Imagine trying to use a computer without a mouse. Imagine trying to watch a video without speakers. Imagine trying to type an email on your phone without being able to see the screen. These are all examples of inaccessibility – and we can imagine how frustrating that would be. Accessible technology means that everyone can use the same technology, no matter how they need to manipulate it in order to process information.
So why is accessible technology so important to procurement?
Because implementing accessible technology in different organizations/institutions means you must purchase accessible technology in the first place. If the implementation of accessible technology means that you can buy and use the same technology, then you’ve already saved time and consolidated your steps in the RFP process! The Partnership on Employment & Accessible Technology (PEAT) is a non-profit organization and has an abundance of resources and tools on how to purchase accessible technology as it relates to the RFP process. Included in their online “Buy IT! Guide,” PEAT features effective procurement practices that can help procurement officials and their purchasing staff build accessibility into their information and communication technology (ICT) procurement processes.
Computers, software, the internet, and other technologies are common in almost every type of institution or organization. The ability to access these tools is essential to school, work-related activities, and everyday living. For most of these institutions, accessibility is commonly addressed as an afterthought or on an individual basis, often making it difficult, time-consuming, and costly to provide adequate access to fit these specialized needs. For state procurement officials, accessibility issues are particularly important when considering which devices will best serve their customer-based needs. Accessibility can also be referred to as “universal design,” which denotes to the design of an accessible product built to be used by the widest range of people possible, regardless of disability or limitation. Universally designed products are more adaptive, easier to maintain, and cost less over time because they don’t require need for additional adaptation or specialized design.
It should not surprise you that writing an RFP for an ICT product is very similar to a standard RFP, but there are additional considerations. Here are three crucial tips for writing an RFP for accessible technology. Supplied by PEAT’s Buy IT! Guide, these three steps will not only help to achieve the goal of procuring accessible technology, but they can also be used as best practices to help improve procurement operations in general.
Address Accessibility Requirements in Your Solicitation
Most people make the mistake of putting their requirements only in the “Requirements” section of their RFP. Although it should be mentioned in that section, if you want to ensure that vendors make it a priority, you should also mention your requirements throughout your entire solicitation. PEAT recommends mentioning these in the background, and scope of work sections. Also, add “accessibility” as a dedicated sub-section within the requirements section. This is where you can put the most detail about what is needed.
It is also important to understand that procuring accessible technology is about more than just compliance and adhering to legal standards. Establishing internal accessibility standards tailored to what your procurement office wants and expects, ensures that you’ll be able to assess the vendor’s capabilities when conducting evaluations. It would also be wise to require the vendor to commit to improving accessibility over a specified timeline, and to come to an agreement on how that will be measured. To help evaluate submissions and provide guidance, consider having an accessibility SME on the RFP evaluation panel to give advice on establishing accessibility requirements.
Request an ACR/VPAT
We all know that a key part of the evaluation process is assessing the vendors’ ability to comply. There are two important acronyms/documents you should familiarize yourself with, as well as require vendors to complete, to help you successfully procure this type of technology. An Accessibility Conformance Report (ACR) is a form that vendors can complete, to describe in detail what product was implemented and how it was tested for each requirement. The ACR is generated using the Voluntary Product Accessibility Template (VPAT), which explains how accessible a product is according to the Section 508 Standards, as well as how it meets the requirements set forth by the procurement office. Section 508 Standards are federal regulations that address accessibility requirements for the procurement of telecommunication products. Included in the ACR is a checklist of and allows the vendor to indicate how well their product complies. These documents are the most important forms of communication you will have between your office and potential vendors and is arguably the most important and notable difference between an ICT RFP and a standard RFP.
More information can be found about this process by visiting www.peatworks.org/buy-IT/evaluating.
Develop a Collaborative Relationship with Your IT Vendor.
Relationships should be built to last. In a digitally-dependent world, our procurement relationships are meaningful now, more than ever! With any RFP process, after the contract is awarded and the vendor is selected, one of the next steps is managing this new relationship. When it comes to ensuring accessibility, regular communication is even more important with your IT vendor after the contract is delivered. As mentioned in Tip #1, if you choose to require the vendor to commit to improving accessibility standards over a specified timeline, then it will be key to schedule regular meetings in order to measure these improvements, as well as discuss unforeseen obstacles and challenges that are bound to arise with innovative changes in technology. By asking your IT vendor for feedback and updates on future improvements, it could help you identify ways to make your products better and more accessible These updates could also provide an opportunity to gain specific industry understanding and skills that would benefit you and your procurement staff.
The key to success is to address accessibility from the start and throughout an RFP process, while making sure to evaluate what IT vendors promise and deliver. Fostering collaborative relationships with vendors ensures that both parties are happy and means that you have a reliable vendor that can help you plan future decisions.. If you enjoyed reading these tips, check out peatworks.org to learn more about this organization, their initiatives, and how to use their free resources and tools to benefit your procurement staff.