One area where principles of IT accessibility are often overlooked is in purchasing. This can be for a variety of reasons, but the application of a few simple principles can help ensure that software your organization purchases is as accessible as possible at the time of purchase and will assist with the remediation of accessibility issues.
- Develop a clear purchasing policy with a requirement that vendors will asked to present a Voluntary Product Accessibility Template (VPAT) and that an accessibility evaluation will be performed prior to purchasing.
- Insist that VPATs from vendors are complete and explain how a product complies or does not comply with accessibility standards (rather than just a statement of one or the other).
- Ensure that VPATs from vendors are reviewed for accuracy and completeness.
- Perform an accessibility review of the software, using progressive evaluation. For large purchase, have the vendor demonstrate how accessibility requirements have been met and ask for a demo of the product for your review.
- Use direct accessibility language in purchasing contracts that states what accessibility law(s) must be met and includes a remediation timeline for addressing any accessibility issues found during review.
- Be willing, as an institution, to get out of a contract with a vendor that is not making satisfactory progress toward addressing accessibility found during the product evaluation.
Legal Requirements for Accessibility
Accessibility of programs and services to people with disabilities is considered a Civil Right in the United States. The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 was the first major legislation in the United States to require that the government and public support education that is accessible to people with disabilities. The Act mandates that educational institutions receiving federal aid must provide resources of programs and services in accessible formats at the same time it is received by everyone else participating in the program. Therefore, purchasing inaccessible information technology is violating the civil rights of people with disabilities. The university should use the criteria of accessibility as part of its decision making process in purchasing web resources, software, electronic office equipment and computers. Purchasing priority is to be given to technologies that are accessible to people with disabilities.
The Section 508 Information Technology Accessibility Standards are comprehensive accessibility requirements that are used as the basis for purchasing accessible information technologies for the United States Federal Government. The following states use or have adapted the Section 508 requirements to set state standards:
Selected State IT Accessibility Policies
- Illinois Information Technology Accessibility Act
- Florida Accessible Electronic and Information Technology Rules
- Massachusetts: Accessibility Guidance
- Michigan Web Accessibility Policy
- New York: Accessibility of State Agency Web-Based Intranet and Internet Information and Applications
- State of Ohio IT Policy Web Site Accessibility
- Texas: Statewide Accessibility for Electronic and Information Resources
- California State University System: Accessible Technology Initiative (ATI)
- California Community College System
- Accessibility Statement
- Accessibility statements are the information in Requests for Proposals (RFP) and contracts that specifies the accessibility features to be featured on a product, web site or software application. Vendors must address these statements in proposals or agree to in contracts.
- Compliance Template
- Compliance templates provide a mean for vendors to report on the level of compliance of a product, web site, or software application with the accessibility requirements by identifying the features they do or do not support.
- Vendors can submit proposals for a product, web site or software application that does not meet all accessibility requirements, but the compliance template must accurately state the accessibility of the product that the vendor would deliver if the proposal is selected or contractual agreement executed.
- Purchasing Decision Making
- Persons or groups reviewing proposals and contracts should use the information provided by the vendor on the accessibility of the product, web site, or software application, ultimately deeming accessibility an important factor in the decision making process.
- How people who review accessibility compliance information verify the claims of a vendor before they make purchasing decisions.
- After the deliverance of a product, web site, or software application, the product might be found not to fully support some of the accessibility features claimed by the vendor in the accessibility compliance report. There need to be procedures and possible penalties that notify the vendor of the deficiency and ensure the vendor provide the solution.
Types of Information Technologies
Accessible purchasing requirements must address the whole range of information and electronic technologies that are purchased by the university to create and deliver instructional and administrative resources to students, faculty and staff. The following list outlines the major areas for purchasing accessible information technologies.
- Web Technology
- Web Authoring Tools
- Faculty who create electronic educational materials and staff who support instructional efforts usually have little understanding of the markup details of web technologies. Most of these authors leave handling of the markup details to the authoring tools. Therefore, the accessibility of the resources they create depend on the support for accessibility upheld by the authoring tools.
- In an ideal case, the authoring tool steers the author to creating accessible markup; this is called "accessibility by default". However, most authoring tools do not realize accessibility by default; they rather require the author to have extensive knowledge about accessibility and often even constrain the author from creating accessible content. Accessibility achieved by the author despite limits of the authoring tools is called "accessibility by exception". Clearly, this later approach will make the creation of accessible instructional and support materials very hard.
- Importantly, the authoring tools themselves should be accessible to people with disabilities so that they are able to create web resources and fully participate as students, faculty, and staff in the university. See the next section on software accessibility for the details on accessible software requirements.
- Audio or video resources can be labelled multimedia and include film, video and auditory tape, and DVD technologies for playing on the traditional analog television or the new generation flat screen HDTV. Audio needs text captions for people with hearing impairments and video needs audio descriptions of visual actions for people with visual impairments. Technologies for the web like Quicktime, Real Media and Flash have the same requirements, but these are defined under web accessibility.
- Desktop software for Microsoft Windows®, Apple Macintosh®, Java® and the UNIX/LINUX operating systems all support accessibility to people with disabilities. However, not all the softwares developed for these operating systems support the accessibility features of the operating systems and the operating systems do not test whether their softwares support accessibility. Accessibility in software means support of keyboard-only operation, support of operating system styling preferences including high contrast display settings, and compatibility with alternative input and output assistive technologies like onscreen keyboards, screen magnification, and reader technologoies for people with learning disabilities and visual impairments.
- Electronic Equipment
- Electronic office equipment including telephones, copy machines, fax machines, printers, scanners, computers and other electronic office machines should be accessible to people with disabilities. Controls can be placed in locations and sizes that make it easier for people with physical limitations to reach and operate. Labeling should be as large as possible with high contrast between text foreground and background colors. Options for speech help people with visual impairments and blindness. The availability of these types of products is increasing due to the Section 508 Information Technology Accessibility Standards being published in 2000.