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Providing Accessibility Guidance to Vendors

Vendors and developers of digital learning materials and technologies can benefit from accessibility guidance provided by education agencies and institutions. In addition to communicating specific requirements in policies and contracts, your education agency or institution can go further by providing:

  • a rationale for those accessibility requirements
  • best practices for manual accessibility testing of products
  • information on how vendors can optimize and communicate the accessibility of products to assist purchasing decisions

Rationale for Accessibility Requirements

Vendors have varied understanding and interpretations of the term “accessible.” For example, it’s sometimes confused with terms like “available,” “free and open,” and “usable.” To avoid miscommunication in the procurement process, be direct by making the following points.

The Office for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Education defines “accessible” to mean that a person with a disability is afforded the opportunity to acquire the same information, engage in the same interactions, and enjoy the same services in an equally effective, equally integrated manner, and with substantially equivalent ease of use as a person without a disability1.

Accessibility applies to both materials (the content or information to be learned) and technology (the hardware or software that delivers material). Accessible materials are designed or enhanced in a way that makes them usable by the widest possible range of learner variability, regardless of format (print, digital, graphical, audio, video)2. Accessible technologies are usable by people with a wide range of abilities and disabilities and are directly usable without assistive technology (AT) or usable with it3. Individuals with disabilities use a range of AT for perceiving and physically interacting with technologies.

The use of accessible educational materials and accessible technologies strengthens opportunities for learners to experience independence, participation, and progress. When learners have difficulty using educational materials and technologies due to a lack of accessibility, they are at risk of falling behind their peers. Timely access to accessible materials and technologies for learners with disabilities results in the same opportunities to fully and independently participate and make progress in the curriculum.

Best Practices for Manual Testing

Be even more specific about your accessibility expectations by asking vendors to provide results of their own manual testing of products. A robust process for vendors to determine the accessibility of digital materials and technologies should include the following:

  • Manual checks of a representative sample of pages to determine that alternative text on images and graphs are appropriate for the instructional context in which the materials will be used.
  • Manual checks of a representative sample of pages with tables, forms, dynamic content and other applications that are known to present accessibility challenges.
  • Manual checks of any video content to ensure the inclusion of high-quality closed captions.
  • Testing to determine whether page content and controls can be accessed, operated, and reset when necessary using only a keyboard.
  • Testing with screen-reader software.
  • Documentation of the experience of users with disabilities, including basic information about the assistive technology used.

Optimizing & Communicating Product Accessibility

Go further by suggesting certain actions vendors can take to optimize and communicate product accessibility, all of which increase the confidence of buyers. These activities can include:

  • Complete the free training, Section 508: What Is It and Why Is It Important to You?, available at dhs.gov.
  • Review and understand the latest version of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), available from the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C).
  • Ensure staff tasked with completing the Accessibility Conformance Report are not only familiar with the product’s key features, but are also trained in accessibility best practices.
  • Identify product accessibility requirements at the beginning stage of design and integrate those requirements throughout the development cycle.
  • Include iterations of accessibility testing throughout the development workflow in order to identify barriers as early as possible.
  • Enlist individuals who rely on assistive technologies in their daily lives to participate in product testing and provide authentic feedback about accessibility support.
  • Prepare a product accessibility statement that clearly states the standards addressed and the level of conformance for each, along with information about supported accessibility features. This product accessibility statement should also discuss where and how accessibility is addressed in the product development process.
  • Provide a single point of contact for addressing accessibility questions in the accessibility statement, and make sure those experiencing accessibility challenges have a variety of ways to contact the product’s accessibility team.
  • Obtain certification under the Department of Homeland Security Trusted Tester Process and Certification Program and include notice of that certification in the product accessibility statement.

1. Joint “Dear Colleague” Letter: Electronic Book Readers (June 29, 2010)

2. As used in the 84.327Z priority, ‘‘accessible educational materials’’ means print- and technology-based educational materials, including printed and electronic textbooks and related core materials that are required by SEAs and LEAs for use by all students, produced or rendered in accessible media, written and published primarily for use in early learning programs, elementary, or secondary schools to support teaching and learning.

3. As used in the 84.327Z priority, ‘‘technology’’ means any equipment or interconnected system or subsystem for which the principal function is the creation, conversion, duplication, movement, control, display, switching, interchange, transmission, reception, or broadcast of data or information.  It includes, but is not limited to, electronic content; telecommunication products; computers and ancillary equipment; software; information kiosks; transaction machines; videos; information technology services; and multifunction office machines that copy, scan, and fax documents.

Related Resources

Communicating Digital Accessibility Requirements

Communicate accessibility requirements and conformance using our sample language and guidance.

Understanding the VPAT®

Learn how to use a Voluntary Product Accessibility Template (VPAT®) to make procurement decisions.

NIMAS in Purchase Orders & Contracts

Find sample language for NIMAS to include in purchase orders or contracts with publishers and vendors.

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