10 tips for accessible procurement

AbilityNet’s Attitudes to Accessibility Survey showed that very few organisations recognise the role of procurement in delivering accessibility.

“The good news from the survey is that most people say their leadership understands the need to be accessible’” says Mark Walker, AbilityNet’s Head of Marketing and Portfolio, “but procurement remains an Achilles Heel for organisations of all types and sizes." Two women sat at a meeting room desk working together

“Whether it is third-party apps in a website, or internal systems for employees to claim their expenses, accessibility applies to the whole digital experience. These are often complex systems with a shelf of several years, so accessibility experts need to be involved in procurement decisions from the start.” 

These ten tips will help you embed accessibility in your purchasing decisions.

1. Bake in digital accessibility requirements

Baking accessibility requirements into procurement documents enables procurement teams to act as a gatekeeper for accessibility, including: 

  • Master service agreements 
  • Requests for Proposal (RFPs) 
  • Statements of Work 

"What gets measured gets done," says Jeff Wissel, Chief Accessibility Officer for Disability:IN.   

"Baking in procurement reduces risk, meets legal obligations, and delivers a better product," agrees George Rhodes, Digital Accessibility Team Lead at the University of Westminster. "It's fundamental to build it as part of the tender process."

Download our digital accessibility procurement guide

 2. Hold suppliers to account

Accessibility reviews should form part of standard contract negotiations. It helps hold suppliers to account throughout the relationship.  

Make sure the process allows enough time to evaluate different options, and also to renegotiate and address accessibility issues. 

3. Track legal compliance 

Inaccessible third-party apps harm existing products and services. It can mean your website or app is no longer accessible. Accessible procurement ensures third-party compliance. 

Relevant legislation includes: 

4. Focus on an inclusive employee experience 

Business leaders must recognise procurement as a lever to ensure an accessible Employee Experience (EX).

For example, your Human Resources systems to book holidays, claim expenses or manage payroll, appraisals, and salary information must be easy for everyone to use. Is the system screen reader compatible? Are forms intuitive for those with learning difficulties? Does the colour contrast make text harder to read for dyslexic people? 

If not, how can you call your workplace inclusive? 

5. Review current processes

AbilityNet's survey found that only 19% of respondents have procurement policies that ensure they only buy accessible digital products. 

By comparison, 33% said that accessibility is on an 'ad hoc' basis. 

One respondent said that the rules are "a bit squishy, especially for the back end systems their staff have to use." 

Excitement for new products can override accessibility. "Someone falls in love with a product or service and says to procurement, go ahead and buy it," says Rhodes.

6. Practice active listening

Poor accessibility impacts staff and customers, so make sure you are listening to their feedback. For example, your staff will tell you if the system you’re using to claim expenses isn't accessible.

Google has made it easier for employees to escalate accessibility issues. But accessibility issues in third party products can be tough to fix.

"Once these problems were escalated around third-party products, our engineering staff would say, 'I feel their pain, but we don’t own these products. We can’t fix them. We can only try to influence the third party provider,'" says Sara Basson, Emerging Markets Accessibility and Disability Inclusion Lead for Google. 

7. Engage the procurement team 

How do you engage procurement in digital accessibility?  

Accessibility champions are pushing at an open door, says Rhodes. "Most procurement staff I've met are by-the-book people. They are aware of that procurement will be heavily scrutinized, especially in the public sector," he says. "They know why it must be so stringent, which is a good avenue of conversation to get accessibility on the radar of procurement teams."

8. Work with your procurement teams 

Accessibility experts can support procurement with the right questions and help them to engage with suppliers as part of the purchasing process.  

"It might take me a week's worth of work," says Rhodes, “but it's still better than discovering we've got loads of problems after we deploy a solution," he adds.   

9. Engage suppliers 

Suppliers are a critical part of the solution. And suppliers that embrace digital accessibility will win business.

"The burden needs to be on providers," says Basson. "Not all companies have the skill of the bandwidth to test third party products for accessibility, and then file bugs with the supplier. Companies should be able to request and trust confirmation from suppliers that their products are accessible.”

The right attitude from suppliers goes a long way. "I've had suppliers where we've said this isn't accessible. We need it to be [and] they treat it well. They ask how do we do this for you? How do we overcome this? We can see the benefit if we do this right." 

10. Information and support

Procurement may not have expertise in digital accessibility - as our survey found.  

Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) were less likely than larger organisations to have guidance (20% compared to 38%). Charities were least likely to have guidance in place (24% compared to 36% of businesses). And 38% of government public bodies offered guidance.  

More resources about accessibility and procurement: