For Government Agencies and Vendors
Accessibility and Government Procurement
Electronic information technology products and services sold to many government agencies must be accessible. That is, they must be usable, navigable, and perceivable by people with disabilities. This holds true for federal agencies through Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act and many state and local policies. The challenge of procuring technology that works for people who have vision, hearing, mobility, or cognitive challenges can seem a daunting task for both the public-sector organizations receiving goods and services and the private-sector businesses that provide them, particularly for those without accessibility experts on staff.
Voluntary Product Accessibility Templates (VPATs)
One area that receives frequent mention is the varying degree of accuracy across vendor-provided Voluntary Product Accessibility Templates (VPATs). A VPAT (pronounced “Vee-pat”) is a document used by federal and state governments and institutions of higher education to gauge the accessibility of hardware, software, or online products and services during a procurement process. For the VPAT to be effective, it must be completed accurately and objectively by the vendor. To do that, the vendor must be knowledgeable about accessibility standards and how they affect visual, auditory, mobility, and cognitive disabilities. The VPAT must also be interpreted against those same standards by the government procurement team. Without accessibility knowledge on both ends of the transaction, both vendors and agencies are at risk of entering into contracts for less-than-accessible products and services, violating government-mandated accessibility requirements.
Microassist has been a government-contracted vendor for more than 20 years providing accessible IT services, including elearning development, website development, and application development. This experience can ensure that your organization is gauging accessibility compliance accurately, no matter which side of the VPAT you’re on.
Vendors: Lower Risk with Solid Documentation
An incomplete or inaccurate VPAT can put you at contractual risk. VPATs rely on you to self-evaluate and report levels of accessibility compliance. Because VPATs are provided as part of an official federal, state, or local government procurement contract, they represent your official claim regarding the accessibility of your products and services. To lower that risk, you can engage Microassist to help you evaluate and accurately document your products and services. As a government-contracted IT services provider with a staff that is well-versed in accessibility implementation across a wealth of technical environments, we can give you an accurate assessment of your offering. We can also help you produce the documentation agencies require as part of the procurement process.
Agencies: Be Confident that Procured Technology is as Accessible as Reported
Your procurement evaluation depends on complete, accurate, and understandable information. Relatively few technology companies have accessibility experts on hand to test the accessibility of their products or services or to complete the VPAT they submit. The VPAT, while a valuable tool, is a provider’s self-evaluation of a product’s level of compliance. On the one hand, accessibility reporting can be vague because of a lack of vendor understanding of accessibility and disabilities. On the other, the true status of how accessible a product or service is can get lost in technical descriptions. Sometimes, both dynamics are at work. This can make it difficult for your team to fully understand the true accessibility levels of the items being procured. As an IT provider with a staff that is well-versed in accessibility implementation across technical environments, we can help you interpret the vendor’s response to ensure that the content is rigorous, accurate, and informative.
Contact Us for Assistance with Your IT Procurement
Reach out to us to discuss your procurement project and see how we can help.