When writing an RFP for ICT products and services, be sure to make accessibility a front-and-center requirement. By weaving accessibility requirements throughout the RFP, you’ll demonstrate to the vendor that you take it seriously and are truly invested in providing accessible products/services to your users.
And the first way to exhibit your commitment to accessibility? Make sure all of your solicitation documents are fully accessible themselves (see PEAT’s resources on making PDFs accessible). This is especially useful for attracting vendors that may employ people with disabilities who may not otherwise be able to access your solicitation.
To be effective in procurement practice, transform the technical language and concepts of the accessibility standards into actionable procurement language for the solicitations and reviews of performance. Luckily, a great deal of work has already been done to provide this kind of language. Check out the Buy ICT for All Portal, which features toolkits, training resources, and other supporting documents for understanding and implementing: (1) The EU Standard ‘EN 301 549’; (2) The US Federal Rule ‘Section 508’; and (3) The Web Accessibility Standard ‘WCAG’.
Throughout the RFP writing process, make sure you include all of the people involved in the purchase, implementation, and use of the product you are buying. These integrated project teams (IPTs) should establish a review process in which certain members are responsible for drafting content and then sending it to the next member for approval and comments. This will allow for continual feedback throughout the process and across the IPT.
Where to Address Accessibility in Your Solicitation
Putting accessibility requirements in the fine print of your solicitation is a common mistake. To ensure vendors make it a priority, you’ll want to address it throughout the RFP. Some common places to mention it include the following.
Tip: Check out the resource, Use Model Solicitation Language, for actual text you can put to use.
When offering introductory background on your company/organization and its mission, highlight your commitment to inclusion, universal design, and technology that is accessible and usable by all, including people with disabilities.
Within this section, mention your requirement that the product be fully accessible and standards-compliant, as well as your desire for accessibility testing and evaluation.
List accessibility in the requirements section of your RFP. PEAT suggests the following wording:
“[Your Company Name] is committed to using information and communications technology (ICT) that is accessible to everyone. All ICT we purchase must be accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities, consistent with applicable laws, including:
- Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act
- The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
- Section 255 of the Telecommunications Act
- The 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA)
The product or service should meet the functional and performance criteria specified in Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1 Level A and AA Success Criteria, for both administrators and end users [www.w3.org/WAI/intro/wcag.php]”
Unsurprisingly, this section of the solicitation is the place to go into the most detail. The best practice approach is to make “Accessibility” a dedicated sub-section within the “Requirements” section, with the following questions and/or instructions woven in:
- Is your product/service fully compliant with WCAG 2.2 AA and/or Section 508 functional performance criteria, for both administrators and end users? How was this determination made?
- Describe your accessibility conformance testing process.
- Who will cover the costs of remediating any necessary fixes after purchase?
- Provide a Voluntary Product Accessibility Template (VPAT) for your product.
- If your product is not fully accessible (as determined by the VPAT), do you have a roadmap to make your product fully compliant? If so, include your roadmap or fill out the following template (link to VPAT template).
- Maintenance Renewals: For an RFP for a maintenance renewal, include a requirement for an accessibility review of the product.
You should also require that the proposal itself be accessible, and consider indicating whether penalties will be applied if accessibility standards are not met. For instance, you can require remediation at the contractor’s expense if problems are identified.
All of these practices let vendors know you plan to inspect deliverables based on meeting accessibility requirements.
Request a VPAT/ACR
When it comes to accessibility, the most common form of information exchange between vendors and their customers is the Accessibility Conformance Report (ACR), which is generated using the Voluntary Product Accessibility Template (VPAT). An ACR provides a checklist of the Section 508 provisions, with spaces for the vendor to indicate how well the product complies, along with notes and comments. This simple document can serve as a foundation for a rich conversation with your vendor about their accessibility capabilities. For more information about this process, see Step 4: Evaluating Proposals & VPATs.
Of course, you should also ensure that the evaluation criteria outlined in your solicitation take accessibility into account. By establishing solid criteria up front, you’ll be positioned to objectively assess the maturity of each vendor’s accessibility program when conducting proposal evaluations.
Issue Your Solicitation
How and where to issue your RFP depends on whether you are in the public or private sector. Private industry is typically in a bigger rush to procure a solution and may only give an RFI or solicitation to known suppliers with a reputation in the field. A direct email to vendors is often sufficient. On the other hand, public sector agencies must share their RFIs and solicitations with all interested vendors, so they use public e-procurement websites like eBuy and FedBizOpps. The public sector’s need to spend taxpayer money wisely results in transparency and accountability in procurement. There are rare cases in which government agencies are not required to conduct a full and open bidding process, such as when only one qualified supplier exists, times of urgency, and national security.