Before issuing a solicitation—such as a Sources Sought, Request for Information (RFI), Request for Quotation (RFQ), or Request for Proposal (RFP)—it is crucial to determine whether the marketplace already houses accessible versions of the products you want to buy. This means researching relevant technology vendors to determine which ones have a good accessibility track record and/or are willing to learn and work with you to develop a product that meets your accessibility requirements.
Experience with accessibility varies widely, so you might find that a given technology provider knows a lot about accessibility—or just a little. It’s not always a bad thing if you know less than your vendor because they can often teach you a great deal about accessibility. On the other hand, some inexperienced vendors may pretend to understand accessibility in order to secure new business. General best practices for researching vendors include the following:
- Host or attend an industry day that allows you to meet with representatives from the vendor in-person.
- Ask to see the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) conformance statements for their corporate website, relevant products, and other websites they've developed. If they don’t have any, that’s a warning sign.
- Determine whether you’re communicating with the company that produces the technology item. Are you talking to the original equipment manufacturer (OEM), or are you doing business with a company further along in the value chain, such as a value-added re-seller (VAR) or system integrator? The distinction is important, as VARs are companies that take an original product and modify it or package it with others so that it fits your environment. They can sometimes have less accessibility expertise, relying on the product manufacturer’s support. If this is your situation, you should do everything possible to strengthen the relationship between your vendor and the OEM, while seeking direct information yourself.
Technology procurements fall into two categories: commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) products, such as computers and standard software, and custom products and services developed for your organization, such as a website, custom software, or apps. Below are some best practices when investigating both.
Best Practices When Researching Commercial Off-the-Shelf (COTS) Product Vendors
Sources of information about the accessibility of COTS products include:
- Vendor (or Product) Websites. Some companies provide extensive accessibility-related information about their products in one central place on their websites. Others index such information by product. Some publish their Accessibility Conformance Reports (ACRs) directly on their website, while others will furnish one to you upon request. Another approach some companies take is instead of having a dedicated “accessibility” section of their website, they instead talk about usability, customer experience, and universal design throughout their marketing and service offerings materials. This is a sign that they are dedicated to the principles underlying accessibility.
- BuyAccessible.gov. This resource from the U.S. General Services Administration is highly useful for everyone, not just federal employees. Tools on this website include Quick Links organized by product category, a Vendor Accessibility Resource Center, and the BuyAccessible Wizard, which provides information about ICT and Section 508 compliance based on requirements you enter.
- Search Engines. A simple web search of the product name or category, along with "accessibility," "VPAT," and/or "Section 508" will often turn up useful results, including consumer comments, assistive technology compatibility remarks, public presentations the company has made, and lawsuits or complaints.
- Specialized Databases. The Global Accessibility Reporting Initiative (GARI) provides a complete database of accessible mobile devices, and the FCC's Accessibility Clearinghouse provides information related to accessible telecommunications.
Best Practices When Researching Custom Products and Services Vendors
Look for the following on the developer's website, as well as on sites such as LinkedIn:
- Any mention of accessibility can be a good sign, including general comments, company blog posts, client references, and a formal Accessibility Statement (often combined with usability).
- A list of staff background and skills that includes accessibility training or other expertise.
- Signs of participation in the accessibility community, as well as disability advocacy organizations. This might include:
- Contributions to standards bodies such as the Web Accessibility Initiative of W3C and/or involvement in membership organizations such as the International Association of Accessibility Professionals (IAAP) and events such as Accessibility Camp.
- Conference presentations at accessibility-focused events, such as the International Conference on Assistive Technology (CSUN), the M-Enabling Summit, and Accessing Higher Ground.
- GitHub profiles that mention accessibility projects.
- Anything that indicates the vendor team has experience in universal design and human-centered design.
- Participation in hackathons or other events that encourage participants to think critically about solving accessibility issues.
- A social media presence that mentions accessibility. Tip: on the web, the term “accessibility” is often shortened to “A11y”, and the #A11y hashtag is popular.
- Check their website or web product yourself using an automated tool such as aXe or WAVE. These tools don’t require any technical experience to use and give a good preliminary sense of whether the vendor makes accessibility a priority.