The list below compiles some common questions and answers about accessibility in technology procurement. Questions below are linked to answers in the page.
Entities are encouraged to go through a process detailed by the Oklahoma Office of Management and Enterprise Services.
It is important to vet candidate products, whether they are paid or free, installed or cloud-based. The vetting process should include
The categories are as follows:
Products usually fit into one of the categories. However, the Oklahoma Electronic and Information Technology Accessibility (EITA) standards are the basis for the Oklahoma VPAT. The standards distinguish between installed software (Software applications and operating systems) and web-based software (Web-based information or applications). In the modern day, the two are often combined into cloud-based or web-based applications that look and act like installed software. Software vendors that provide products that blend elements of both of those categories can be asked to fill out both sections of the VPAT.
In addition, vendors should also fill out the section on Information, documentation and support regardless of the type of technology under review.
If an agency has a general evaluation tool, accessibility must be one of the criteria in the selection process in addition to the general, technical and functional requirements of the procurement specifications (OK Administrative Code 260:115-7-54).
The agency should set up a point system prior to the review of products and determine which accessibility standards will be most critical to meet.
The accessibility standards that are the most critical should be weighted with a higher point value. The remaining standards should be considered equally with a lower point value, unless they are not applicable to the proposed system. The accessibility standards that are not applicable should be scored as no points. With custom products or with products that can be altered to fit the agencies needs, all applicable standards should be met.
For example, if a product does not meet accessibility standard L of the Software section of the accessibility standards, the application would not be accessible for someone who doesn’t use a mouse. This standard should be considered as a critical standard as it would prevent keyboard access of an application. Standard R “identify the primary natural language of the document” doesn’t have as significant an impact on the success of assistive technology use with a software solution as standard L. In this example, standard R should be evaluated as a less critical standard and is assigned a lower point value in the scoring process than standards such as accessibility standard L.
Finally, the procurement process must consider accessibility among the general, technical and functional requirements of the procurement specifications (OK Administrative Code :260:115-7-54).
If the vendor’s response was required to be submitted and is not submitted with the response, then the vendor is considered non-responsive for this requirement. State procurement policy requires a VPAT or comparable document to be submitted at a minimum (OK Administrative Code is 260:115-7-54 (b(3)) and that accessibility will be considered among the general, technical and functional requirements of the procurement specifications.
If an agency is evaluating multiple COTS products, can they only evaluate the VPATs for the products that meet their business needs? In other words, if an agency declares sole source, then does accessibility still matter?
An agency must evaluate all products that will meet their general, technical and functional needs. Declaring sole source does not eliminate the need to evaluate accessibility. Accessibility must be considered as one of the criteria when selecting a product.
If a COTS product is procured on a state wide or a general services agreement contract and a VPAT is already on file, then does the agency have to ask for a new one? Or is the VPAT on file acceptable?
Ideally, the agency that awards the statewide contract should be the agency that maintains the current VPAT for the products on a statewide contract. For statewide contracts, OMES shall be the repository for VPATS associated with each statewide contract. OMES currently has provided links to the manufacturers on the statewide contracts to expedite VPAT searches by agencies.
OMES intends to collect and maintain VPATs for future statewide contract awards. When necessary, OMES will utilize IT commodity councils to review the VPATs for minimum compliance to Oklahoma Information Technology Accessibility Standards. OMES will require that vendors update the VPATs (or verify current status of the same) annually and make them available to state agencies to further expedite the acquisition process.
However, agencies should review VPAT information during the requisition process for two important reasons:
Does a subscription service need to be accessible? Do we need VPATs from vendors providing on-line subscription services? If so, do they have to be 100% compliant before we can subscribe to the service?
There are two issues to be considered when buying access to a subscription service. While the actual subscription service should be treated like a COTS product, an agency should inquire about the accessibility compliance of any customizable features. With regard to the customizable features an agency should collect a VPAT from the subscription service.
If the product is considered to be “back office” IT, the product may qualify as an exception to the Oklahoma IT Accessibility Standard.
Finally, for IT $5,000 and less, agencies are encouraged but not required to maintain documentation for commercial off the shelf acquisitions unless the purchase is part of an existing contract or affects a larger EIT system where accessibility is critical (OK Administrative Code 260:115-7-54 (d). This does not include VPATs or comparable documents, which are required for all IT products as a part of the procurement process.
Also refer to the answer to question about evaluation tools.
Yes, an open source and free software does need to be accessible. In most cases for open source solutions, you cannot get a VPAT as there is no company typically considered the owner of the solution. However, the agency should obtain a VPAT from a vendor or company that uses open source in the development of a solution. Accessibility is just one of the criteria that an agency should evaluate (along with general, technical, functional requirements).
If the product is considered to be “back office” IT, the product can qualify as an exception to the Oklahoma IT Accessibility Standard.
For IT $5,000 and less, agencies are encouraged but not required to maintain documentation for commercial off the shelf acquisitions unless the purchase is part of an existing contract or affects a larger EIT system where accessibility is critical (OK Administrative Code 260:115-7-54 (d). This does not include VPATs or comparable documents, which are required for all IT products as a part of the procurement process.
Only with respect to liability. Both COTS and custom products must comply with all the identified applicable standards to be accepted by the agency.
In March 2009, DCS revised the IT Access Clause to clarify who is accountable for making final decisions about accessibility compliance, as follows:
For Information Technology or Communications Products, Systems and Applications not requiring development and/or customization. The Contractor shall provide a description of conformance with the applicable Oklahoma Information Technology Accessibility Standards for the proposed product, system or application by means of either a Voluntary Product Accessibility Template (VPAT) or other comparable document, upon request.
The Contractor shall indemnify and hold harmless the State of Oklahoma and any Oklahoma Government entity purchasing the products, systems, or applications not requiring development and/or customized by the Contractor from any claim arising out of the Contractor's failure to comply with applicable Oklahoma Information Technology Accessibility Standards subsequent to providing certification of compliance to such Standards.
For Information Technology or Communications Products, Systems or Applications requiring development and/or customization. The Contractor shall provide a description of conformance with the applicable Oklahoma Information Technology Accessibility Standards for the proposed product, system, or application developed and/or customized by means of either a Voluntary Product Accessibility Template (VPAT) or other comparable document, upon request. Additional requirements and documentation may be required and compliance will be necessary on the Contractor’s part. Such requirements will be stated in documents such as State Bids, Request for Proposals, Contracts, Agreements, Purchase Orders, and Amendments.
The Contractor shall indemnify and hold harmless the State of Oklahoma and any Oklahoma Government entity purchasing the products, systems, or applications from the Contractor, from any claim arising out of the Contractor's failure to comply with applicable Oklahoma Information Technology Accessibility Standards subsequent to providing certification of compliance to such Standards. However, the Contractor shall no longer have an obligation to indemnify the State for liability resulting from products, systems or applications developed and/or customized that are not in compliance with applicable Oklahoma Information Technology Accessibility Standards (“Standards”) after the State has tested and confirmed that the product, system or application meets the accessibility requirements in the Standards.
What flexibility is there in either procuring COTS or putting documents on the web in terms of percent accessible (meets 80% of the standards), back-office uses available to only a few employees (how many is a few?), and allowing a plan/timeline for vendor or developer to make accessible? Does the notion of “reasonable timelines for conforming to IT accessibility standards” apply only after a complaint has been filed (260:15-1-7), or can “reasonable timelines” be considered upon initial software purchase or publication of documents to the Web?
This is a question about flexibility and allowable percentages of compliance within several scenarios - each will be addressed separately.
With respect to true COTS (commercial off the shelf) products, please see questions 3 and 8. The answer to # 3 is that accessibility is considered with the general, technical and functional requirements and when evaluated as such is established as part of the best value. Question and answer for #8 discusses the options for establishing true COTS and how to evaluate. The agency must procure the product that best meets the general, technical and functional requirements as defined by the agency, in addition to the product that best meets accessibility standards. The procurement process must consider accessibility among the general, technical and functional requirements of the procurement specifications (OK Administrative code 260:115-7-54).
In terms of flexibility and percentages acceptable for web pages: The federal and state laws on IT accessibility do not define in specific measures or percentages of allowable partial compliance, and it would not be appropriate for OSF, DCS, or ABLE Tech to assign an allowable percentage for acceptable compliance.
To address the question related to the term “back office”:
The term, though not found in the Oklahoma IT Accessibility Standards or rules, refers to an exception noted in the Oklahoma standards as well as in the Oklahoma Administrative Code (260:115-7-54) related to Information Technology (IT). Exception (C) states an exception for “IT located in spaces frequented only by service personnel for maintenance, repair or occasional monitoring of equipment”. The agency must intend to locate the product in a physical space frequented only by service personnel. Second, the use of the product by the service personnel must be for maintenance, repair or occasional monitoring. If both conditions are met, the product does not have to meet the standards. Hardware that might meet these dual conditions includes: telephone equipment placed on racks in a "closet" or small room and network routers and storage devices or servers located in rooms or areas frequented only by service personnel for maintenance, repair, or occasional monitoring of equipment. Software. Software which is installed or operated on a product which falls under this exception would be exempt from the standards if the software application could only be operated from the physical place where the product is located. This might include specialized diagnostic software. By contrast, if the software could be operated from a remote workstation, the software would be subject to the Access Board's standards irrespective of who is using it since the product interface is not located in a physical space which meets the criteria for this exception.
The following items may be considered to be "back office" exempt:
Federal 508 sites provide clarification at http://www.section508.gov/index.cfm?FuseAction=Content&ID=92 and at the USPTO site at http://www.uspto.gov/go/cio/s508/14e.htm.
In reference to the question of allowing a reasonable timeline or plan for a vendor/developer to meet accessibility compliance: “Reasonable timelines” is only referenced in the context of the complaint process found in OAC 260: 15-1-7. Reasonable timelines are to be included in the plan to conforming to applicable IT Accessibility Standards. The intent of the 508 or EITA law is to address accessibility proactively or during the initial stages of purchase or development.
The IT Accessibility Standards, Para 3.3(b) state that “accessibility determination . . . .”will be subservient to the general, technical & functional requirements of the specifications.” Does this imply that business needs can outweigh the accessibility of the product? It goes on to say that product evaluation will include a review of the vendor-provided VPAT, “with judgments made regarding degree of conformance to the access standards”. Please comment on the meaning of the term “degrees of conformance to the access standards.”
The use of the term “subservient” in the OMES IT Accessibility Standards (page 8 section (b)) is a conflict of wording with the purchasing rules in the Oklahoma Administrative Code. The terminology and direction of that paragraph was discussed in a workgroup involving DCS, OSF (now OMES), and ABLE Tech and discrepancy was noted in September 2008.
Oklahoma Administrative Code 260:115-7-54:
3. Unless an exception applies, an agency must procure a product or service that best meets the business needs of the agency and the applicable IT Accessibility Standards.