The Must Dos to Ensure the Technologies You’re Purchasing are Accessible

  • 6.12.2022
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What are accessible technologies?

Accessible technologies are ones that can be utilized by everyone, including persons with a wide range of skills and disabilities, at the time they wish to use them, without any adjustments or concessions. These technologies adhere to the principles of universal design, allowing each of their users to interact with them in the way that works best for them.

Why accessible technologies?

It is in everyone’s best interest to make mainstream technologies accessible to all individuals, including those with disabilities. Because if technologies can be accessed and utilized by people using a number of senses and are usable by all people regardless of ability or disability, obstacles to access based on disability become irrelevant to the acquisition of knowledge and the use of valued technology. 

By contrast, separate and often inferior approaches to access have a tendency to increase the cost of processes while reducing their effectiveness. It also diminishes the effectiveness of people with disabilities in the workplace, besides creating the need for additional support for such people.

It is generally knowledge that when mainstream technologies are accessible, the accessibility features improve the usefulness of the technology for the broader population that does not have disabilities.

Section 508 and accessible technologies

Congress amended Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and revitalized the push for accessibility.

The amended Section 508 requires federal agencies to give persons with disabilities with access comparable to that offered to people without disabilities when they buy, build, maintain, or use technologies, unless doing so would place an excessive burden on the agency. This applies to all people with disabilities, whether or not they are federal employees.

To assist federal contracting officials and government buyers in making preliminary assessments on technologies with the most accessible features, the Information and Technology Industry Council (ITI) collaborated with the General Services Administration (GSA) to develop the voluntary product accessibility template (VPAT).

The VPAT is a document that, when duly filled out, provides explanations about how a technology such as software, hardware, electronic content, a website, a web-based tool, or technology support documentation conforms to the established accessibility standards for accessible technology, namely, the Revised Section 508 Standards for information technology (IT) accessibility, the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), and the European Union’s EN 301 549 Standards for IT accessibility.

Apart from assisting federal contracting officials and government buyers in assessing technologies during market research and bid proposal evaluation, the VPAT template can be a critical component of the RFP process for any organization (public or private) where VPAT accessibility and Section 508 compliance are critical elements.

If you’re involved in the RFP process at universities, large corporations, healthcare providers, retail and e-commerce stores, and SaaS product and service providers, among others, where comparable experience with technology for people with disabilities as those without disabilities is required, determining whether VPAT accessibility has been proven is a must-do to ensure the technologies you’re purchasing are accessible!

What is VPAT accessibility?

The term “VPAT accessibility” refers to the comprehensive practice of employing a VPAT to remove barriers that prevent individuals with disabilities from interacting with and using technology, products, or services supplied by those technologies.

Assessing if VPAT accessibility for a technology has been ensured entails determining whether the correct VPAT template was utilized to construct the technology’s VPAT accessibility conformance report (ACR).

If the technology is web-based, the VPAT ACR should have been created with the VPAT WCAG 2.0 or 2.1. If the technology is being purchased by a federal agency, confirm that the Section 508 VPAT template was utilized to create the VPAT report. The EU (EN 301 549) VPAT template and the VPAT International (INT) template should have been used for technologies utilized in Europe and worldwide, respectively.

Another aspect of VPAT accessibility you should establish to ensure the technologies you’re purchasing are accessible is VPAT testing. You must determine who conducted the assessment and the methodology employed. VPAT testing performed by an impartial third-party professional who not only understands the accessibility area but also the technology to which the VPAT ACR related is often reliable and objective.

The third aspect of VPAT accessibility to investigate is the filling in of the relevant VPAT template to generate the VPAR ACR. A good VPAT ACR will be completely filled out, with appropriate explanations and remarks provided as needed. It will include a summary that provides a quick overview of the technology to which the reports are related, as well as the appropriate standards or guidelines and the detailed VPAR report part.

The summary will contain the technology name, VPAT date, contact information, assessment methods utilized, important notes, and other valuable information, while the applicable standards or guidelines section will include WCAG 2.0 and 2.1, Section 508, and EN 301 549 accessibility standards.

The ACR section will contain duly filled-out ACR tables organized by WCAG principles: perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust (POUR) and include tables with three columns: one for each success criteria, one for conformance level (“supports,” “partially supports,” “does not support,” “not applicable,” and “not evaluated”), and one for remarks and explanations.

Other must-do things to ensure the technologies you but and accessible

Aside from evaluating the VPAT report to learn about the technology’s accessibility based on the manufacturer’s or vendor’s self-disclosure, other criteria to consider before purchasing the technology include the following:

  1. Considering the technologies’ use cases

Consider who will utilize the technologies and how they will be employed. Consider whether a person with a disability will engage with the technology, and if so, whether an accommodation will be required. Ascertain that all of these elements are taken into account so that the technologies can be accessible once purchased.

  1. Accessibility demonstration

When a technology is used, it is sometimes easier to reflect on potential accessibility issues. As a result, before purchasing technologies, request accessibility demos so that you may gain insight into the overall accessibility of the technologies.

  1. Consult and accessibility expert about the technologies

Often, the salespeople you interact with before purchasing a technology know very little about accessibility. Therefore, to be sure you are getting the right help before purchasing the technology, seek the help of an accessibility expert. That is because accessibility experts are not only full of knowledge about accessibility but can also help direct you to additional technologies to consider toward ensuring full accessibility is achieved.

  1. Strike an accessibility plan

Some accessibility challenges that you may encounter when utilizing technology may be difficult to bear at the time of purchasing. Keep this in mind as you negotiate any remediation or continuity plans with the vendor, particularly how the technology will be designed to accommodate evolving accessibility requirements in the future. 

Need help with ensuring the technologies you purchase are accessible?

We can help you examine the accessibility characteristics of the technology you intend to buy and negotiate a favorable accessibility plan. Give us a call at (626) 486-2201 or fill out this short contact form, and we’ll schedule a consultation. Our consultations are always complimentary!

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