Your company’s digital accessibility plans extend beyond your web team and your company’s external-facing website. Tools and widgets that integrate with your sites, third-party portals for career sites or investor relations, and even your internal software tools all need to be digitally accessible, too. Online accessibility means creating a barrier-free user flow for your visitors. If they encounter a blocker on your site, even if it’s stemming from a feature coded by someone else, you can be on the hook legally. When it comes to third-party integrations and legal compliance, ask yourself: does my offering rely on this integration? The key word is “rely.” If it does, and that integration isn’t accessible, you’re increasing your risk of a lawsuit. However, regardless of whether your offering relies on it, you’ve now undermined your own digital accessibility work. In this post, we talk about how to establish a vendor accessibility policy to preserve your company’s digital accessibility plans and reduce your legal risk of non-compliance. For more, watch our on-demand webinar: The Hidden Dangers of SaaS: ADA Compliance

Understand integration types:

First, let’s level-set on the types of product integrations you may be considering or have already contracted. Any integration impacting your experience must be accessible, meaning it meets the requirements of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). This includes software, platforms, feed embeds (social, financial, news), frameworks (websites, web apps, mobile apps), and more.

Request a VPAT:

When you’re considering contracting with a third-party digital product vendor, the next step is to request from them a Voluntary Product Accessibility Template or VPAT®. A VPAT is a document template created by the Information Technology Industry Council (ITI) that, when completed, details a product’s level of conformance with digital accessibility standards. It’s not a pass/fail document, but provides greater insight, enabling you to have a more purposeful discussion during the procurement process.

Establish a policy:

Protecting your accessibility begins with establishing a vendor accessibility policy. Such a document is a proactive way to communicate your requirements to your potential vendors. It also helps you evaluate the capabilities of each vendor, and remove from consideration any who aren’t accessible. While there’s no one way to draft a policy, there are key considerations.

Policy considerations:

  • Ensure those drafting your vendor accessibility policy have a foundational understanding of relevant WCAG accessibility standards and regulations like the ADA, Section 508 and others.
  • Align your vendor accessibility policy with your organization’s overall digital accessibility plans or policy. Alternatively, you may want to include vendor-specific requirements as a subsection of your overarching policy if you’re rarely involved in procurement.
  • List the absolute requirements you expect from a vendor. For example, training, WCAG conformance level, whether they have a recent VPAT, etc. Requirements should be clearly defined as part of a contractual agreement. When defining your requirements, also ensure a way in which you can measure deliverables.
  • Include any preferences that may not be required but are recommended. For example, WCAG 2.0 AA conformance may be acceptable, although conformance with the latest WCAG standards is preferred.
  • Include details about your procurement process: For example, how will you score or evaluate a vendor?
  • Clearly define the terms used throughout the document for universal understanding.
  • Establish clear dates and deadlines for deliverables as well as a documented reporting structure.
  • Articulate how you will enforce your policy.

When created, distribute your policy to every potential vendor. This exercise will point out areas you may want to amend or revise. You can learn and improve on your policy as you go. This process also requires some amount of flexibility. As you’re evaluating your short list of vendors, it’s important to be realistic about your budget and your needs, but you should make accessibility a foundational consideration. Once you’ve contracted with a vendor, put in place requirements and processes to ensure you get an acceptable product or service in return. What a vendor may promise in the evaluation process must align with what they ultimately deliver. If you have already integrated an inaccessible product, share your new policy with your current vendors. Making your preferences and requirements clear will help them as they create a roadmap for accessibility improvements. It’s also a good idea to make renewals contingent upon maintained accessibility.

Help getting started:

Whether your company needs to create a vendor accessibility policy, or you’re a vendor that needs an evaluation of your product as part of an RFP (the creation of a VPAT), Level Access can help. Our comprehensive solution will arm you with the tools, technology and training to develop sound policies, and make your products and overall experience accessible. Get started by scheduling a consultation with our team today.