It is important for all vendors that we work with to be willing to make a commitment to accessibility. Some products are more accessible than others, but very few products are totally accessible.
Come up with a list of concerns and questions and send them to the vendor ahead of time. You are opening a dialogue about your accessibility concerns; you can even ask them to demonstrate the accessibility of their product.
Sample Questions to Ask Vendors
Responses to the following questions can help reveal the depth and breadth of a vendor’s commitment to inclusive design and accessibility.
- Can users perform all functions without a mouse?
- Has the tool, product, or site been tested using assistive technologies?
- If so, which assistive technology tools were used in testing?
- What methods were used?
- What were the findings?
- Who did the testing?
- If the product supports video and/or audio, does it support captions?
- What other accessibility documentation is available?
- What are common accessibility-related issues with the products?
- What are your plans for improving accessibility and do you have a timeline?
You may also request an Accessibility Roadmap from the vendor. This will show the vendor that compliance is a priority.
Ideally your contract will include language specifying accessibility capabilities of a vendor product. The Big Ten Academic Alliance (BTAA) has created standardized accessibility license language. In 2019 the Orbis Cascade Alliance included accessibility in their access and platform expectations in the request for proposals from Ebook vendors.
Vetting Vendor Accessibility
It is important to have some knowledge about how to test their product—whether it’s a database, a publishing platform, or a tool. You don’t need to be an expert.
Some vendors disclose the accessibility status of their products using a (VPAT). “The Voluntary Product Accessibility Template (VPAT) is a document which evaluates how accessible a particular product is according to the Section 508 Standards. It is a self-disclosing document produced by the vendor which details each aspect of the Section 508 requirements and how the product supports each criteria.” See NC State’s IT Accessibility Handbook article Voluntary Product Accessibility Template (VPAT) on the topic, with a section on “the truth about VPATs.”
Why ask for a VPAT?
Some vendors may not be familiar with VPATs. This is an opportunity to clarify the importance of accessibility to your institution. You can ask the vendor questions about future accessibility goals, but let them know that without a VPAT indicating WCAG 2.0 or higher compliance, your institution may not be able to use their product.
Asking for a VPAT or an Accessibility Statement is just the beginning; just because they have either of these doesn’t mean the product is accessible. How to Read a VPAT
What are some VPAT Red Flags?
- A lot of “NA’s” or all “Supports”
- One VPAT for multiple products; each product should have its own report.
- The VPAT is more than a year old or has not been updated since the most recent product update.
- Lacking an evaluation methods used section, which was added by the Section 508 refresh.
- Ambiguous or problematic communications with vendors, such as an unwillingness to lay out a timeline in addressing accessibility concerns. An example:
“As it turns out, at this time we cannot commit to any specific work related to accessibility. However, our product team is aware of this and it is something that is on our radar.” – actual response from an unnamed vendor
Doing Your Own Tests
See the page Testing for Digital Accessibility for a list of resources for performing checks on internally-developed and vendor resources.
Selected Third-Party Tests
- Library Accessibility Alliance (formally BTAA and ASERL) have funded third-party accessibility evaluations for select vendor e-resources
- Library E-Resource Accessibility Testing – UW Libraries have started in-house accessibility evaluations of library resources. The testing is not as in depth as the Library Accessibility Alliance. So far it has been limited to keyboard navigation testing (phase 1 of a 3 phase plan).