After the Accessibility Audit

Cheers for you and your company.  You’ve done the accessibility audit.

Accessibility Audit

Either you just heard about or know about the need to make all websites compliant for people with disabilities OR you got an unwelcome letter from the Department of Justice (DOJ) or the Office of Civil Rights (OCR). You went ahead and hired a company to do an accessibility audit.

If the audit company was good they went through your website or other software and measured it against Section 508 (US Federal government standards) or WCAG 2.0 (International guidelines which are now partially included in Section 508).

In either case you got a report and are working with your development team to fix any flaws. That was a worthy use of $5k – $20k of your company money.

Done, right?  Not so fast.

More work to be done

The chances are really, really good that your company is still using inaccessible software and hardware that is also covered under Section 508 standards.

One way to minimize your risk is to stop purchasing Information and Communication Technology (ITC) which fails accessibility tests. That’s correct. Only you and your procurement department stand between inaccessible software and hardware and your employees, students, customers and whomever else you represent.

Procurement training

Get training for those procurement professionals NOW. Make sure the training includes how to ask for and analyze the latest VPAT (Voluntary Product Accessibility Template), which is a vendor-created document that tracks a specific product that you might buy to the Section 508 and/ or WCAG 2.0 standards and guidelines.

VPAT training

You should be asking for a VPAT in every RFP and every time you look to purchase any sort of ICT (phone systems, printers, software packages, computers, laptops or tablets, etc. etc).

An “average” company spends between 4 and 6% of their annual budget on ICT purchases. For a company with a $15 million budget that means annual expenditures of $600k to $900k. With that much money on the table the cost for high quality training and guidance at $6k to $10k is just a drop in the budget.

Seek out an accessibility specialist who can train your staff either onsite or remotely, help staff to learn how to analyze VPATs. This specialist should also be able and available to coach your staff on what questions to ask vendors AND what answers to accept.

VPATs – publish or perish

Help – what is a VPAT?

I still remember the first time I heard of a VPAT. I had just moved to the Boston area to work on the UX team at EBSCO Publishing. My new manager greeted me with “I am so glad you are here! We need to update our VPAT as soon as we can. You can get started on that right away.”

I didn’t have the heart or confidence to tell her I had no idea whatsoever what a VPAT was so I used my default which is to say, “Of course. I’ll get right on it.”

Fast track!

I immediately got a copy of their outdated VPAT, looked up the template on the ITIC site and figured out that there was an incredible amount (like weeks of testing) that should back up a VPAT. Oh, and along the way, I figured out that VPAT meant “Voluntary Product Accessibility Template”. Also that it is an industry standard way, courtesy of the ITIC (Information Technology Industry Council),  to tell your customers how well (or poorly) you have conformed to the accessibility standards for software or hardware set by the US Government.

I also learned that the reason the sales department had sent up an emergency “Get us a current VPAT!!” distress signal was because they were in the midst of sales negotiations where the library customer demanded a VPAT or they would not buy! This stance is likely to produce panic in any salesperson.

The race is on!

Luckily for them I had a very good history of prioritizing testing so that business critical needs would be met on time.  So, I decided what could and could not be tested on the EBSCOhost site in the immediate future. I set about doing that. EBSCOhost is a platform which allows a library to present databases of information, eBooks and other content to their customers. Using a subscription model approach a library can offer their customers an amazing amount of information at a set price.

From an accessibility point of view the content presents problems.  The content is produced by many, many publishers who have no uniform standard of producing content that meet the Section 508 or WCAG 2.0 guidelines. This means  there may or may not be alt text for images. There might not be captioning, if the content has videos. There may not be proper coding.  A person who cannot use a mouse might not be able to move through the pages using only a keyboard or similar device. The pragmatic truth of this situation is that, while the platform might be very compliant some of the content probably will not be.

My VPAT, produced in a couple of weeks, of the large and complex EBSCOhost platform helped save the deal and was used for a couple of years until the code had changed enough to merit a new VPAT, which someone else tested for and documented.

My takeaways

VPATs are largely used to facilitate sales when customers demand them as part of their RFP sales process.

VPATs are only as good as testers and evaluators make them.

VPATs are a moving target. They are not written in stone, but in digital bits, subject to updating as code and conditions change.