Guidelines for Procuring Accessible Technology
To ensure the accessibility of instructional material and technology used by USM institutions, those responsible for making decisions about which products to procure should consider accessibility as one criterion for acquisition. This is particularly important for enterprise-level systems or technologies that impact a large number of students, faculty and staff. To consider accessibility in procurement, those making procurement decisions at USM institutions should ask vendors to provide information about the accessibility of their products that is valid and measured using a method that is reliable and objective (e.g., WCAG 2.0 AA). Those making procurement decisions should be able to objectively evaluate the accessibility of products and to scrutinize information provided by vendors.
USM Procurement officers and others should be aware of the COMAR 21.05.08.05 Nonvisual Access Clause, with which USM procurement policy must be consistent:
A. Except as provided in §B of this regulation, the following clause is a mandatory provision for each invitation for bid under COMAR 21.05.02 or request for proposals under COMAR 21.05.03 for the purchase of new or upgraded information technology:
"The bidder or offeror warrants that the information technology offered under this bid or proposal (1) provides equivalent access for effective use by both visual and nonvisual means; (2) will present information, including prompts used for interactive communications, in formats intended for both visual and nonvisual use; (3) if intended for use in a network, can be integrated into networks for obtaining, retrieving, and disseminating information used by individuals who are not blind or visually impaired; and (4) is available, whenever possible, without modification for compatibility with software and hardware for nonvisual access. The bidder or offeror further warrants that the cost, if any, of modifying the information technology for compatibility with software and hardware used for nonvisual access will not increase the cost of the information technology by more than 5 percent.
"For purposes of this regulation, the phrase 'equivalent access' means the ability to receive, use, and manipulate information and operate controls necessary to access and use information technology by nonvisual means. Examples of equivalent access include keyboard controls used for input and synthesized speech, Braille, or other audible or tactile means used for output."
B. The nonvisual access clause is not required if the procurement officer makes a determination that:
(1) The information technology is not available with nonvisual access because the essential elements of the information technology are visual and nonvisual equivalence cannot be developed; or
(2) The cost of modifying the information technology for compatibility with software and hardware used for nonvisual access would increase the cost of the procurement by more than 5 percent.
C. The procurement officer may request such documentation as is reasonably necessary to implement this regulation.
When procuring information technology, USM institutions should acquire products that comply with applicable WCAG 2.0 AA provisions when such products are available in the commercial marketplace. Each USM institution should establish a commitment to make accessibility a significant factor in procurement. When a product that best matches campus needs does not meet the requirements, the company should be provided with an option to commit to adding the missing features within two years of the university’s procuring the product. It is recommended that campus procurement directors discuss among themselves ways to motivate vendors to adhere to accessibility standards within the two-year window.
It is recommended that all future media resources purchased at each USM institution should include captions. If it is determined that no captioned version exists, a plan should be made to caption the material, as needed. If the media cannot be captioned, an alternate accessible version, such as a transcript should be provided.
USM institutions should use the Voluntary Product Accessibility Template (VPAT) as a tool to assess a product’s compliance with the accessibility standards. The purpose of the VPAT is to assist technology buyers in making decisions regarding the accessibility of commercial products. Vendors are responsible for documenting the accessibility of their products.
In addition to using the VPAT, those responsible for making procurement decisions at USM institutions should ask vendors specific questions about the product or service. These questions could be formatted into a matrix with scores to help technology buyers determine a product’s overall suitability, such as:
- Has the product been tested by disability users? If so, what disability groups?
- What are the accessibility criteria used for testing the product? Do they meet WCAG 2.0 AA standards?
- Who will maintain the product for compliance?
- What is the system used to report and address accessibility problems to the company? What is the company’s timeframe to review these reports and make changes to fix the reported accessibility problem?
- Are there other companies/agencies who have procured this same product, and can they be used as a reference?
- If the product is software, does it require a mouse? If the answer is no, the vendor could be asked to detach the mouse and demonstrate using only the keyboard.
Adopt a procurement statement consistent with that of COMAR 21.05.08.05 that demonstrates a commitment to procuring accessible technology, such as:
“Under State law, procured information technology and information technology services must: (1) provide equivalent access for effective use by both visual and nonvisual means; (2) present information in formats intended for both visual and nonvisual use; (3) if intended for use in a network, have the ability to be integrated into networks for obtaining, retrieving, and disseminating information used by individuals who are not blind or visually impaired; and (4) be obtained, whenever possible, without modification for compatibility with software and hardware for nonvisual access. The USM is committed to developing and procuring web-based technologies that meet the WCAG 2.0 AA standard. When accessibility is unavailable in a product, the USM institution will work with the vendor to establish a public commitment to accessibility at the WCAG 2.0 AA level by a date within two years of the notification. If the company will not commit to adhering in that window, the USM institution will consider the next possible product that achieves the standard or commits to it on a public roadmap within two years.”
At each institution, IT operating funds should be allocated to allow for the potentially higher cost of accessible products that meet this higher standard.