Three simple steps to accessible procurement

Let’s look at the key aspects of ensuring accessible procurement processes to keep in mind when buying products or services from suppliers.

Making sure that websites, web apps and mobile apps are accessible and inclusive for your undoubtedly diverse user-base unfortunately isn’t simple or straightforward – and, when you’re outsourcing the project, then there are some additional potential pitfalls. But don’t panic! We’ve got an expert webinar about procurement and checking external products are accessible lined up for later this month. Plus, some other suggestions below that should help you in your decision making.

Why accessibility?

Woman squinting at phone, confusedHopefully no one is still asking this question but, if they are, then just give them the stink-eye and tell them that it’s just the right thing to do in this enlightened age. 

If they still need more (after having got the message loud and clear that they really shouldn’t need more), then briefly fill them in about the 20% of the population with a recognised disability (and many more with temporary or emerging impairments).

You could also mention the 20-25% that are older who have reduced dexterity, cognition and confidence with technology and so on, plus the circa 6 million with dyslexia, roughly 20% with reduced literacy or for whom English isn’t their first language. 

Finally, throw in all the rest who use their mobile phones one-handed, on noisy, bumpy buses or trains, after a glass or two or in a rush, and they’ll hopefully begin to see that accessibility - hey, let’s call it inclusive design as that’s much closer to the point - starts to look not only important, but essential. I would argue it’s table-stakes if you want to be a serious player in the digital world of today.

So, we get why it’s important – but how do we go about ensuring that we get it right?

About much more than guidelines

You’ve probably heard of WCAG; the Web Accessibility Guidelines (now at version 2.1) and there are similar sets of guidance for mobile apps, but there’s a lot more to embedding best practice into your organisation – in your decisions and processes, your tools and training – than simply handing the relevant teams the guidelines and telling them to get on with it.

And when it comes to commissioning an external company to develop your digital products for you, there are a few crucial additional factors to consider. Luckily, these have been encapsulated in a new international standard - as well as in our up-coming procurement-themed webinar.

A new standard to assist in successful accessible procurement

First there was the British Standard BS8878. Co-authored by AbilityNet’s Jon Gooday, it helped companies develop, commission and procure accessible web-based products. It defined a process for creating and embedding a web accessibility strategy within your organisation.

On 28 May 2019 BS 8878 was superseded by ISO 30071-1 – which is now an international standard that built on the framework of BS 8878 and expanded it to cover ICT in its broadest sense: "This document applies to the breadth of ICT systems and the results of convergent and emerging technologies within an organization including, but not limited to: information systems; intranet systems; websites; mobile and wearable applications; social media; and Internet of Things (IoT) systems." 

Phew! That’s a lot of areas to cover – but, luckily, the guidance is more about strategy and approach than the nitty-gritty of technical compliance. Nevertheless, it’s 50 pages of strategy and practical steps to digest and put in place – so you may want to check out our procurement webinar first before making that all-important purchase in the International Organisation for Standardisation's (ISO) online store.

Some key areas to consider

Following this new guidance will go a long way in helping you embed inclusive design in your organisation. It’ll help you:

  • Understand what you have to gain from taking an inclusive approach
  • Make it ‘business as usual’ and efficient
  • embed accessibility responsibility strategically across key job-roles, and into key organisational and technical policies such as procurement
  • Understand the role of support from experts,
  • Appreciate the importance of training your teams 

It also helps you embed inclusive design in your product development process, covering:

  • How the different purposes and audiences of products change the way you do accessibility
  • What accessibility guidelines to use when you’re creating mobile apps
  • How to make sure technology enablers like CMSes and JavaScript libraries can deliver accessibility
  • How to embed accessibility efficiently into your team’s sprint and test planning
  • How to prioritise between accessibility fixes when you can’t do everything for everyone
  • How to make your users aware of any accessibility issues and give them a way of contacting you

I can’t deny it; there are a lot of important elements to engage with when implementing a truly effective approach to accessibility, for both internal development and external commissioning/procurement. 

Let me leave you with three top tips to take on-board and that are oh-so-easy to implement:

Three simple steps to start your accessible procurement journey

1. Ask for evidence and check it’s accessible

When it comes to commissioning or procuring third-party products or digital services, never take their word for it. Ask to see similar projects they’ve delivered in the recent past and check them for accessibility yourself (even if it’s just using a quick, free accessibility checker) and if they can’t produce any then don’t touch them with a very long barge pole.

2. Require that they pick up any accessibility short-fall 

Stipulate in the tender/contract that any accessibility issues still present on delivery of the product will need to be addressed before final payments are made. This will undoubtedly focus the minds of your suppliers. When it comes to sign-off, don’t take their word for it. Organisations like AbilityNet are here to help if you need assistance in ensuring that it’s accessible and usable by all.

3. Attend our webinar

This one’s really easy to follow. Did I mention that we have a webinar to help you get to grips with the guidelines and get the ball rolling? Don't worry if you can't make the date itself - everyone who registers for the webinar will receive access to the recording, including those unable to attend live.

Register for our free webinar:

Procurement: Checking external products are accessible webinar

Further resources