Accessibility compliance exceptions, or accessibility exceptions, are a provision of the campus Digital Accessibility Policy (CAM HR-86). An approved exception is needed when it is necessary to procure and utilize information and communications technology (ICT) that is not fully accessible. The exception process is in place to help ensure that the university is providing an inclusive and welcoming educational and workplace environment through its use of technology and to demonstrate due diligence when procuring and utilizing ICT.
Intent of the Exception Process
The exception process is not intended to halt procurement. Rather, the process is in place to ensure that the university is maintaining an inclusive and welcoming educational and workplace environment and to demonstrate due diligence under accessibility law.
To fulfill its obligations under federal and state accessibility law, the university must do two things:
- Procure and utilize only the most accessible products available on the market, if no fully accessible product is available, that best meets the business need.
- Document a plan for providing equally effective alternative access to those who encounter access barriers due to the accessibility flaws in an ICT product.
The exception process is utilized to ensure that the above conditions are met. It is only in cases where it is clear that due diligence was not performed when procuring a product and no meaningfully effective alternative access can be provided that an exception request may be denied, and a product may not be used.
If it seems likely that an exception will not be approved by the Technology Accessibility Review Committee (TARC), then it may be prudent to pause the procurement process until the exception process has been completed and the outcome is known. While an approved exception is required for an inaccessible product to be used for the mission of the university, it is left to individual units to determine when in the procurement process they wish to seek an exception and if procurement will be suspended until the outcome of an accessibility exception request is determined.
The alternative access plan (AAP) that is created must effectively mitigate the access barriers created by the inaccessibility in an ICT product. An effective AAP cannot be created without the results of an accessibility evaluation, which will identify the accessibility flaws in the product. It is the procuring individual or unit's responsibility to create and implement the AAP.
The TARC reviews and approves exception requests. It does not arrange for or conduct accessibility evaluations. It is the responsibility of the procuring unit or individual to arrange for an evaluation of the product. If assistance is needed contact the unit’s IT Accessibility Liaison (ITAL) or the ADA IT Coordinator, if the unit does not have an ITAL.
When Is An Exception Needed?
An exception is typically needed if an accessibility evaluation found any issues in an ICT product, regardless of priority assigned in an evaluation report. This is for two reasons. The first is because all issues found negatively impact those with disabilities, resulting in anywhere from an outright inability to use a product to wasting valuable time and effort as an individual grapples with access barriers in the product. The second reason is that accessibility law does not make mention of issue priority and all accessibility issues found in a product, regardless of the priority assigned in an evaluation report, constitute violations of legal requirements.
Instances Where An Exception Is Not Needed
An exception is not needed in the following circumstances:
- If the ICT product has no human interface
- If the product is for individual or limited team use, where no one who must use the product will be adversely affected by the inaccessibility of the ICT.
- If the product is for use in research, where no member of the research team or research participants would be adversely impacted by the inaccessibility of the ICT.
For the latter two cases, it is still prudent to be prepared to implement an alternative access plan, as it is possible in the future that an individual who would be affected by the inaccessibility may need to use the product.
Elements of an Accessibility Exception
Three things are needed for an accessibility exception request:
- An accessibility evaluation report detailing the accessibility issues found in the ICT product
- Documentation of the market research that demonstrates that the ICT product is the most accessible product on the market that meets business needs or a rationale for why such research was either not performed or a less accessible product was chosen.
- A completed alternative access plan template which describes the alternative method of access that will be provided and how that access will address the access barriers present in the product.
Exceptions must be reviewed and approved by the Technology Accessibility Review Committee (TARC) in order for the product to be utilized for the mission of the university.
Issue Priority and Exceptions
ICT products with any accessibility flaws, regardless of issue priority assigned in an evaluation report, must have an approved exception to be utilized on campus for the mission of the university. This is for two reasons. The first is because all issues found negatively impact those with disabilities, resulting in anywhere from an outright inability to use a product to wasting valuable time and effort to grapple with access barriers in the product. The second reason is that accessibility law does not make mention of issue priority and all issues found in an evaluation constitute violations of legal requirements. The practice of prioritizing issues in evaluation reports is a best practice adopted by ICT accessibility professionals as a way to clarify impact and to aid vendors in determining where to begin remediating their products. Issue priority cannot be used as a determining factor regarding what must be fixed and what can be ignored: all issues found have negative impact on persons with disabilities and must either be fixed or there must be an equally effective method of alternative access that mitigates the access barriers the issues create.