Vendor Responsibilities for Accessibility

Vendor Responsibilities for Accessibility

Headshot of Jay Wyant
Jay Wyant  |  01.17.20
Chief Information Accessibility Officer, State of Minnesota IT Services
IAAP Global Leadership Council

Government entities have an obligation to ensure that their digital systems and content are accessible to everyone. What value is a government service that is not usable by all of its constituents?  

Smart businesses are also recognizing that not being accessible limits their market reach. Not only do people with disabilities represent a significant chunk of buying power, but if a business proves to be inhospitable to people with disabilities, then family members and friends may also stop buying from that source. 

Governments and businesses already setting their own policies in this area tend to be more inclusive in their hiring practices, which means that all internal systems must also be accessible. 

Where do governments and businesses get their IT systems? While some it is internal, most of it is from vendors in private technology.   

And since government as an industry is one of the largest sources of IT procurement in the world, its practices impact both vendors and buyers in private industry. 

In short, organizations who want to provide accessible digital services are dependent on private industry for success. 

So what are the vendor’s responsibilities with respect to accessibility? 

Here is a brief checklist. There’s more, but this will get most vendors started down the path toward accessibility nirvana. 

Know your score 

Know exactly how your products and services support – and don’t support – accessibility. That means you know what you’re doing to incorporate accessibility into your processes – and that you are measuring the results. The W3C’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 is a good place to start. The EU and US Federal government (and most US states including Minnesota, where I work) require Level AA compliance. 

Be honest 

At the State of Minnesota, we preface our requests for completed Voluntary Product Accessibility Templates (VPATs) from vendors with the note: “We recommend that technical staff with training in accessibility complete your VPAT forms.” It is painfully obvious when we receive a completed VPAT (often termed an Accessibility Conformance Report, or ACR) that was completed by a salesperson unfamiliar with accessibility – and it happens all too often. 

When we compare ACRs from competing vendors, we will score the vendor who identifies their flaws – and plans for improvement – above those who claim perfection with little to no evidence. 

Create a policy 

Show your staff – and your vendors – that you care about accessibility. Create a policy that outlines your organization’s commitment to accessibility and put teeth in it by tying it to your organization’s metrics. 

Develop processes and procedures to support that policy 

Policies are a start. Next your organization’s leaders need to push for processes and procedures that help the organization fulfill the policy’s goals. 

Policy Driven Adoption for Accessibility (PDAA) provides a simple tracking tool to assess the maturity of the organization’s support for accessibility.  

Develop a roadmap 

So you know your score, and it isn’t pretty. What will your score be next year? Build a roadmap for improving the accessibility of your products and services – and stick to it. Your customers are looking for a relationship they can trust and one that will help them reliably fulfill their accessibility obligations.  

For example, we recently questioned whether to retain a statewide system because of serious accessibility defects. Once we made our concerns and potential actions clear, the vendor’s top leadership started attending weekly calls, developed a detailed roadmap, and started delivering on their promises, allowing them to keep the contract – as long as they adhered to the roadmap. 

Hire people with disabilities 

People with disabilities can offer real value to your organization. Successful people with disabilities are, by definition, innovators. They are continually solving problems that society puts in their way. You know that a diverse workforce improves your bottom line. That means pushing for diversity – including people with disabilities – at all levels of your organization. 

Following the steps outlined in this blog will start vendors on a journey where they examine everything they do through a different lens. Not only will it improve their attractiveness to government buyers, it also improves the quality of their products and services. 

About the Blogger

Jay Wyant Bio

Jay Wyant is Minnesota's first Chief Information Accessibility Officer, or CIAO! He leads the Office of Accessibility which works with Minnesota state agencies to develop policies and implement processes and best practices that helps ensure that digital government operations and services are accessible and usable for all. Jay is an active member of the IAAP Global Leadership Council (GLC) and Strategic Leader in Accessibility (SLiA) Taskforce. 

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