Accessibility in Technology Purchase and Use: Start at the Beginning

When an organization purchases or uses information and communication technology (ICT), it must account for accessibility as it decides which product or tool to use. What we buy and use to serve technology to our employees, members of the public and others needs to be as accessible as possible. We usually have tools and processes that we can tap into so that accessibility stays a part of the conversation.

Don’t assume that a vendor that works with another state or federal organization creates accessible work. And understand that it is the responsibility of the organization that purchases or uses ICT to account for accessibility. Like with most things that have to do with accessibility, unless you already make it an intentional focus, it won’t happen. Accessibility doesn’t happen by accident.

Tips to Make Accessibility Part of your Procurement and Use Decisions

  • Don’t assume that a vendor that works with another state or federal agency or organization creates accessible work
  • Include accessibility in procurement and contract paperwork, such as:
    • Request for Proposal
    • Scope of Work
    • Requirements documentation
    • Contract
    • Scoring matrix
    • Internal guidance (try to reach those that don’t go through central purchasing)
    • Require a current Voluntary Product Accessibility Template (VPAT)

The Voluntary Product Accessibility Template (VPAT)

The VPAT can be a great tool for us to use as part of our data set during a purchase or use decision. Larger technology tools will sometimes have a VPAT published on the vendor’s website. Other times we have to ask for a VPAT. Either way, getting a VPAT is just the first step. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that having a VPAT on file is enough.

Some points about the VPAT:

  • A self assessment of product under question
  • Aligns with web accessibility standards
  • Needs to be mandatory part of your procurement or use decision making
  • Needs to be an early step in the process, not the end of your attention to accessibility
  • Asks more questions about assessment process that candidate vendor uses
  • New version of the VPAT is available here
    • These stay updated to current WCAG  standards

Vetting a VPAT

Once you have a VPAT you should study the responses. It is likely a good idea to have information technology or accessibility expertise involved in your vetting. The first answers on a VPAT may not be technical. The conversation will become technical pretty quickly, though.

  • Check date and software version to make sure that VPAT is current
  • Pay attention to Contact Information, Notes and Evaluation Methods Used
    • These reveal a lot about a vendor’s accessibility program
  • Ask questions about responses, even when VPAT says that a product supports a standard
    • Supports? Ask specifically how
    • Does not support? Ask when it will

Testing and Demonstrations

Direct testing is another tool that you can use in your purchase or use decision. There are a few things to keep in mind, though.

  • Helpful to test if testing environment matches up with actual product
    • Sometimes a demonstration environment is not the same

If testing is not an option, then demonstrations involving the vendor’s accessibility team can still be helpful. You can also have an accessibility expert participate in a demonstration with you to help to make sure that the right questions are asked, and answered.

  • Ask vendor about accessibility as part of product demonstration
  • Ask for specific accessibility demonstration

Contracting and Accessibility

Accessibility needs to be in your contracts. Language should set clear expectations about the relationship. One thing your contact can do is make sure that vendors must accept any costs associated with making their product more accessible. It is also a good place to state that vendors must show third party testing results that are current with the version of the product you intend to purchase or use.


  • Contract is generally the only way to enforce accessibility requirement in procured product
  • Set achievable and measurable goals and timelines if a product will become more accessible over time, then document in contract
  • Organization must have the will to cancel if deadlines are not met or product deemed too far from stated accessibility (in VPAT, for example)