Procuring Accessible IT Solutions

Key Points 
  • Accessibility is an essential consideration for IT solutions, regardless of whether they are internal or public facing.
  • For customers: To ensure you are procuring accessible IT products and services, reference the relevant standards in your design and procurement requirements, and incorporate contractual provisions around accessibility in your IT contract.
  • If you are in the Government sector, agencies are placing increasing importance on accessibility so that their IT systems are consistent with values of social responsibility and inclusiveness.  
  • For vendors: Developing IT solutions that are compliant with the relevant accessibility standards and guidelines, will help you remain competitive in the market.

Accessibility – what?
Accessibility is the quality of being easily reached, entered, or used. The more accessible a product or service, the more inclusive it is. The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 relates the concept of accessibility to 4 principles:
  • Perceivable
  • Operable
  • Understandable
  • Robust
While the WCAG applies to web content only, its four principles are useful in describing what is considered an accessible product or service. Broadly speaking, an accessible product or service means:
  • perceivable – information  is presented in a way that can be perceived by the user’s senses (ie sense of sight, hearing, touch and/or smell (and, perhaps less relevant to ICT products and services, taste))
  • operable - any interaction it requires for operating the product or service can be performed by the user
  • understandable - the user can understand the content and operation of the product or service
  • robust - it can be used with other assistive technologies and software as technologies advance

Accessibility – why?
Accessibility supports social inclusion and bridges social gaps. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which Australia has ratified, recognises access to information and communications technologies as a basic human right.

For customers: Including accessibility requirements for your IT solution provides significant potential benefits for its stakeholders and users, such as:
  • demonstration of social responsibility
  • reinforcing inclusiveness in the workplace
  • increased staff satisfaction with enhanced usability
  • potentially increase productivity
  • reduced risk of legal action and negative publicity from not complying with anti-discrimination legislation.

For vendors: Adopting and integrating accessibility to a product or service will be critical to meeting customers’ requirements for an inclusive and usable product.
Accessibility – standards
WCAG
For web content accessibility, the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) published by the W3C provide a set of recommendations that are widely adopted by developers and often required by customers. In 2008, WCAG 2.0 was published (which subsequently became an ISO standard (ISO/IEC 40500:2012)).

In June 2018, WCAG 2.1 was released, which inherits requirements from WCAG 2.0 and provides an additional guideline on Input Mechanisms and 17 new success criteria.

Australian Standard
In 2016, the Australian Standard AS EN 301 549:2016 (titled “Accessibility requirements suitable for public procurement of ICT products and services”) was established. Thisis identical to the European standard and applies to websites, software and digital devices.

Since June 2018, this Australian Standard has been included in the NSW Government ICT Services Scheme (SCM0020) rules. NSW Government Agencies should consider including accessibility requirements where applicable for their IT project. Such requirements should be reflected in its procurement and evaluation documentation, design development and testing.

Digital Service Standard
In addition, in 2017, the Digital Transformation Agency of the Australian Government established the Digital Service Standard to ensure that any new and redesigned public facing federal government IT services are user friendly.

The “Make it accessible” criterion outlines a set of standards for any new and redesigned IT solutions offered by Federal government agencies. (See Make it accessible for the full list of standards relating to accessibility).

Accessibility – contracting
To ensure an IT solution being supplied is accessible, customers should include in its relevant IT contract:
  • obligations on the vendor to comply with accessibility standards (including details in relation to the applicable standards)
  • provisions around accessibility testing, including parties responsibilities and acceptance criteria for such testing
  • accessibility key performance indicators

Towards greater accessibility…
Customers have the ability to drive change towards greater accessibility in IT solution offerings by recognising the benefits and value of accessibility in IT solutions through their IT procurement activities.
Accessible IT solutions are:

“essential for 10% of the population, necessary for 40% of the population and comfortable for 100% of the population”.1

[1] Accessible ICT Procurement Toolkit, Key principles for accessible procurement, http://mandate376.standards.eu/planning-procurement/key-principles-accessible-procurement

Post by Rosana She (Assisted by Phillip McKay, Naomi Murn and Quincy Wong)

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