Procurement is one of the most important stages to include accessibility. As public sector organisations we all work with suppliers to help us deliver our services. Many are just as new to the regulations as we all are and so we need to work together and be clear on requirements so we can all benefit.
One of the key first steps to improving your organisation’s accessibility is to make a change to your procurement process so that all future digital systems you buy have accessibility built in and assessed, as well as having the requirements clearly documented in a contract. This ensures that you are not “buying in to problems” with accessibility and ensures that we are reinforcing a business incentive for inclusive design with suppliers to the public sector.
When writing tenders you will want to ask for evidence of accessibility testing. You could use the information in this article to help structure your accessibility tender information.
Good questions for suppliers
- Do you have an up to date accessibility statement relating to the platform? See third party content section (link). Is this linked to in searchBOX?
- Describe your Accessibility testing process?
- What is your release schedule for future accessibility features?
- Are you compliant with WCAG 2.1 AA and do you have the documentation to support this?
- If you are not compliant, are you aware of the accessibility issues you have and what is your roadmap to fixing them?
- Have you considered not only the accessibility of your front facing product but the accessibility of the back end UI that staff will use?
- Has any testing of this product been completed with screen readers or other assistive technology?
- Have you done any user testing with people who have additional access needs?
- Which assistive technologies do you work with?
- Does your service support WCAG 2.1 for content creation?
- How do users find information about the accessibility of your service?
There are many ways in which an organisation can procure services. One of these methods is by using approved frameworks which act like catalogues of pre-approved services or portals to manage tender processes.
There are many frameworks, the best known delivered by Crown Commercial Service (CCS). Unfortunately from all of the work the contributors to this toolkit have done over the past two years, it is clear that nearly all frameworks still do not properly demand the required accessibility standards from suppliers.
Some are now asking suppliers to evidence WCAG 2.1 AA compliance but are not doing their own due diligence on behalf of the customer organisations to check that what suppliers say is accurate.
Our advice is that even if you are procuring through a framework, do not assume that any services meet accessibility requirements. You should still thoroughly check tender documentation to ensure that you have asked the necessary questions. You should still check and add your own contract information, and you should still do your own testing to verify supplier claims of compliance.
The only way you are going to achieve accessible services is by working with your suppliers to make improvements. This poses its own challenges. In this section you will find information on example approaches that may help you in your supplier interactions.
There is a large piece of work going on to collate supplier accessibility statements and other information in a public list to reduce duplication across the public sector as organisations will not have to produce their own statements but can instead tap into the crowd-sourced pool of existing supplier information.