Procurement and Accessibility
Taking accessibility seriously inside a large organization or company eventually leads you to the operation of procurement. A significant portion of what the organization purchases is information technology, and it will need to be used by clients, customers, employees and/or the general public. People with a wide variety of disabilities are found within the user base, and the procurement process needs to yield IT that they can use as readily as everyone else. Unfortunately, this is not the case in many places for many reasons. Fortunately, there are solutions.
One thing that procurement and accessibility have in common is that people tend to avoid them. Assuming that these topics are too obscure and difficult to understand, many leave the work of learning the principles and processes behind these areas to others. It seems to be human nature to prefer to do things that we expect to succeed in and to find other things to do when faced with tasks we don’t feel we know very well.
I have heard accessibility professionals inside organizations express frustration that the procurement staff will not take on accessibility as a responsibility of their work. They often lament the fact that the procurement staff are satisfied when they can check a box that a VPAT has been submitted, without conducting an analysis of the validity of the accessibility claims within the VPAT.
I have also observed procurement staff vigorously rebuffing any effort to train them in the accessibility standards or how to evaluate a product for accessibility. I have learned that this reaction is not so much a rejection of the goal of accessibility. There are many different technical requirements and standards involved in procurement. Procurement personnel have no expertise in these many technical areas; their expertise is in the processes used by the organization to execute a reliable and efficient purchasing program.
This stand-off leaves many organizations with much less likelihood that the result will be selection of the most accessible technology. What’s missing? The understanding that achieving results requires a partnership between the accessibility professionals and the procurement office. Collaboration must become a habit, with clarity about responsibilities at each stage in procurement. The expertise of the accessibility professional is necessary very early on, when the purchaser is making basic decisions about what to buy and what functions will be performed. For example, deciding to buy a copier that can be controlled from the desktop rather than only from the interface on the machine will make it more accessible to employees with disabilities.
Effectively integrating accessibility into the procurement process is possible when this partnership is the foundation. Then this accessible procurement team can move through each stage of the procurement process and point to accessible IT as the result.