Interacting with Vendors
In addition to federal civil rights laws, some states have passed laws specific to electronic and IT accessibility requiring conformance with the US Section 508 Standards or the WCAG 2.0, Level AA criteria. This can lead to confusion on the part of vendors as to which accessibility standards are relevant and those purchasing IT products at the college as to what constitutes an accessible product. Engaging and communicating with vendors can provide both parties with a better understanding as to which accessibility requirements apply and the extent to which access is supported in the product or service.
Accessibility documentation from a vendor for a product or service may take the from of a Voluntary Product Accessibility Template (VPAT), a summary of accessibility features and functionality, or, in some cases, a report from a third-party accessibility evaluation company. A challenge with documentation supplied by a vendor is that it may not provide the information you are seeking or not include sufficient details as to the level of accessibility present or pending. In the absence of information, one option may be to request the vendor submit a template of your design.
Before purchasing a product or service, inquire about the vendor's ability to develop and implement accessible solutions. Conformance with accessibility standards is one aspect, yet does not provide sufficient information as to how accessibility may be viewed by a vendor. Possible questions to ask include:
- What standards do you follow to assess the level of accessibility in your product and/or service?
- What internal processes can you share specific to the evaluation and remediation of accessibility issues? Do you use certain assistive technology applications?
- Do you develop solutions that conform to Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act and/or the WCAG 2.0, Level AA specifications?
- What types of documentation regarding the level of accessibility conformance can you provide?
- How is accessibility supported during product development and quality assurance testing so as to ensure, to the greatest extent possible, the equivalent ease of use for individuals with disabilities as compared to non-disabled individuals?
- Is there a designated accessibility representative at the company to address issues or questions pertaining to the accessibility of the product or service?
- What training and experience do the technical teams have in creating accessible products and/or services? Is accessibility training or support updated on a regular basis for internal teams?
- What types of automated and manual accessibility testing procedures do you perform?
- How do you ensure keyboard and/or touch support for any interactive elements?
Generally speaking, there are no perfect answers as vendors may have different approaches to addressing accessibility within their products or services. What you are attempting to discern is familiarity with a concept versus an understanding and capability to implement accessible solutions.
For example, a vendor responding that they are fully compliant with all the accessibility requirements of Section 508 of the ADA indicates they are not informed regarding these statutes (i.e., there is no Section 508 of the ADA). Such a response should raise questions regarding the extent to which the vendor understands accessibility standards and criteria. Similarly, a vendor who describes their accessibility testing process as "rigorous" but is unable to identify any automated or manual accessibility testing procedures may not have quite as rigorous a process as claimed.
While following technical accessibility standards and criteria is a start, how the product and/or service functions with assistive technology applications provides a more realistic assessment as to how usable the interface may be to individuals. Inform the vendor that you would prefer a demonstration of the product or service in question with specific assistive technology applications (e.g., using AT applications common for your institution). Such demonstrations can provide another perspective as to how functional a user interface may be when used in conjunction with assistive technology solutions.
- IT Accessibility Checklist - University of Washington
- Questions to Ask Any Website Vendor - Cornell University