The Section 508 Procurement Process: What You Need to Know
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What comes to mind when you hear the term “508 accessibility”? If what comes to your mind is “compliance,” then you are not alone.
Indeed, while compliance is both an important and legal requirement in the 508 accessibility space, when you hear about 508 accessibility, think about accessible information and communication technology (ICT) right from their universal design stage. This will enable you to shift your mindset toward buying ICT solutions that are accessible to everyone, including people with disabilities. This starts with the procurement process.
People responsible for procurement processes are usually responsible for defining and communicating the accessibility and usability needs of the required ICT product or service to the vendors.
This article explores what procurement process officers and those involved in Section 508 compliance testing for procurable ICT products or services need to know so as to ensure vendors provide the most accessible solutions by providing information on how to mainstream Section 508 into the procurement process from a universal design perspective.
What is “universal design” in the Section 508 procurement frameworks? Universal design is a concept denoting that products and services need to be designed for use by everyone, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for their adaptation or specialized design.
When using the “universal design” perspective to draw the Section 508 compliance checklist to guide your procurement process, the products or services you end up procuring tend to be more adaptive and easier to maintain. They also cost less over time because they eliminate the need to work on the inaccessible features.
To procure ICT solutions that are accessible to all users, it is imperative that an organization or business design an ICT strategy that addresses accessibility and usability in the procurement process. Such strategies ensure the inclusion of other actors in the products’ or services’ acquisition process in the accessibility and usability thinking prior to making the decision to procure the product or service.
Indeed, any experienced Section 508 compliance tester will tell you that if you involve different user communities early on in the process of acquiring an ICT product or service, you will gain a clearer understanding of the possible user needs and can account for such needs during the procurement process.
For an effective Section 508 procurement process, it is advisable that you add statements in your 508 compliance checklist and solicitations that outline the requirements of your entire user base to make accessibility functionality clear to vendors.
When you highlight the accessibility requirements you want an ICT product or service to have right at the procurement stage, you demonstrate that you prioritize accessibility and understand how it is an essential part of the customer experience journey.
Accordingly, procurement officials need to communicate a clear commitment to accessibility in their ICT and procurement strategies so as to set the 508 accessibility expectation as a best practice the entity has when it comes to purchasing decisions. This is based on the fact that if all the people involved in the procurement process as well as the ICT product or service user department understand the entity’s accessibility and usability needs, it becomes clearer and easier to search for products and services that meet the set standards. These needs are therefore incorporated from the onset of the procurement process and become part of the entity’s standard operating procedure for ICT procurements.
If you are involved in the Section 508 procurement process, you should know that a lot rests on your doorstep when it comes to the reputation your organization will attract regarding the accessibility of its ICT products or services. The market share of your ICT products and services also rests on your shoulders, just as delivering other benefits of 508 compliance does. To effectively discharge your 508 procurement responsibilities, you need to enhance your knowledge and skills in the following areas:
Effective Section 508 procurement processes require planning before buying ICT products and services. This involves spending more on research and setting procurement priorities. With the ever-evolving and rapid advancement in technology nowadays, it is important for procurement teams to research vendors to understand what their products and services offer.
Section 508 proactive procurement teams also request accessibility templates, such as the Voluntary Product Accessibility Template (VPAT), for the products or services offered. VPATs from vendors demonstrate how the vendors’ products or services meet the relevant Section 508 standards and accessibility guidelines.
For effective Section 508 procurement, care should be given to the definition of solicitations for the supply of ICT products and services. It is advisable that, when writing solicitations and procurement documents, you clearly define the accessibility and usability requirements that speak to your target audience.
A clear definition of the required accessibility and usability needs calls for a thorough conformity to the most updated Section 508 compliance checklist, preferably one that is used by leading Section 508 accessibility experts such as ADACP during their Section 508 compliance testing. Communicate the requirements in the checklist to vendors to ensure your organization or entity buys ICT solutions that are most accessible and usable for all users.
Once you are done with the solicitation, the most important part of the Section 508 procurement process is the evaluation of the vendors’ proposals and VPATs. When undertaking the evaluation, use the 508 compliance checklist you used to develop the solicitations so that you can assess how the vendors responded to each 508 compliance requirement.
After evaluating vendor proposals and VPATs, you should be prepared to negotiate contracts with the awarded vendors. The negotiation of contracts will certainly go hand-in-hand with Section 508 compliance testing of the desired products or services, as well as validation of what the vendors indicated in their proposals and VPATs.
Management of the performance of the contracts as well as the relationships will follow validation of the proposals and VPATs between your organization and the vendors. And don’t forget to review each Section 508 procurement process you engage in so that you can learn from it and improve on future processes.
It is easy to lose the accessibility pursuit at the procurement stage if procurement officials are not adequately supported to prioritize accessibility and usability in their procurement strategies. Some procurement teams may not be firmly knowledgeable in accessibility and usability issues, which calls for the need to support them in their Section 508 procurement process so that the ICT solutions they procure do not bring disrepute to the organization.
For assistance in Section 508 procurement processes, feel free to discuss with our ADACP 508 procurement team by calling (626) 486-2201 or scheduling a 508 procurement process consult.