Congrats! You have a job spending oodles of someone else’s money. But you’ve been told that you need to procure accessible technology. What exactly does that mean?
Never fear; Level Access is here with a crash course in accessible procurement.
What is Digital Accessibility?
Accessibility is the extent to which something is functionally usable by people with disabilities. In the physical world, for example, a building is accessible if it has a wheelchair ramp built to ADA specifications. In the digital world, technology is accessible if there are ways for people with disabilities to use it.
How Do People with Disabilities Access Technology?
If you’ve scrolled through Facebook on your phone, you’ve already used one means to provide access—captioning of video. Captions are vital for those who are deaf, hard of hearing, or who have difficulty processing spoken language.
A screen reader is a type of assistive technology (software) that reads screen content out loud and allows navigation by keyboard. This is how someone who is blind can use a computer, tablet, or smartphone. People with limited vision can use software to zoom in on parts of their screen or change colors to achieve higher contrast.
For people with limited mobility, there are several options: voice-to-text software (which has become pretty popular these days in the general market!), keyboard-only navigation, sip and puff devices, and switch control devices.
Why Do You Need to Worry About It?
We live in a super interconnected digital world and it totally sucks that there are people who can’t be a part of it just because they have a disability. They’re awesome people. Smart people. Funny people. (Probably a jerk or two.) But they deserve the same access to technology that everyone else has. Think of the late Stephen Hawking… what would our world have been like if he hadn’t been able to share his genius mind with us? Access to technology is what made that happen.
Also, providing accessible technology is kinda the law.
Which Laws Apply to My Organization?
- Federal Government: Section 508
- Government Contractors: Section 508
- State Government: ADA
- Banking: ADA
- Healthcare: ADA, Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act
- Telecom: CVAA
- Entertainment: CVAA
- Education: ADA
- Travel & Hospitality: ADA
- Retail: ADA
The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines lay out the minimum requirements to make content and controls accessible. If what you’re buying is a SaaS, then you want to know that it meets WCAG 2.0 AA requirements.
WCAG requires that information and operation be:
- Perceivable: Can be seen even if the user is blind.
- Operational: Can be clicked even if the user cannot use a mouse.
- Understandable: Can be understood even if the user has limited cognition.
- Robust: Can be rolled up to the latest, greatest hardware and not break.
(A little over-simplified, but this is a crash course!)
How Do I Know Whether a Product I Want to Buy is Accessible?
If life were perfect, there’d be an accessibility statement somewhere on the website of the product you were researching. Wouldn’t that be wonderful? Then you’d save yourself a phone call. Search for “accessibility” or “VPAT” or “508” just in case they’ve tucked it away somewhere. You never know.
If you can’t find answers on the company’s website, you’re going to have to do things the old-fashioned way. If you are purchasing by way of an RFP, we have a list of questions you can include. If not, when you call or email, you can ask those RFP questions to the sales representative.
How Do I Read VPATs and WCAG Support Statements?
Your organization should have a guide for “scoring” these, but if they don’t, we’d be happy to help you create one! The crash course answer, however, is that the more information you see on the statement, the better. It is extremely rare to find a product that supports everything across the board with no exceptions. You want to see that the vendor has been honest about reporting what isn’t totally accessible and what alternatives are available for that feature.
You Can Do This!
You’re totally ready to buy accessible technology. And if you’re not, we’ve got something else for you: an on-demand webinar – How to Buy Accessible Technology – with Elle Waters, our Vice President of Community and Global Development.