When buying hardware or software for university use, it is good practice to ask vendors specific questions regarding accessibility and to utilize the University of Minnesota sample vendor contract language when appropriate.
As the article Access Denied illuminates, accessibility leaders point to key elements that allow institutions to take a more proactive approach to Information Technology (IT) accessibility on campus. The first key element is: "Building accessibility considerations into the IT procurement process".
Ask Vendors Questions
When buying Information Technology products ask vendors specific questions regarding accessibility. Some samples:
Do you have a Voluntary Product Accessibility Template (VPAT)? A VPAT is a starting point that may help determine what kind of accessibility
problems can be expected. It is a tool to
document a product's conformance with the accessibility standards
under U.S. Section 508 of the
Rehabilitation Act. VPATs can:
- Supply information to identify issues and what the impacts may be.
- Identify areas of the product are covered under the VPAT.
- Document kinds of users who may have problems with the product.
- Provide details for all provisions on how it meets or does not meet requirements.
- Do you have a W3C Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 (WCAG) conformance claim? A WCAG 2.0 conformance claim describes the level of compliance with WCAG 2.0 success criteria for Web pages. Note: 508 is changing to W3C WCAG 2.0.
- Can you demonstrate how to operate your product effectively without a mouse?
- Does the product prompt authors to include accessibility, and provide relevant help?
- Are videos captioned and audio recordings transcribed?
- Can all of the text that is displayed on the screen be read aloud by screen reading software?
- Can all interactivity (media players, quizzes, flashcards, etc.) be completed by keyboard alone (no mouse required)?
Are third party plug-ins accessible?
- Example: "The Drupal Accessibility Pledge"
- What sort of testing have you done with users with disabilities? (Probe for details and fact check their answers with other users on accessibility lists such as the Access Technology Higher Education Network (ATHEN).
Actions That Can Help
- Run an accessibility checker, such as the WAVE or HiSoftware Compliance Sheriff and cross-reference reported issues on the product to VPAT or WCAG Conformance Claim. Alert: Automated tools capture just 25-30% of the accessibility issues on a page.
- Test with keyboard only.
- Get feedback from users.
- Meet with the company and discuss what impact the issues identified would have on a person with a disability.
If a product is not accessible don't buy it. If no comparable product is accessible, buy it only with the written agreement that the vendor must address its accessibility shortcomings.
Sample Contract Language
Are VPATs and WCAG conformance claims binding? It depends on your contact language. The University of Minnesota provides sample vendor contract language to hold vendors accountable for the accessibility of products:
To ensure that the requirements are satisfied, it is recommended that each contract signed with a software vendor contain the provision set forth below or substantially similar language:
Vendor hereby warrants that the products or services to be provided under this agreement comply with the University of Minnesota accessibility requirements. Vendor agrees to promptly respond to and resolve any complaint regarding accessibility of its products or services which is brought to its attention. Vendor further agrees to indemnify and hold harmless the University of Minnesota or any university entity using the vendor's products or services from any claim arising out of its failure to comply with the aforesaid requirements. Failure to comply with these requirements shall constitute a breach and be grounds for termination of this agreement.
In addition consider adding language regarding upgrades to address the scenario for if/when a product "upgrade" actually makes a product inaccessible. If a new version of a product is inaccessible then the vendor breaks the contract.