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Accessibility

Accessibility Resources for Purchasing Professionals

Purchasing with Section 508

Section 508, an amendment to the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, requires Federal agencies to make their electronic and information technology accessible to people with disabilities (Section508.gov).

This law applies to the procurement of Electronic and Information Technology (EIT). As a public institution, we are obligated to include accessibility as a major consideration when choosing which electronic systems to purchase.

Considering accessibility during purchasing decisions instead of afterwards makes it much easier to accommodate individuals with disabilities consistently. When accessibility is only a secondary consideration, accommodations have to be provided on a case-by-case basis, which is an inefficient use of resources.

EIT Accessibility Standards

The Access Board provides a set of guidelines for what to look for when evaluating the accessibility of EIT. These guidelines help determine what is reasonable for an institution to expect from vendors.

VPAT

All of this information can be overwhelming, but it becomes easier if a vendor is able to provide a VPAT on their product.

VPAT is a Voluntary Product Accessibility Template broken down by categories of Section 508 standards. Vendors use this to tell you where their product stands in regard to accessibility standards and compliance with Section 508. When you are making a purchasing decision, ask if the vendor has a VPAT. Often they are readily available on the vendor's website.

Some of the vendors we currently use at SLCC have VPATs here:

Simply having a VPAT does not guarantee full accessibility of the product. What it does is tell you what the strengths or weaknesses of the product are so you can make an informed decision.

Beyond VPAT

A VPAT does not provide a complete picture of the accessibility of a product. Some vendors provide a VPAT without really understanding what they are claiming about their product.

Warning Signs

  • Look out for VPATs that claim perfection. The more reliable VPATs acknowledge areas of concern and detail areas that they are improving or have a plan to improve.
  • Does the vendor have a VPAT readily available when you ask for it, or does it seem like they had to create one especially for you? If it took a while to get the VPAT from the vendor, it could be a sign that accessibility has not been an active concern of theirs.

Try Before You Buy

When VPATs only take you so far, it is important to supplement that information with real life testing. Request a trial version of the product that can be tested in-house for a period before purchasing.

[resources needed: for testing products with Assistive Technology used by those with disabilities]

Accessibility in the Contract

When agreeing to a contract with a vendor, include language about accessibility in the contract that requires them to address accessibility problems that are encountered after purchasing their product. This way, any issues that are not discovered during testing have a hope of being dealt with by the vendor when they arise.

VPAT Tools

There are several sites that help to sort through the information about common vendors used by federal agencies. These can save a lot of time, as the work has already been done.

  • BuyAccessible Wizard- an online resource provided by the Section 508 website to help find accessible vendors.
  • GovPlace.com - another website that provides links to VPAT forms for many large companies.

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