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Core issues in creating effective public procurement policies

Core issues in creating effective public procurement policies


Edited by Cynthia D. Waddell, Juris Doctor, International Center for Disability Resources on the Internet (ICDRI)

Technical Standards for Accessibility in Products and Services

Training and Guidelines for Procurers and Suppliers

Technical Standards for Accessibility in Products and Services
One best practice is to mandate by law the procurement of accessible ICT and at the same time tie the procurement to concrete accessible ICT technical design standards of functionality for product conformance. Ideally, the procurement policy should also take into account the overall ICT architecture for the procurement entity and support an implementation plan for the removal of inaccessible ICT in legacy systems [1].

The international standards community has increasingly become active in developing technical standards for accessible ICT. For example, the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) Web Accessibility Initiative is one effort [2]. European based standards bodies such as the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI), the European Committee for Standardization (CEN), the European Committee for Electrotechnical Standardization (CENELEC) and the Japanese Standards Association’s Japanese Industrial Standards (JIS) are also focused on the evolution and promotion of accessibility standards that fall within their domains. The United States Electronic and Information Technology Accessibility Standards are based on Section 508 legislation and is also a widely recognized accessibility framework [3].

One significant activity underway is the mapping of global accessibility standards that is being conducted by JTC1 Special Working Group on Accessibility (SWG-A) that was established in 2004 by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and International Electro technical Commission (IEC). JTC1 recognizes that ICT standardization for accessibility is a major undertaking, encompassing many international, regional and local interests; including significant standards efforts underway in ISO, IEC and the International Telecommunication Union [4].

See examples of case studies.  

Training and Guidelines for Procurers and Suppliers
This section describes several approaches that can be deployed in procuring accessible ICT products. There are many different types of public procurements, from a simple retail purchase of a desktop productivity application to a services contract involving the integration of many different enterprise products to a custom application or Web site. There is no one approach that is perfect for all of these widely varying contexts, although some approaches are more suitable in certain situations. 

Accessibility Statements
One way to enable suppliers to respond to Requests for Proposals requiring accessible ICT is for the procurer to provide accessibility requirements statements in their Requests for Proposals. These accessibility statements should specify the accessible design requirements for ICT deliverables. It is preferable for the government entity to point to an international or industry standard to increase the likelihood that the vendor will be able to meet procurement expectations. Vendors who build ICT products for global markets look to international or industry standards for requirements in order to expand the market for their products. Government entities who adopt international or industry accessibility standards will therefore have more products to choose from when seeking to purchase accessible ICT. Standard contract language can be developed to be included in all ICT procurement contracts.

Training on Accessible ICT as Prequalification for Bid
Another approach is to require suppliers or vendors to satisfy accessibility training on ICT accessible design requirements in order to qualify or be eligible to bid on a procurement contract. One government entity in the U.S. began to require bidders on web development contracts to pass a specific web design and remediation course on accessible design. This requirement was due to contract awardees not meeting contract deliverable requirements for accessibility. Although completion of the one day course was not a guarantee that a “qualified” vendor would produce an accessible deliverable, the course increased awareness and understanding of the government’s technical requirements for ICT accessibility.

The training requirement approach is best suited to contracts for custom services such as a website or application to be developed specifically for the government customer.

Conformance Claims
A Supplier’s Declaration of Conformance (SDoC) is a way for vendors to report on the level of conformance of an ICT product or service that is offered. Vendors can disclose the accessibility features of their ICT products or services that support or do not support each element of a particular accessibility standard. This means that vendors can submit proposals for ICT products or services that may not meet 100% of the accessibility requirements as long as the vendor accurately states the level of accessibility support provided. One example of this practice is the Section 508 Voluntary Product Accessibility Template that was developed jointly by the ICT industry and the U.S. government [5]. Conformance claims are suitable where commercial off the shelf products are being procured.

Procurement Evaluation of Bid
Another important policy concerns the process for determining the successful award of a contract. Some considerations in the decision-making process could include steps to verify the claims of the vendor about the product or service, the award criteria to be used in the event no products meet all of the accessibility standards and/or the use of accessibility declarations of conformance. It is also critical, especially in jurisdictions where contract awards can be challenged, to document the decision making process as to why an accessible product was selected over another. The procurement evaluation approach is suitable where commercial off the shelf products that will be widely deployed in an organization are being procured. 

Acceptance Testing
In some cases, it may be necessary to perform some kind of acceptance testing on the ICT products procured. This is especially suitable for large scale procurements where many products may be integrated into a solution. In such large scale integrated systems, individual products, while capable of meeting the accessibility standards, may be deployed or configured in ways that do not result in an accessible solution. Validation of the total solution’s accessibility is therefore strongly advised before acceptance of the solution under the contract. The testing should validate the solution against the accessibility standards specified in the contract. Where pilot or Beta testing with end users is performed prior to full scale deployment, end-users with disabilities should be included in these tests.

Accessible ICT Public Procurement Toolkit
One way to have a systemic impact on the procurement of accessible ICT is to provide ICT public procurement toolkits. There are at least four countries that have implemented this approach: Denmark, Ireland, Canada and the United States. All four toolkits are web-based applications and have been evaluated by eInclusion@EU [6].



[1] See Waddell, Cynthia D. Meeting ICT Access and Service Needs for Persons with Disabilities: Major Issues for Development and Implementation of Successful Policies and Strategies, ITU Regional Workshop on ICT Accessibility for Persons with Disabilities for the Africa Region, Lusaka, Zambia, July 2008, at http://www.itu.int/ITU-D/study_groups/SGP_2006-2010/events/2007/Workshops/documents/05-successpolicies.pdf, Hereinafter referred to as Meeting ICT Access and Service Needs, p. 26.
[2] W3C Web Accessibility Initiative at http://www.w3.org/WAI  European based standards bodies such as the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI), the European Committee for Standardization (CEN), the European Committee for Electrotechnical Standardization (CENELEC) and the Japanese Standards Association’s Japanese Industrial Standards (JIS) are also focused on the evolution and promotion of accessibility standards that fall within their domains.  The United States Electronic and Information Technology Accessibility Standards are based on Section 508 legislation and is also a widely recognized accessibility framework. 
[3] U.S. Access Board, Electronic and Information Technology Accessibility Standards, 36 CFR Part 1194, at http://www.access-board.gov/guidelines-and-standards/communications-a-it/about-the-section-508-standards
[4] See JTC1 Special Working Group on Accessibility at http://www.jtc1access.org
[5] See Section 508 VPAT at http://www.access-star.org. Conformance claims are suitable where commercial off the shelf products are being procured.
[6] For more detail, see Waddell, Meeting ICT Access and Service Needs, p. 29.