When your agency purchases information and communication technology (ICT), do you think about whether or not it’s accessible for people with disabilities? Did you know that, in addition to improving usability and providing a better customer experience, accessibility is a legal requirement for Federal agencies?
To ensure accessibility, follow the steps below when planning an acquisition involving ICT.
Determine Accessibility Requirements
All technology your agency buys, builds, maintains or uses, including software, hardware, electronic content, and support documentation and services, must conform to the Revised 508 Standards. These standards contain scoping and technical requirements to help your agency ensure ICT is accessible and usable by individuals with disabilities.
To begin, you must determine accessibility requirements and, if applicable, any exceptions to the standards. The tools below can help you conduct either a manual or automated review to make this determination.
Option 1 - Manual
- Follow this step-by-step guidance on how to Determine 508 Standards and Exceptions and complete the Standards Applicability Checklist. Use the 508 Standards and Exceptions Chart & Examples template to clearly communicate which standards and exceptions apply to each item in a solicitation that contains ICT.
Option 2 - Automated
- Use the Accessibility Requirements Tool (ART), which automates the Standards Applicability Checklist and generates customized solicitation language. ART also contains downloadable pre-determined accessibility requirements and solicitation language for over 40 standard ICT procurement categories.
Conduct Market Research
As you develop your accessibility requirements (especially when purchasing commercial or government off-the-shelf (COTS/GOTS) products), conduct market research to determine if solutions exist that include the accessibility features and functionality you need, as defined in your accessibility requirements.
- Determine your business need; what functionality do you require?
- Conduct market research to find possible solutions that could meet your business need. Sources to consider:
- Do a web search
- Ask colleagues at your agency, or within relevant communities of practice
- Visit the Acquisition Gateway (login with your OMB MAX ID) and use the Solutions Finder
- Visit GSA's e-Tools for Purchasing Officers
- Review any existing Accessibility Conformance Reports or product VPATs™
- Ask your agency contracting office for help.
- Try to find at least two possible solutions.
- Document your research, to compare solutions and find one that is the best fit. Include (at a minimum) vendor name, version, and model number, and describe how the solution will meet (or not) your business need.
- Document your justification for the solution you select, and explain why other possible solutions were not chosen.
A note about exceptions:
- If there are technically acceptable solutions available in the marketplace, you need to select one of those solutions. You cannot choose a different solution and claim an exception (e.g., "best meets" or "undue burden").
- If your market research does not uncover any technically acceptable options, you can claim exceptions and select a different solution, but you'll need to provide documentation of your market research as justification.
Develop Solicitation Language
Include language in your contract/solicitation that defines all accessibility provisions, clauses, and acceptance criteria.
- Define Accessibility Criteria in Contracts - Review sample language that you can use to properly document provisions, clauses, and acceptance criteria when preparing solicitations, statements of work, or other procurement documents. Include these accessibility requirements in your solicitation.
- Request Accessibility Information From Vendors and Contractors - Clearly communicate accessibility requirements and contract criteria to vendors, so they can provide the information you need to perform a 508 technical evaluation.
- Request an Accessibility Conformance Report (ACR) for each ICT item that is to be developed, updated, configured for the agency, and when product substitutions are offered. The ACR should be based on the latest version of the Voluntary Product Accessibility Template™ (VPAT) provided by the Industry Technology Industry Council (ITIC).
- Refer vendors to https://section508.gov/sell for guidance on ACRs and VPATs™
After you issue the solicitation, you’ll receive proposals from vendors. Evaluate each proposal to validate vendor claims against your stated accessibility requirements.
Trust but verify; before awarding a contract or deploying custom-developed deliverables, conduct accessibility testing to validate that technology products and services are fully accessible.
- Review the Accessibility Conformance Report (ACR) and/or product Voluntary Product Accessibility Template™ (VPAT) to determine how well the product conforms to the Revised 508 Standards. Vendors often post this information on their website, typically on their accessibility or product description page.
- Test for Accessibility - Learn how to test documents, websites, and other electronic content for accessibility.
Validate Contractor Compliance
ICT must remain accessible throughout the contract period of performance, so as products and software are updated/modified, you should re-test each new version and/or product against the terms and conditions originally established in the contract.
Understand Legal Requirements
Conformance to the Revised 508 Standards is mandatory for Executive Branch Federal agencies, including the US Postal Service, subject to Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended (29 U.S.C. 794d).
Section E202.7 Best Meets of the Revised 508 Standards states, in essence, that if you can’t find an accessible commercial solution, your agency should procure the ICT that best meets the standards consistent with your business needs. In other words, if there are acceptable solutions that meet your agency’s business needs, and fully conform to the Revised 508 Standards, you must purchase one of these fully conforming products.
If no technically acceptable alternative fully conforms to the Revised 508 Standards, select the alternative that best meets the standards when making an award, and request a “best meets” exception. Where product features or components are not fully accessible, the agency is required to make available, upon request, an alternative means of accessing the information or functions supported by the ICT.
- Micro-Purchases and Section 508 Requirements - How to make accessible micro-purchases; covers how accessibility requirements apply to micro-purchases of hardware, software, and other ICT.
- Procuring Section 508 Conformant ICT Products and Services - Basic overview of the Federal acquisition process as it relates to procuring accessible ICT.
- Requiring Business Partners to Provide Accessible Documents - Guidance to ensure business partners produce accessible content.
- Accessibility for Teams - Embed accessibility and inclusive design practices in your team's workflow.
- U.S. Web Design System - A design system to quickly prototype and deploy accessible digital products.
- Market Research - Definition of market research, with an explanation of how to conduct generic market research.