Procurement Accessibility Guide/FAQ

Very Short Version

(For those who don't want to read the rest of this page)

Before you can buy or start using a certain types of digital products or services (or renew a contract for an existing product or service), we need to make sure it can be fully used by people with disabilities. Web-based materials that will be used by students or members of the public have required reviews and approvals, while other types of digital products can be submitted for voluntary review. You'll need to answer a few basic questions about the product or service, collect some information from the vendor, and send the information to the Digital Accessibility Architect (DAA). If you're requesting a new Canvas tool/LTI integration, the Learning Management Systems (LMS) Admin team at Information Services will take care of communicating with the DAA and vendors for you. The DAA will then review everything, and may need to evaluate the product or service. If there are problems, the vendor will be asked to fix them, and if they can't or won't fix them in time for your use, you can file for a temporary exemption. To get an exemption, you'll need to fill out an EEAAP form, which explains how you'll ensure that people with disabilities will still be able to access the content. The EEAAP needs to be approved by the DAA, and the exemption needs to be approved by the Chief Information Officer (CIO) (the DAA will work with the CIO; the only people you need to work with are the DAA and the vendor). If you have any questions, just email the DAA, and they'll meet with you via Zoom to explain things and provide whatever help they can!


(For those who want to have a better understanding)

Why do we include accessibility in the process?

Many products and services were not designed to be inclusive, and can be difficult or even impossible for people with disabilities to use. By using those products or services at UO, we're discriminating against people with disabilities and violating their civil rights.

In addition to our ethical obligation to ensure that we're not discriminating against people with disabilities, it's also required by federal law (Title I and II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 and Section 504 and 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, specifically).

This applies to any digital content (which includes anything accessed on a computer or mobile device, like web pages, Word documents, and software), whether it's going to be used by students, employees, or even the general public, but web content (including web pages, mobile apps, web apps, online videos, and common document formats linked online) that are used by students or members of the public are subject to stricter new federal rules.

What if no one with a disability needs to use a product or service?

Unless you're the only person who will be using a product or service, you have no way to know whether a disabled person will be using it. Many impairments and conditions are not visible or obvious, people with disabilities have no obligation to tell you, and stigma and discrimination have created an environment where disclosing disabilities and neurodivergence is a risk. As a result, you should never assume that a person isn't disabled or that they aren't neurodivergent, even if you've asked them.

(Please don't ask anyone whether they're disabled! If you need to know about accommodation needs in order to ensure that people have full access to something, just ask whether anyone needs accommodations. Asking about disabilities is inappropriate unless you're their medical doctor.)

Even if no one who will be using the product or service today has a disability, that doesn't mean there won't be someone later. Disabilities can appear at any time, meaning that someone who isn't disabled today may be disabled tomorrow. Additionally, if a new employee is hired or a new student joins a class, they may have a disability.

How do I start the accessibility review process?

If you've already submitted the procurement to PCS, the Digital Accessibility Architect will reach out to you (PCS will contact the DAA). The DAA will provide you with detailed instructions on what you need to do, or will let you know if they need any additional information to start the process.

If you have not yet submitted the procurement to PCS (or if you don't plan to go through PCS), submit a Request for Digital Accessibility Procurement Review or email the DAA. They'll let you know if they have any questions, and will send you detailed instructions on what you need to do.

What information do I need to provide for the accessibility review?

Basic Information

First, we collect basic information about a product or service, how it will be used, and who will use it. These questions need to be filled out by someone requesting the procurement who is knowledgeable about how it will be used (typically, the person who will be using or deploying it, not just an administrator who submits purchase requests).

You'll be given instructions and a form to fill out when you start the process, and you can find an example on the Collecting and Submitting Information page.

Questions for Vendors

We also need some information from vendors. The person or department procuring the product is responsible for sending these to the vendor, and then providing the responses to the Digital Accessibility Architect. If the request is for a new Canvas tool/LTI integration, the Learning Management Systems (LMS) Admin team will communicate with the vendor and the Digital Accessibility Architect. When you contact the Digital Accessibility Architect to start the review process, they'll provide you with detailed instructions, and the sections below explain more about what we ask for and why.

How do we evaluate accessibility?

Compliance Reports (ACRs/VPATs)

For any existing product or service (i.e., something that isn't being custom-made for UO), we ask vendors to provide an Accessibility Conformance Report (ACR) using the VPAT.

The VPAT (Voluntary Product Accessibility Template) is a federal standard for disclosure of digital accessibility compliance, including details of any violations. It's important that vendors fill it out using one of the acceptable accessibility standards (WCAG 2.1 AA or Revised Section 508), that it be current (because products change over time), and that it be complete (they can't skip anything and they need to provide details of any rule violations). Ideally, we want an ACR that was filled out by a third party, because vendors frequently fill them out incorrectly (often because they lack the expertise to evaluate accessibility).

When we receive an ACR, an accessibility expert reviews it and first determines whether it's usable (an unusable ACR may be incomplete, out of date, incorrect, have dubious findings, etc.). If it's usable but indicates that there are accessibility violations (which is typical), we'll ask the vendor for a remediation plan (described below). If the ACR is not usable, we may ask the vendor to fix the report, and will also ask for evaluation access.

High-Level Evaluations

When we don't have a usable ACR or when we have a product that needs additional scrutiny (for example, a product that will be used by a large number of people or for a critical purpose), we'll want to conduct our own accessibility evaluation. Generally, we'll need to ask the vendor to provide access to a test account or demo system, and may also ask them to briefly meet with an evaluator to explain how the product is used.

An accessibility expert then conducts a very brief, high-level evaluation of the product against WCAG 2.1 AA standards and documents their findings. The evaluation is manual (i.e., not reliant on automated tools), and includes testing keyboard and screen reader functionality, color contrast, and a variety of other requirements, but isn't intended to be exhaustive or comprehensive. If problems are found, we send a list to the vendor and ask them to provide a remediation plan.

Remediation/Compliance Plans

A remediation or compliance plan documents a vendor's plans for bringing a product or service into compliance with accessibility requirements. These plans must include timelines for fixing any issues identified, so a vendor will typically need to check with their development team and project managers before they can provide one. An "Accessibility Statement" (a broad statement from a vendor that they value accessibility and are working on improving their products, but providing no concrete details) is not sufficient.

If a vendor refuses to provide a plan, or if their timeline is overly long (which may suggest that they don't have any concrete plans to fix the product or service), we may decline to do business with them. Even if a product or service can qualify for an exemption right now (explained in the next section), our long-term plan is to have all products and services at the university be fully accessible in the future.

If a vendor isn't willing to commit to fixing known accessibility problems in their products, working with them now may create major problems for tomorrow (once a product or service is in use, it can be very hard to stop using it or switch to something else).

Additionally, we want to work with vendors who share our institutional values, not vendors who engage in or contribute to discrimination against people with disabilities.

What if the product or service I want isn't fully accessible?

If a product or service doesn't meet digital accessibility standards right now, it can still be procured if it qualifies for a temporary exemption. A full list of qualifying circumstances is listed in the ICT Accessibility Procedures, but the most common reason is "Non-Availability," which can be met if there is no accessible alternative. Basically, if there are alternatives to the product or service that are more accessible, we need to use those instead, but if there are no alternatives or none that are more accessible, we can still procure the product, despite its flaws.

That doesn't eliminate the university's responsibility to ensure that people with disabilities can use it, however. As a result, we require that an Equally Effective Alternative Access Plan (EEAAP) be created and approved for anything that needs an exemption.

EEAAPs and Exemption Determinations

An Equally Effective Alternative Access Plan (EEAAP) documents how accommodations will be provided by the university to people who may experience an accessibility barrier to using a product or service that is not fully accessible on its own.

We have a standard template for EEAAPs (filling it out also takes care of filing for an exemption), and the Digital Accessibility Architect can work with you to make sure it's completed correctly and answer any questions about it. Every plan is unique, but plans frequently include making the same content available via another method or having an employee available to provide direct assistance in using a product.

The Digital Accessibility Architect needs to approve and sign an EEAAP for it to be valid, and they consult with the ICT Accessibility Committee for feedback and approval before making a determination. If the EEAAP is approved, the Digital Accessibility Architect will bring it to the Chief Information Officer (CIO), who must give final approval on any exemption. (Please don't contact the CIO directly. The DAA will work with them, provide the appropriate information, and handle the approval process.) If the exemption is approved, the procurement can proceed.

EEAAPs and exemptions aren't permanent. Under most circumstances, they're only valid for one year, and need to be filed for again if the product or service is still in use and hasn't been fixed yet. Over time, we expect to grant fewer and fewer exemptions, so you shouldn't expect an exemption to be renewed indefinitely.

What about custom products or services, like website and software development?

If you're having a vendor create something new (for example a new website, custom software, or deliverables like reports or videos), we need to put appropriate accessibility requirements into the contract language. We also may request that the scope of work be adjusted to include digital accessibility – if the vendor determines that it will take longer or be more expensive to ensure that the final product is accessible, that needs to be accounted for. Finally, in some instances, we may ask the vendor to provide examples of prior work that meets accessibility standards, so that we can be confident that they'll be able to deliver an accessible product.

What about new Canvas tools/LTI integrations?

The Learning Management Systems (LMS) Admin team is responsible for managing the implementation of external tools in Canvas at UO. When you request a new tool integration for Canvas (also called an "LTI") to add functionality, the LMS Admin team will work with the Digital Accessibility Architect and vendor to handle the process outlined on this page. The LMS Admin team may have questions for you, but they'll be your single point of contact and will take care of most things.

What if there isn't time for an accessibility review?

If you're worried about having enough time, the best thing to do is start the process early. You can email the DAA to begin an accessibility review before you go to PCS. You can even plan to have the entire accessibility review and exemption process completed before you start working with PCS, so it won't introduce any delays.

In some cases, that's not possible, however. If you're just starting the procurement process for a product or service and it's critical that the contract is approved or renewed within two weeks, you can apply for an Emergency Exemption Deferral. Emergency exemption deferrals allow the procurement to move forward without the full accessibility review/exemption process being completed first, but the full process still needs to be followed after the contract is signed (according to a specific timeline and process). Deferrals only apply to digital accessibility reviews - they don't impact security or other reviews or requirements needed for procurement.

What if I have questions or need help?

This is a new process and can feel overwhelming, but you're not being left to navigate it on your own (and fortunately, it's not as complicated as it may seem at first). The Digital Accessibility Architect is here for you! While they won't fill out forms for you, they can explain the process, answer questions, read over drafts and provide feedback, etc. Just send them an email and tell them you'd like to chat – they're happy to meet with you via Zoom or Teams (or phone, if you don't like video chats)!