The technology used by an organization is either developed in-house or it is purchased. Taking accessibility seriously eventually leads you to the operation of procurement. The procurement process needs to yield IT that can be used by everyone. Accomplishing this goal requires a partnership between the accessibility specialists in an organization and the procurement office; each partner contributes their expertise to the process. Effectively integrating accessibility into the procurement process is possible when this partnership is the foundation.
Definition of ICT in Procurement
ICT stands for “Information and Communication Technology”. Earlier versions of the Section 508 regulations referred to “Electronic and Information Technology” (EIT); both terms refer to the same thing. Section 508 applies to ICT but not to other things that Community Colleges procure, such as paper products or furniture.
The definition of ICT in the current 508 standards is:
Information and Communication Technology (ICT). Information technology and other equipment, systems, technologies, or processes, for which the principal function is the creation, manipulation, storage, display, receipt, or transmission of electronic data and information, as well as any associated content. Examples of ICT include, but are not limited to: computers and peripheral equipment; information kiosks and transaction machines; telecommunications equipment; customer premises equipment; multifunction office machines; software; applications; Web sites; videos; and, electronic documents. 36 CFR Part 1194, E.103.4
ICT items include such things as software, hardware, electronic content, support documentation & services. ICT items may be comprised of:
- Commercial-off-the shelf (COTS)
- Custom-developed products
- Configuration, installation, integration, maintenance, and hosting services for COTS custom-developed products
- Each ICT item will fall under at least one of four categories:
- Electronic Content
- Support Documentation & Services
In determining whether a procurement includes ICT, it is important to make sure to consider the broad scope of items included in the definition of this term. Technology is used for many functions that used to be carried out manually or without any software; Section 508 covers many more procurements today than when the law was enacted in the 1970’s. It is also important to ask whether a purchase includes ICT at the very beginning of the procurement process so that accessibility can be addressed in the most effective and time-efficient manner. It’s frustrating to all when Section 508 considerations have to be added onto an ongoing process, which risks the possibility of having to go backwards and revise work.
Determining Business Needs and Accessibility Requirements
Before accessibility requirements can be addressed, the purchaser needs to determine what are the functional requirements of the ICT, such as technical or training necessities, and then the business requirements, such as funding and timeframe. Once these are clear, it is important to decide what are the specific accessibility standards that apply.
For example, if the Section 508 standards are used by the organization, there will be a product-specific set of standards that apply. The Section 508 standards cover a very broad range of ICT products, from printers and cell phones to learning management systems and videos. The functions and features that make a pdf document accessible, for example, are different from the accessibility features of a video projector. For each product, there will be a set of Section 508 standards that are relevant. If the product has more than one functionality, there is a set of Section 508 standards for each functionality. An example of this is a software program that also includes a set of instructional videos. The software program will have a set of standards that must be met to ensure that it is accessible, and the videos will need to meet a different set of standards.
Why is it necessary to identify the specific standards, rather than simply generally stating that the ICT product must be accessible? When a vendor submits a proposal, they will include a product accessibility conformance report, that includes a detailed list of 508 standards with a summary of whether the product meets them. Without a list of applicable standards from the rfp, the vendor will be free to decide which standards to list in this report, and which ones to identify as “not applicable”. This could result in neglecting an important requirement, even though the vendor is claiming to be fully conformant.
The list of applicable standards will be used by the vendor to provide details about the accessibility of their product, and it will also be the basis for any testing that is done to determine whether the vendor’s accessibility claims are valid. The vendor’s accessibility conformance report will also be included as an attachment to a contract, and this will be referred to if there are accessibility issues once the contract is in place. If the vendor has claimed that their product complies with a specific standard, but that aspect of accessibility is called into question later, the vendor’s conformance report can be used to require the vendor to fix the problem at their cost.
The federal government has developed tools, listed in the Resources section, that will yield a list of applicable Section 508 standards for different types of ICT.
Obtaining Accessibility Information from Vendors
Accessibility Conformance Report (ACR) – A written ACR for each ICT item, based on the product’s Voluntary Product Accessibility Template (VPAT™).
Supplemental Accessibility Report (SAR) – A written SAR containing:
- Description of evaluation methods used to produce the ACR;
- Information on how to configure and install the ICT item to support accessibility; and
- Information on how the ICT item enables the creation of accessible electronic content that conforms to the Revised 508 Standards, including the range of accessible user interface elements the tool can create. (only required for authoring tools that generate content (documents, reports, videos, multimedia, web content, etc.)
- Other additional sources of information:
- A demonstration of some or all items in the solicitation that conform to the accessibility requirements;
- Remediation plans for features that don’t fully conform to the Revised 508 Standards;
- A description of training they can provide to users on the accessibility features of the ICT products and services, as well as any associated training costs not included in the baseline proposal;
Evaluation of Vendor Information and Testing
Basic or Expert Evaluation?
Once the Accessibility Conformance Report (ACR) is obtained, it must be assessed for accuracy. There are two levels of assessment of the ACR. The first review is the basic level, and it can be conducted by procurement personnel or others with no special expertise in accessibility. This is an initial evaluation of the completeness of the ACR. Is there enough information to go on to the next step, a technical evaluation of the data provided?
- Date: If the ACR is not up to date, the information may no longer be valid.
- Name of Product: Make sure the product name and vendor name is present.
- Version Number (if applicable): The product version number should be present (if applicable).
- Contact for more Information (name/phone/email): Contact info (name, email, and phone) for the person/group that completed the VPAT should be available.
Make sure the ACR includes a description of what evaluation methods were used to complete the VPAT for the product under test.
Completeness of Information about Standards Conformance
Make sure the ACR includes responses in the “Remarks and Explanations” column whenever the conformance levels are “partially supports”. All “Not Applicable” responses should be accompanied by an explanation.
Expert Technical Review
The expert technical review should be conducted by an accessibility professional from within your organization’s Accessibility Office or from an external source. The accessibility professional should be part of a team that regularly collaborates with the procurement office.
Selection of the Most Conformant Product
The job of selecting the most conformant product is easy when one or more are found to be fully conformant to all applicable 508 standards. If it’s only one, then that is the top choice. If there are more than one fully conformant choices, other business requirements should be the basis for the selection.
Given the broad scope and complexity of many IT applications, it is not unusual to find that a product is partially conformant. When all the possible selections are partially conformant, determining the best choice can be complicated. The Section 508 accessibility professional should be involved in this decision to conduct a more complex analysis. Understanding how the product will be used is important. Conducting this level of analysis should only be done by someone with a solid understanding of accessibility and the Section 508 standards.
When the most partially conformant product is selected, the vendor should be asked to complete an Accessibility Roadmap. The Accessibility Roadmap is a specific plan by the vendor to remediate all identified accessibility gaps in a reasonable period of time.
Equally Effective Alternative Access Plan
When systems, software or processes do not meet requirements of Section 508, an alternative access plan must be developed to address the resulting lack of accessibility. The 2018 Section 508 regulations state:
E202.7.2 Alternative Means. Where ICT that fully conforms to the Revised 508 Standards is not commercially available, the agency shall provide individuals with disabilities access to and use of information and data by an alternative means that meets identified needs.
The Equally Effective Alternative Access Plan is a written plan with details about how a user with a disability will be able to accomplish the affected function. This will require ongoing collaboration between the stakeholders in the organization who handle different aspects of providing alternative access. The Equally Effective Alternative Access Plans (EEAAP) will need to be readily available to employees who are expected to respond to requests for alternative access quickly.
The federal Department of Homeland Security has published an online tool, DART, for determining which Section 508 standards apply to specific types of ICT.
The U.S. General Services Administration has developed a similar online tool, the Accessibility Requirements Tool.
The California State University System’s Accessible Technology Initiative publishes an extensive set of guidelines and resources on accessibility in procurement.