Districts and institutions should expect all their software providers to be proactively transparent about their product’s accessibility just as they are about its features. It is not realistic for districts and institutions to be able to evaluate fully and routinely the conformance of each of their vendor-provided services to the WCAG 2.0 Level AA. As part of due diligence in any procurement process for online software, districts and institutions should require some critical documentation.
Voluntary Product Accessibility Template (VPAT™)
The VPAT is a standardized method for vendors to explain in simple and concise language where a product conforms to federal accessibility procurement requirements and where it does not. Federal requirements are closely aligned with the WCAG 2.0 Level AA guidelines which makes it a very useful proxy for accessibility requirements in the education space.
The VPAT is not a certification, however, and a vendor’s completion of one does not necessarily mean their product is accessible for everyone. For example, a product could claim keyboard navigation alignment but include an exception that it is not yet keyboard navigable but is in the process. Any claimed exceptions should be read closely and include a specific and reasonable timeline for resolving.
Similarly, a vendor’s product may not appear to fully conform to accessibility standards on the VPAT yet still meet the needs of students with disabilities. Often this is because certain conformance indicators may not be applicable to that product. For example, a product with no video functions does not need to include closed captioning capabilities.
Vendors should prominently post their VPATs and other accessibility documentation on their websites in a manner that is public and easy to find.
Third-Party Validation and User Testing
In addition to the VPAT self-assessment, schools and institutions should ask their providers of critical and necessary software for students, parents and educators to provide validation of accessibility by a third-party. By asking for attestation to the accessibility of a product, districts and institutions can be assured that accessibility needs and requirements are truthfully being met without needing to invest in their own enforcement and review mechanism. Reputable validating entities will not only test a product with automated review software but will also conduct user testing with individuals with disabilities.
Guidance for Using Accessibility Features
Outside of documentation of the product’s accessibility, vendors should also be able to provide guidance and best practices for teachers and students on how to most effectively use the accessibility features. Many times, this guidance is in the form of traditional step-by-step guides but can also include a moderated, online community of practice for educators to share practices amongst each other. In addition, districts and institutions should ask their vendors for a point of contact for accessibility questions that may not be covered in the guidance or to alert if an accessibility issue arises.