Accessible procurement in the Public Sector, a Q&A with Susanna Laurin, IAAP

As part of our digital accessibility procurement guide, we interviewed Susanna Laurin, Chief Research and Innovation Officer at Funka and IAAP (International Association of Accessibility Professionals) Representative to the European Union about the challenges of accessible procurement – and how to address them.

In summer 2022 AbilityNet surveyed more than 400 accessibility professionals about all aspects of accessibility.

Their responses showed that senior leadership is commited in principle to digital accessibility, but it also exposed a lack of relevant processes when buying digital products and services. It is clear that procurement and accessibility professionals need to work together to deliver the goals of inclusion and accessibility.

AbilityNet: What are the challenges in accessible procurement? 

Susanna LaurinSusanna Laurin: There's a complete mismatch between the people who need to buy something and those who do the actual procurement; for some reason, they don't speak very well. 

The person or department responsible for accessibility is [typically] the communication department. They are concerned with the content of a website. They are authors or content producers. Usually, they know what to do, and they know the standards. Not perfectly, but they know that accessibility is something they should do, and they are keen on procuring the right thing. 

Then there is the procurement department. Procurers have legal and compliance training. Accessibility is one tiny part of that legislation, and procurers may consider it is technical. 

Download: AbilityNet Digital Accessibility Procurement Guide


Learn more about procurement and accessibility in our upcoming free webinar!

Join us for our webinar on Tuesday 27th June 2023 at 1pm BST to learn more about accessible procurement and find out how leading accessibility professionals (including Susanna Laurin!) from Google and University of Westminster are working with their procurement teams.   


AbilityNet: What can companies do to bring those two groups closer together? 

Susanna Laurin: Even if they're perceived as different, they are on the same level. If we go to the layer on top, the C-suite, or the local government managers and describe this problem for them, then it's usually solvable. 

The other tactic we have tried is to train the procurers. We have offered, via a procurement agency, free training for the procurers, but it's still challenging to get them to understand the need for training, but at least they have a chance. The European Commission, national governments, or even the standardisation bodies could do a much better job providing more support.

AbilityNet: How significant is it to get accessibility into the procurement process, and what's the payback? What benefit is that going to bring to an organisation? 

Susanna Laurin: It's a huge benefit if we add accessibility into the mix. You will have a product or service that is more accessible than if you didn't post accessibility requirements. And that means less remediation. So, if you build a website from scratch or an app, adding accessibility doesn't have to be more expensive than not doing it.

It usually is a little bit more expensive, but it may be a five or 10% additional add-on. But if you buy and produce something that is not accessible and realise that afterwards and then do a remediation, it may be 90%. 

It's impossible to say a number because it depends on the complexity. But I can't imagine one situation where it wouldn't be more expensive than having it right from the beginning. That is a significant benefit. The trust between the public sector body and the citizens, the visitors that encounter the first time they visit this new website or try out this new app that doesn't work. And the irritation, and frustration, feedback, complaints.

You also don't have to do all of that and then make it better. You can go out and be proud and say, ‘it's as good as possible. Please do tell us if there is still something wrong.’ But you know the basics should be right.

The new procurement directive includes accessibility and it has changed from, 'When possible, you should do this' to say, 'It must...' 

AbilityNet: Once accessibility is baked into procurement processes, how do you hold suppliers to account?

Susanna Laurin: It’s standard that if the supplier is delayed, you are not paying. If you pay maybe 20% in the beginning and 50% in the middle, you keep some money until the end. And if they haven't delivered, then you don't pay them.  We should apply the same logic. 

Just put accessibility as one of those requirements, and add not a penalty, but treat it as a delay if suppliers don’t deliver.

So you can identify that ‘X’ percent of this deliverable will not be paid if we cannot see proof that you have fulfilled the accessibility requirements.

And if you put that into your standard contracts, you can take it out if it's unnecessary.

AbilityNet: How are things different between the public and private sectors? 

Susanna Laurin: They wouldn't like to be treated the same. But in essence, they go about this very similarly because of the procurement legislation. 

Likewise, it’s hard to define the private sector. In the EU, we see that the European Accessibility Act covers technical companies, e-commerce, consumer banking all these digital services. Larger organisations are generally very aware, and the smaller ones are waking up. There is a grey zone in the middle. 

The private sector is eager to follow the rules because it's a way to earn money. Companies know that the next generation legislation will cover accessibility or that they see something positive in being accessible or claiming to be accessible for marketing or CSR reasons.


Download: AbilityNet Digital Accessibility Procurement Guide

More resources about accessibility and procurement: