How to procure accessible websites and apps

Person making a payment on the computer

On a recent webinar Procurement: Checking external products are accessible, Abi James, Principal Accessibility and Usability Consultant at AbilityNet, shared her expert advice about what suppliers and buyers need to be remember to ensure digital accessibility. Read her top tips about how to procure accessible websites and apps.

Suppliers and the public sector: balancing responsibilities

It's worth remembering that if you're a public sector organisation, you’re legally responsible for your website meeting accessibility requirements within the public sector digital accessibility regulations, even if you’ve outsourced your website to a supplier. As part of the regulations, your products must meet WCAG 2.1 level AA

Other best practice recommendations for organisations and institutions within the public sector (and beyond) include:

  • Know exactly how your products and services support – and don’t support – accessibility. And as part of this you should develop and share your accessibility roadmap.
  • Be honest – identify flaws and plans for improvement. Do not claim conformance to regulations with no evidence to back up your claim. 
  • Create a policy – show your staff and your customers that you care about accessibility.
  • Develop processes and procedures to support that policy.
  • Hire people with disabilities – a diverse workforce will make it easier for you understand and implement accessibility requirements.

Advice to purchasers

If you are in the process of buying a product or service from an external supplier and unsure how to check whether it's accessible or not, these suggestions will help with decision making:

  • Make sure staff making purchasing decisions understand basic accessibility requirements and are able to access expert advice.
  • Ensure all key functionality of the product or tool is evaluated for accessibility.
  • Establish a robust scoring process for measuring accessibility risk during procurement.
  • Consider including the EN 301 549 functional statements in any request for proposal (RFP) or tender, as well as requesting details of technical compliance with WCAG 2.1 AA.
Need expert advice about digital accessibility? AbilityNet offers a full suite of support options to suit your needs. Get in touch.

Advice to suppliers

If you are a supplier and keen to ensure your products or services are following accessibility best practice, here are some suggestions to consider:

  • Understand digital accessibility regulations and accessibility statement requirements.
  • Ensure that clients communicate accessibility requirements and priorities clearly. 
  • Identify who is responsible for making the decision to implement requirements if they will cause accessibility issues.
  • Do you know who is responsible for accessibility testing (and additional costs)?
  • Communicate your skills and expertise by measuring your accessibility maturity.

What suppliers need to know about accessibility, legislation and the challenges

At a recent ucisa event focusing on working with suppliers, AbilityNet's Head of Digital Inclusion Robin Christopherson MBE presented alongside Fiona Strawbridge, Head of Digital Education, University College London. They shared a heartfelt plea with attendees from the higher education sector during the session:

“We need better vendor testing and awareness of accessibility issues – I’m sometimes shocked by how little understanding there is and arrogance of suppliers that we will continue to purchase their software regardless of how accessible it is.”

They urge suppliers and institutions to:

  1. Read the legislation and learn about digital accessibility
  2. Make your products accessible (they’ll be better for everyone!) – they need to comply with WCAG 2.1 AA
  3. Build in templates so that any content is accessible by design
  4. Test your products (get the experts in)
  5. Share your accessibility roadmaps and timescales
  6. Write clear, honest accessibility statements 

Access Fiona and Robin's presentation slides:

Accessibility, the legislation, the challenges and what it means for the sector [PDF]

How can suppliers demonstrate accessibility compliance?

You may already be confident in the accessibility credentials of your service or product, but are your potential clients aware of this? Suppliers can assure clients of their accessibility awareness and compliance in various ways. If you are working with a supplier or are a supplier yourself, ensure the below items are demonstrated:

  • Provide a high-level summary of your accessibility compliance.
  • Ensure your accessibility statement is in line with Public Sector Website Accessibility Regulations.
  • Be clear on how customisation will impact accessibility.
  • Conduct an external audit on your tool or example content to check for accessibility issues.
  • Share your accessibility policies and roadmap. 

What good accessibility information from a vendor looks like...

AbilityNet is partnering with Alistair McNaught of McNaught Consulting, to deliver a package of accessibility services to educational institutions, including higher education (HE) and further education (FE). On a recent post within the Jisc mailing list he offered his advice about accessible procurement:

"With accessible procurement high on the agenda, it might be helpful to have examples of what decent accessibility info from a supplier looks like. Obviously the exact criteria will vary depending on the product you’re purchasing, but if you’re looking at ebook platforms then you might be interested in seeing the accessibility statement VitalSource has recently updated. This scored 97% on the ASPIRE criteria (criteria jointly developed with input from librarians, disability support teams and suppliers in 2018).

What you’ll notice from the VitalSource statement (and other high scorers on the ASPIRE lists) is the plain English approach to describing benefits that could support ALL users and will be vital for users with disabilities. "

McNaught shares a useful reminder: "The more you ask suppliers for decent accessibility statements and show them what you mean by a good one, the more work it saves you and the bigger the benefit for your users."

Did you miss AbilityNet's accessible procurement webinar?

Access the recording below, and download the webinar transcript and slidedeck from our website.

Further resources