While U-M has an obligation under Federal law to adopt products that are accessible to everyone in the campus community, not all vendors have the same obligations. To help address this gap, the Information Technology Accessibility Group (ITAG) of the Big 10 Academic Alliance seeks to create a common understanding with vendors of the accessibility requirements and considerations in IT purchasing processes.
To support this goal, ITAG developed a Vendor Guide to Web Accessibility aimed at administrative decision makers in vendor software development groups. Informally referred to by ITAG as “the Cookbook,” the guide lays out broad reasons for why vendors should adopt design and development processes to create accessible products. According to Jane Vincent, ITS’s assistive technology manager and a Cookbook contributor, “There are already a lot of technical resources about accessibility for programmers. Our aim in creating the Cookbook was to provide a concise accessibility business case to corporate decision makers, supplemented with links to how-to information.”
The Cookbook helps vendors engaging with higher educational institutions to understand why accessibility is an important aspect of purchasing and contracting by defining terms and regulations to which colleges and universities must adhere. It recommends ways to communicate with higher ed constituencies and looks at important issues vendors may need to consider when incorporating accessibility into their design and development processes. In addition to adopting best practices for Web design (such as separating content and styling), vendors gain higher levels of usability in their products for all users as well as a market advantage for other potential higher ed customers.
ITS staff had key roles in developing the Cookbook, and ITS had already begun using some of the lessons contained in the Cookbook in its procurement process. As part of the Role and Access Management RFP package, language included in the Cookbook was included in the RFP documents and will be used to evaluate vendor responses. When a selection from the RFP is made, ITS staff will also continue to evaluate the solution and the vendor’s commitment to accessibility in their product.
Vendors have begun to update their products to be more accessible based on feedback from projects. SignNow, the university’s selection for e-signatures, had their product evaluated by a third party at the university’s request. The evaluation found some accessibility issues that made it difficult for people with certain disabilities to use parts of the SignNow application. While not all the issues have been fixed, SignNow has committed to updating their software to make their product accessible to all campus members, benefiting not just those with disabilities, but the entire university community.
The Big 10 Academic Alliance is a consortium of Big Ten member universities, plus the University of Chicago, which sponsors multiple committees and groups addressing challenges common to members. Chartered in 2011, ITAG identifies common challenges and best practices related to the accessibility of information technology. Vincent notes, “ITAG members are currently collaborating with members of other Big 10 Academic Alliance groups, particularly procurement and library groups, to ensure that accessibility doesn’t occur in a vacuum.”
Please send comments or questions to Jane Vincent, ITS Assistive Technology Manager, at firstname.lastname@example.org.