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The importance of procuring an accessible service

It's vital you consider accessibility during the procurement process of a project to ensure you deliver an accessible service. Procuring an inaccessible product and then trying to make it accessible afterwards can be difficult and costly.

When procuring software and services, it's important accessibility is included as a non-functional requirement in any invitation to tender document. You must thoroughly validate any claims of accessibility made in proposal submissions as they can often be overestimated.

Checking the accessibility of a product or service 

Follow these steps to check the accessibility of a product or service before procuring it:

  1. Make sure the accessibility portion of the overall scoring reflects its importance. Too often, the accessibility (or otherwise) of a product is overlooked in favour of functional requirements.
  2. Ask for a demonstration. Any vendor who is marketing and selling a truly accessible product will not hesitate to demonstrate this to you. A reluctance to demonstrate is not necessarily a red flag, but it should ring alarm bells.
  3. Ask to evaluate the product. Most vendors have training or demo environments for their software, which they use for training or sales purposes. 
  4. Ask the vendor to provide evidence of the accessibility of their product in the form of an accessibility audit or a Voluntary Product Accessibility Template (VPAT).

Go with your gut instinct. If a vendor is evasive when asked about accessibility or is repeatedly unwilling to help you verify the accessibility of their product, this is a major warning sign.

Voluntary Product Accessibility Template (VPAT)

A VPAT is a document provided by a vendor to evidence the accessibility level of their product or service. VPAT aligns with the widely accepted Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.2 (WCAG 2.2).

Having a VPAT does not necessarily mean the product is accessible. A VPAT simply documents how compliant the product is for good or for bad. It's important to read and understand what the VPAT says.

Accessibility audit

An accessibility audit is usually a report detailing the accessibility of a product. It's less formal than a VPAT and normally prepared by either an internal accessibility expert or an external accessibility consultancy. It will usually evaluate a representative sample of pages and user journeys within a site or product against an agreed standard (usually WCAG 2.2). It will also detail the level of compliance along with recommendations of how to resolve any accessibility issues found.

With both an accessibility audit and a VPAT, it's important to check the date when the document was prepared. This is because it's normal for the accessibility of a product to change over time as new features and functionality are added. Ideally, the more recent a VPAT or accessibility audit is, the more likely it is to reflect the current accessibility level of the product or service.

Awarding the contract

If a successful vendor commits to delivering an accessible product or service, you should make sure this is reflected in the contract along with details of penalties for not doing so. Make sure any contract details the level of compliance agreed (for example WCAG 2.2 AA).

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