Accessibility in the Procurement Process
As authorized by Chapter 2054, Subchapter M of the Texas Government Code, the Texas Department of Information Resources (DIR) has adopted rules (the DIR Accessibility Rules) governing how Texas institutions of higher education are to develop, procure, maintain and use electronic and information resources (EIR) so that the EIR may be accessed by individuals with disabilities. Such DIR Accessibility Rules are set forth in Title 1, Chapter 206, Rule §206.70 of the Texas Administrative Code and in Title 1, Chapter 213 of the Texas Administrative Code.
Texas statutes reference standards contained within Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act and require conformance with Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1 Level A and AA.
Conformance to WCAG 2.1 Level A and AA applies to websites, web applications, software systems, electronic documents, e-learning, multimedia, and all EIR intended for use by students, employees, and visitors of the University of Texas at Austin.
Those responsible for making decisions about which products to procure must consider accessibility as one of the criteria for selection. It is the responsibility of employees and purchasing agents of UT Austin to find the most accessible business solutions possible when procuring EIR. As part of UT Austin’s procurement process for EIR, accessibility-related documentation must be submitted by vendors for each product. EIR accessibility is determined by vendor evaluations of their product against WCAG 2.1 Level A and AA. Vendors are required to demonstrate whether their product conforms to or addresses each of the WCAG 2.1 Level A and AA success criteria by submitting an Accessibility Conformance Report (ACR) or Voluntary Product Accessibility Template (VPAT). A VPAT is a contractor-supplied form that is used to document the EIR’s compliance with technical accessibility standards and specifications.
VPAT templates are available from the Information Technology Industry Council. There are four different editions of the VPAT, based on different accessibility standards. Since EIR procured by UT Austin must meet WCAG 2.1 Level A and AA, the most appropriate edition for our needs is the WCAG edition. NOTE: It is not sufficient for a bidder or vendor to simply provide a VPAT; they must take care to complete it, so it represents a truthful and accurate report of the overall accessibility of their product. If the vendor does not have sufficient expertise in-house to complete a VPAT, they should receive help from an independent third-party accessibility consultant.
Steps to Ensure Accessibility in the Procurement Process
- Research the accessibility of a product or service before taking steps to purchase it.
- Obtain a vendor’s VPAT by searching for the VPAT on the vendor’s website.
- If not available online, request a VPAT from the vendor.
- If the vendor does not have a VPAT readily available, provide a blank VPAT (WCAG version) so company representatives may complete it.
If a vendor has never heard of the term VPAT, chances are the EIR in question is not accessible. Avoid vendors that cannot or will not produce a VPAT.
- Compare the VPATs of several different products or services and choose the most accessible EIR that best meets the business needs of the University.
- Conversations with vendors about the accessibility of their product(s) are a vital part of the procurement process. Ask the vendor how they test for accessibility.
A VPAT that indicates “supports” for all criteria without much explanation about the EIR’s capability to meet each accessible benchmark should raise a red flag regarding its accuracy. Likewise, a VPAT which indicates “does not support” for all criteria indicates the EIR was not developed with accessibility in mind and the vendor is not likely to agree to fix or resolve the accessible deficiencies in their product.
All vendors are asked to agree to an EIR Accessibility Warranty in the contract addendum. The warranty includes language attesting that the vendor meets Texas Administrative Code 206 and 213 rules and assures continued accessibility as the product is updated. When vendors will not agree to this warranty and/or suggest alternative language, the department is referred to the EIR Accessibility Coordinator.
UT System Guidance on EIR Procured or Developed by University of Texas System Institutions
UT System has developed guidance for all University of Texas System Institutions as it relates to procuring or developing EIR intended for use by students, employees, and visitors. UT affiliates can review System guidance by visiting the UT System Policy Library.
- UT System Procurement Guidance: OGC Bulletin 2006-1, “Access by Persons with Disabilities to Electronic and Information Resources Procured by The University of Texas System Administration and The University of Texas System Institutions” (requires EID Authentication to view)
- UT System Development Guidance: OGC Bulletin 2009-1, “Access by Persons with Disabilities to Electronic and Information Resources Developed by The University of Texas System Administration and The University of Texas System Institutions” (requires EID Authentication to view)
When a vendor refuses to agree to the EIR Accessibility Warranty in the contract and/or suggests alternative warranty language, the department wishing to purchase the product is referred to the EIR Accessibility Coordinator. If the vendor has suggested an alternative EIR language, the EIR Accessibility Coordinator will review it to determine if it is sufficient. If the suggested language is insufficient and/or the vendor will not agree to any level of EIR warranty, then the department must request an exception to the DIR Accessibility Rules. To do this, they must complete and submit Part A of the Exception Request Form, available on request from the EIR Accessibility Coordinator at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Part A must be completed in its entirety, with signatures, but units should pay particular attention to the justification and alternative access sections. The EIR Accessibility Coordinator will review the completed form and VPAT in tandem with the accessibility lead in Information technology Services (ITS). If the exception is approved, they will complete Parts B and C of the form and send confirmation of approval to the department, Business Contracts, the president, and executive vice president and chief financial officer. Exceptions are generally approved for the length of the contract term with the understanding that there needs to be evidence of accessibility improvements prior to any contract renewal. Approved exceptions do not eliminate the University EIR owner’s responsibility to provide access to the EIR by an alternate method or in an alternate format. Furthermore, if a software exception is granted, this does not preclude a person with disabilities from filing a lawsuit against the university.
When is an Exception Infeasible?
A request for an exception to the EIR Accessibility Warranty requirement is infeasible when:
- The EIR will be used campus-wide (e.g., Workday, Outlook).
- The EIR will be used by a large number of campus affiliates in a CSU or by members of the public (e.g., utexas.edu websites, Zoom).
- Product is a requirement of academic and administrative procedures (e.g., Canvas).
- Usage of the product will directly impact a specific program and /or service on campus (e.g., Quest).
- There is high exposure to products on campus (e.g., Duo).
Independent Third-Party Accessibility Consultants
Third-party consultants will look at your EIR through a lens of accessibility and compliance which makes them more apt to identify issues and opportunities to improve high-priority problems and eliminate barriers to usability. They are also more likely to be up to date on the latest solutions and are versed in implementing them. Locally, there are two accessibility consulting groups the University has partnered with on large-scale EIR concerns:
- Micro Assist: https://www.microassist.com/accessibility/accessibility-training/
- Knowbility: https://knowbility.org/
- Accessibility – Refers to the ability of individuals with disabilities to access and use products and systems.
- Assistive Technologies – Technologies and devices that increase, maintain, or improve the ability of individuals with disabilities to use computers and computer-based systems. Examples include a head or foot mouse, speech recognition software, and screen-reading software.
- DIR Accessibility Rules – Rules issued by the Texas Department of Information Resources (DIR) regarding the development, procurement, maintenance, and use of EIR by institutions of higher education and set forth in Title 1, Chapter 206, Rule §206.70 of the Texas Administrative Code and in Title 1, Chapter 213 of the Texas Administrative Code.
- Electronic and Information Resource or Electronic and Information Resources (EIR) – EIR means Information Technology and any equipment or interconnected system or subsystem of equipment that is used in the creation, conversion, duplication, or delivery of data or information. The term electronic and information resources include, but is not limited to, telecommunications products (such as telephones), information kiosks and transaction machines, World Wide Web sites, multimedia, and office equipment such as copiers and fax machines. The term does not include any equipment that contains embedded information technology that is used as an integral part of the product, but the principal function of which is not the acquisition, storage, manipulation, management, movement, control, display, switching, interchange, transmission, or reception of data or information. For example, Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning (HVAC) equipment such as thermostats or temperature control devices, and medical equipment where information technology is integral to its operation and are not considered information technology.
- Exception – A justified, documented non-compliance with one or more standards or specifications of Texas Administrative Code, Chapter 206 and/or Chapter 213 of this title, which has been approved by the EIR Accessibility Coordinator.
- EIR Accessibility Coordinator – The employee designated to develop, support and maintain its accessibility policy institution-wide.
- Information Technology – Means any equipment or interconnected system or subsystem of equipment, that is used in the automatic acquisition, storage, manipulation, management, movement, control, display, switching, interchange, transmission, or reception of data or information. The term includes computers (including desktop and laptop computers), ancillary equipment, desktop software, client-server software, mainframe software, Web application software and other types of software, firmware and similar procedures, services (including support services), and related resources.
- Self-Contained, Closed Products – Products that generally have embedded software and are commonly designed in such a fashion that a user cannot easily attach or install assistive technology. These products include, but are not limited to, information kiosks in information transaction machines, copiers, printers, calculators, fax machines, and other similar products.
- Technical Accessibility Standards and Specifications – Accessibility standards and specifications for Texas agency and institution of higher education websites and EIR set forth in Texas Administrative Code, Chapter 206 and/or Chapter 213 of this title.
- Telecommunications – The transmission, between or among points specified by the user, of information of the user’s choosing, without a change in the form or content of the information as sent and received.
- Voluntary Product Accessibility Template (VPAT) – A tool used to document a product’s conformance with the accessibility standards under Section 508of the Rehabilitation Act. The purpose of the VPAT is to assist contracting officials and other buyers in making preliminary assessments regarding the availability of commercial EIR products and services with features that support accessibility.
- WCAG 2.1 – Stands for Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1. WCAG 2.1 provides an international technical standard for web content. It has 12 guidelines that are organized under four principles: perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust. The guidelines each have testable success criteria, which are at three levels: A, AA, and AAA.
EIR Accessibility FAQs
- What are Electronic and Information Resources (EIR)? – Electronic and Information Resources (EIR) are technologies that provide access to information through telecommunications, with a focus on communication technologies (e.g., website content and multimedia). Texas law defines EIR, in part, as “information technology and any equipment or interconnected system or subsystem of equipment used to create, convert, duplicate, store, or deliver data or information.” See the full definition from the Texas Administrative Code (TAC) 213.
- What does EIR accessibility mean? – Accessibility means that websites, tools, and technologies are designed and developed so that people with disabilities can use them. More specifically, people with disabilities can perceive, understand, navigate, interact with, and contribute to EIRs. The functional definition of accessibility states that people with disabilities must be provided the opportunity to (1) acquire the same information, (2) engage in the same interactions, (3) enjoy the same services as people without disabilities, with (4) “substantially equivalent ease of use.” EIR must be usable to people of all abilities in an equitable manner. This can be achieved by either implementing accessible technologies or via an accommodation that provides an equitable experience.
- What is the technical standard for EIR accessibility that the University must observe? – The University is expected to comply with the technical standards for accessibility, as defined by Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which adopted the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), Level A, and AA as the enforcing standard.
- Why do I need to follow this requirement? – The University of Texas at Austin must comply with the Texas Department of Information Resources (DIR) Accessibility Rules when developing, procuring, maintaining, or using EIR. All colleges, schools, and units (CSUs) should strive to procure the most accessible product of its kind because the University has an obligation to analyze the EIR products they purchase to ensure accessibility is addressed for these products.
- What if the vendor won’t supply a VPAT or does not have one? – Ultimately, a vendor’s refusal to address accessibility deficiencies/concerns could result in non-purchase or non-renewal of the product/service. If you are providing your vendor a template of the latest VPAT form, share the WCAG version.
- Who is responsible for providing accessible content? – Accessibility is a shared responsibility, beginning with content authors. Whether it is created in Microsoft Word, Canvas, or HTML, authors must produce accessible content before it is shared with their communities. When the content is curated from an external source, the author must do their due diligence in selecting accessible content. This can be as simple as finding and citing accessibility support information from the original source.
- Who is responsible for supporting accessibility at UT Austin? – If you have a question regarding accessibility, please contact the appropriate administrator for the technology in question. If the issue cannot be resolved, the appropriate administrator should escalate the concern to the EIR Accessibility Coordinator.
- How do I report an accessibility issue? – Please contact the appropriate administrator for the technology in question. If the issue cannot be resolved, the appropriate administrator should escalate the concern to the EIR Accessibility Coordinator.
Contact the EIR Accessibility Coordinator
Dr. Jennifer Maedgen, senior associate vice president in the Division of Campus and Community Engagement, serves as the ADA/Section 504 Coordinator for the campus, as well as the Electronic Information Resources (EIR) Coordinator. To send a message to the EIR Accessibility Coordinator, please complete and submit the feedback form.