessibility risks. You can reduce these risks by making sure that you:

  • Have procurement processes that include accessibility considerations,
  • Know how to make informed decisions relating to accessibility quality of a product and its vendor,
  • Have processes in place to manage the accessibility risks you take on when you choose to accept a product or service that isn’t fully accessible.

Get in touch with TPGi to learn more about how we can help you optimize your procurement processes to include accessibility.

Read the other posts in this series:

Categories: Accessibility Strategy

About David Sloan

David Sloan is a Principal Accessibility Engineer and Strategy and Research Lead at TPGi. He joined the company in 2013, after nearly 14 years as an accessibility researcher, consultant and instructor at the University of Dundee in Scotland.

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