Making accessibility more accessible in procurement

Co-written by Graeme K Whippy MBE

Procurement influences what goods and services come into an organisation, so it is the responsibility of Procurement teams to find the most accessible business solutions possible. We recently looked into how accessibility can make or break your procurement strategy, and we’ll now look into how you have the opportunity to make accessibility more accessible.

Sourcing accessible goods and services is a challenge. Previously, consideration was predominantly given to what people were building, in terms of digital tools and systems. This focus has now changed to what people are buying. Purchasing accessible systems, and services delivered by systems, can be difficult as you are dependent on how well these vendors build accessibility into their products.

The key to success is to address accessibility from the start, by incorporating it into the procurement process, and then making sure to evaluate what providers promise and deliver. If you understand your accessibility and usability needs, it’s easier to search for products that meet your standards, and incorporate them from the outset.

When procuring directly, centrally-negotiated contracts and strategic supplier selection gives you more control. Accessibility should be part of your initial request. If you communicate clearly about your accessibility goals for the products and services you are purchasing, providers should be happy to help you meet them. You could use accessibility as part of your business case in addition to the cost savings and risk reductions that strategic procurement brings.

Below are some simple questions that Procurement teams should ask suppliers:

When should accessibility be in scope?

  • In scope: anything that people will interact with, such as an IT system, in person or on-line service, a device.
  • Out of scope: anything that has no or limited interaction, e.g. anti-virus utility or batch process.

Question for a RFI
Make these open ended, high level, e.g.
  • How have you ensured that your [product] is usable by people with a range of sensory, physical or cognitive impairments or limitations?

Questions for an RFP/ITT
Make these more specific and detailed, e.g.

  • What standards relating to accessibility does your [product] adhere to?
  • How have you tested the accessibility of your [product]? Include details of technical and user testing.
  • Are there known non-compliances or usability issues for people with sensory, physical or cognitive impairments or limitations?
  • If there are how will these be rectified and what is the plan for doing so?
  • In lieu of remediation are there work-arounds that can mitigate the impact on users?
There are occasions when procurement is not centralised, and employees all over the organisation are able to buy goods and services. This is where the Procurement team should educate and support these wider buyers about the importance of accessibility. Again, the questions that have been outlined come into play, but you may be fortunate enough to have already agreed accessibility KPIs with your suppliers.

Having the ability to provide access to suppliers that have already been centrally evaluated will help ensure that accessibility considerations are already taken care of. You will also have the benefit of knowing that your employees are buying from approved suppliers, and at pre-negotiated rates. If you are not in this position, it is definitely worth considering.

As we have seen, one of the key first steps to improving your organisation’s accessibility is to update your procurement process so that all future systems and purchases have accessibility built in, as well as having the requirements clearly documented in a contract. This will help your organisation in the long term as it will eventually ensure that all your contracts have clear accessibility requirements in them and there will be no ambiguity between you and your supplier.

About Graeme Whippy
Graeme Whippy is a disability consultant and agent of change. In 2009 he was awarded for Outstanding Contribution by an Individual at the UK Financial Sector Technology Awards, and in 2010 he was a contributing author on BS 8878, a British Standard on Web Accessibility.

He was awarded an MBE in 2016 for services to people with dementia and disabilities.