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Governmentwide Findings: Acquisition and Procurement

Including ICT accessibility requirements during procurement and ensuring that vendors are adhering to ICT contract requirements helps the government comply with Section 508 requirements for the ICT that it buys, builds, maintains or uses. In general, respondents reported they are deficient in ensuring Section 508 compliance is included during the Acquisition phase.

Of the 231 reporting entities who release solicitations, the majority of respondents who release solicitations (169 reporting entities or 73%) said ICT accessibility requirements are regularly, frequently, or almost always included in solicitations, with the remaining 25% of reporting entities noting ad hoc or no inclusion of ICT accessibility requirements.25 However, of the 241 reporting entities who award contracts, the majority of respondents (127 reporting entities or 53%) said they are inconsistent in verifying Section 508 conformance, often doing so on an ad hoc basis or not at all.26 Figure 21 depicts the full breakdown, with only 39 reporting entities (16%) almost always verifying contract deliverables prior to acceptance. Additionally, 140 reporting entities (63%) indicated their quality assurance activities do not or only sometimes include actions to address vendors and contractors who produce or deliver non-conformant ICT despite agreed-to contractual requirements to conform to Section 508 standards.27 This indicates a significant gap in ensuring Section 508 compliance of contract deliverables prior to acceptance despite the deliverables requiring Section 508 conformance.

A bar graph shows the count of responses according to approach to verifying contract deliverables that are required to be Section 508 conformant (Q55): 28 respondents selected "no method is implemented for verifying contract deliverables"; 99 selected "contract deliverables are only sometimes verified"; 54 selected "contract deliverables are regularly verified"; 21 selected "contract deliverables are frequently verified"; 39 selected "contract deliverables are almost always verified"; and 8 selected "N/A - does not award contracts".
Figure 21. Response count of approaches to verifying contract deliverables that are required to be Section 508 conformant (Q55)

Additionally, reporting entities include users with disabilities at varying levels within acquisition or development of ICT, including consulting and inclusion of the needs of individuals during the assessment or planning process. Respondents selected all that applied with regards to how each reporting entity consults with users with disabilities in acquisition or development of ICT. The responses were (also see Figure 22):

  • 163 respondents (41%) selected Ad hoc/informal.

  • 39 respondents (10%) selected disabilities are included in customer and user personas.

  • 38 respondents (10%) selected individuals with disabilities are consulted when defining customer and user needs.

  • 30 respondents (8%) selected individuals with disabilities are consulted in development of Section 508 conformance validation testing processes.

  • 31 respondents (8%)selected individuals with disabilities are directly involved in Section 508 conformance validation testing.

  • 31 respondents (8%) selected individuals with disabilities are directly involved in user acceptance testing.

  • 41 respondents (10%) selected none.

  • 23 respondents (6%) selected other.

A donut chart shows percentage of responses indicating ways in which users with disabilities are included in acquisition and development of ICT were: 40% of respondents selected "Ad hoc/informal"; 10% selected "disabilities are included in customer/user personas"; 10% selected "individuals with disabilities are consulted when defining customer/user needs"; 8% selected "individuals with disabilities are consulted in development of Section 508 conformance validation testing processes"; 8% selected "individuals with disabilities are directly involved in Section 508 conformance validation testing"; 8% selected "individuals with disabilities are directly involved in user acceptance testing;" 10% selected "none"; and 6% selected "other".
Figure 22. Percentages of responses indicating ways in which users with disabilities are included in acquisition and development of ICT (Q6)

When asked to indicate how the needs of individuals with disabilities are included during assessment of ICT-related business needs or equivalent acquisition planning process within reporting entities, the responses showed (see also Figure 23 below):

  • 32 respondents (13%) selected the needs of individuals with disabilities are not deliberately considered when determining business needs in ICT acquisitions.

  • 110 respondents (44%) selected business needs sometimes consider and include needs of individuals with disabilities but generally on an ad hoc basis (some consideration for user needs, some determination of applicable Section 508 standards, some determination of exception or exemption).

  • 42 respondents (17%) selected the needs of individuals with disabilities are deliberately defined as part of the business needs assessment, or equivalent, and are regularly considered and included in ICT acquisitions.

  • 25 respondents (10%) selected the needs of individuals with disabilities are deliberately defined as part of the business needs assessment, or equivalent, and are frequently considered and included.

  • 25 respondents (10%) selected the needs of individuals with disabilities are integrated into business needs processes, or equivalent, almost always included, and feedback loops are established for continuous refinement.

  • 15 respondents (6%) selected N/A - does not generate business needs or participate in acquisition planning processes or equivalent.

A bar graph shows the percentage of responses for inclusion of PWD during the assessment of ICT-related business needs or equivalent acquisition planning processes (Q56): 13% of respondents selected "the needs of individuals with disabilities are not deliberately considered when determining business needs in ICT acquisitions"; 44% selected "business needs sometimes consider/include needs of individuals with disabilities but generally on an ad hoc basis (some consideration for user needs, some determination of applicable Section 508 standards, some determination of exception/exemption)"; 17% selected "the needs of individuals with disabilities are deliberately defined as part of the business needs assessment, or equivalent, and are regularly considered/included in ICT acquisitions"; 10% selected "the needs of individuals with disabilities are deliberately defined as part of the business needs assessment, or equivalent, and are frequently considered/included"; 10% selected "the needs of individuals with disabilities are integrated into business needs processes, or equivalent, almost always included, and feedback loops are established for  continuous refinement"; and 6% selected "N/A - does not generate business needs or participate in acquisition planning processes or equivalent".
Figure 23. Percentage of responses for inclusion of PWD during the assessment of ICT-related business needs or equivalent acquisition planning process (Q56)

Additional Acquisitions and Procurement highlights include:

  • With respect to how reporting entities that award contracts address Section 508 in the technical evaluation of proposals related to ICT services and products, 127 reporting entities (54%)28 reported Section 508 conformance is only sometimes - generally ad hoc - or never included.

  • Only 26 reporting entities (11% of reporting entities who procure ICT products29) reported that sufficient Section 508 conformance information is almost always obtained for all products, a formal review is almost always used to select the most Section 508 conformant ICT that meets business needs, and market research outputs and processes are regularly reviewed for improvement. 50% of reporting entities who procure ICT products reported Section 508 conformance is sometimes or never included in market research.

  • Of reporting entities engaged in ICT acquisitions, 157 respondents (69%) reported they sometimes or never identify and prioritize risk of Section 508 non-conformant ICT throughout the acquisition lifecycle.30

  • Of the reporting entities that release solicitations, 53% (109 reporting entities) said they did not know what percentage of the last 10 solicitations released within the reporting period to procure ICT and services to produce ICT included all applicable Section 508 requirements. 31 This could have been due to lack of insight into the acquisition side of the reporting entity, lack of awareness as to where to find the necessary documentation, lack of resources, or other reasons. But this largely suggests that reporting entities’ processes to include ICT accessibility requirements in their solicitations are not being put into practice effectively. Of the 97 reporting entities that reported knowing the percentage, 72 reporting entities reported between 81%-100% of their solicitations included all applicable Section 508 requirements, with an overwhelming majority reporting 100% conformance (66 reporting entities).

Exceptions

Three Section 508 exceptions require documentation, including a plan to ensure individuals with disabilities can access and use ICT by an alternative means that meets their needs: Fundamental Alteration [36 CFR 1194 E202.6], Undue Burden [36 CFR 1194 E202.6], and Best Meets [36 CFR 1194 E202.7]. GSA asked reporting entities the total number of each of these authorized exceptions within the reporting period. The results showed a lack of internal policies, processes and procedures which resulted in roughly 40% of reporting entities who did not know the number of authorized exceptions approved during the reporting period. Specifically:

  • 102 reporting entities (41%) did not know how many Fundamental Alteration exceptions were authorized. Of the 147 reporting entities who knew the number authorized, they reported an average of 19 Fundamental Alteration exceptions. The reported authorized exceptions ranged from 0 to 2,674, with the highest reported number heavily skewing the average.

  • 96 reporting entities (39%) didn’t know how many Undue Burden exceptions were authorized. Of the 153 reporting entities who knew the number of these exceptions that were authorized, they reported an average of 0.13 Undue Burden authorizations per respondent. The reported authorized exceptions ranged from 0 to 8.

  • 103 reporting entities (41%) did not know how many Best Meets exceptions were authorized. Of the 146 reporting entities who knew the number authorized, the average of Best Meets was 19 exceptions per respondent. The reported authorized exceptions ranged from 0 to 1,000, with the highest reported numbers heavily skewing the average.

Given that a large percentage of commercially available ICT does not fully conform to Section 508 but is still regularly procured, we anticipate Best Meets authorizations are used frequently in procurement. However, we do not have enough data to know if exceptions are accurately authorized or if the current data suggests an underreporting or underutilization of exceptions. Data shows that approximately 40% of all respondents did not know the number of exceptions authorized in the reporting period, which predominantly highlights a lack of tracking. More tailored recommendations require additional information for reporting entities to improve exceptions authorizations and documentation.

Conclusion

While some reporting entities have successfully included Section 508 into acquisitions, the data suggests a lack of consistency in ensuring sufficient Section 508 language is included in solicitations. Accessibility is not prioritized as a technical evaluation factor, and contractors are not held accountable for delivering Section 508 conformant ICT before acceptance. This may open up reporting entities to unnecessary risk in the solicitation and acquisition process and prevent users with disabilities from using ICT. Additional oversight in acquisitions will likely have downstream implications for ensuring proper procurement and implementation of conformant ICT. Users with disabilities are not frequently consulted in the acquisition or development process and informally or never deliberately included during the assessment of ICT-related business needs or equivalent acquisition planning processes. Lastly, the lack of internal policies, processes and procedures led to a large number of reporting entities who did not know the number of authorized exceptions.


  1. Eighteen (18) reporting entities reported they do not release solicitations.
  2. Eight (8) reporting entities reported they do not award contracts.
  3. Twenty-seven (27) reporting entities reported they did not rely on contractor or vendor support for ICT and were removed from the percentage calculation.
  4. Thirteen (13) reporting entities reported they do not award contracts.
  5. Nineteen (19) reporting entities reported they did or did not procure ICT products.
  6. Twenty-three (23) reporting entities reported they are not engaged in ICT acquisitions.
  7. Forty-three (43) reporting entities reported they did not release ICT solicitations and were removed from the percentage calculation.

Reviewed/Updated: December 2023

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