Principles of accessible procurement
- Diversity is normal
- Universal Design is the best approach to accessibility
- IT is ideally suited to Universal Design
- Accessibility is predominantly a service quality issue
- Accessibility is about "user friendliness" and "ease of use"
- Accessibility should be included from the start
- Involve people with disabilities
- Full accessibility in one step may not be possible
- Procurers and suppliers need a good understanding of accessibility
Before you embark on a procurement, it is a good idea to be aware of some of the basic principles underlying accessibility and how best to achieve it. If you are new to accessibility, you might start by reading the Introduction to Accessibility. Understanding and taking on board the following ideas will get you are a long way toward successfully procuring an accessible solution.
Diversity is normal
In order to meet the access needs of the wider population, including people with disabilities, it is important not to take too narrow a view of 'disabilities' or 'access impairments'. Everyone is impaired in some ways at some times. Even people who have no permanent physical disability may be operating with a temporary injury such as RSI (repetitive strain injury), an environmental constraint such as poor lighting or an operational burden such as driving a car. Any of these things can make it more difficult to see, hear, understand or interact with Information and Communication Technologies (IT). In addition, some level of permanent perceptual or functional impairment can be expected to emerge naturally during almost everyone’s life. This variation in abilities across time and situation means that, for most products and services, the needs and abilities of its users are extremely diverse. This is normal, so accessibility is an essential consideration.
You can read more about the barriers faced by people with disabilities using IT in the the Introduction to Accessibility section of the NDA IT Accessibility Guidelines as well as under the individual technology sections of those guidelines.
The most effective and cost effective way to deliver a service is usually to do it in a single way that caters flexibly for everyone’s needs. Individual adaptations tend to be costly. For example, the easiest way to ensure that all customers can get in the door of a shop is to make a single entrance that is tall, wide, level (or ramped) and opens automatically. An alternative approach would be to install one “standard” door for “standard” people, then to provide a separate tall door for tall people, a wide door for wide people or parents with buggies, a ramped entrance for people in wheelchairs and an automatically opening door for people who are infirm or carrying awkward loads. However, these individual adaptations would require extra design, construction, maintenance and staff attention. This would be very costly. They might also discriminate against some customers, because at least one of the doors would probably have to be in an unfavourable location, from where it would take longer to reach the products on the shelves.
Individual adaptations may sometimes be necessary, but the aim should be to reduce the need for them as far as possible. IT is particularly suited to designing single channels that cater flexibly for the needs of a wide variety of service users and do not require individual adaptations.
IT is ideally suited to Universal Design
It is relatively easy to provide accessible services through IT compared with traditional channels. Take a business card for example. Business cards are a standard size and usually the writing on them is very small, too small for many people to read. A solution might be to make the text bigger and add Braille. But this could result in a cluttered design that suits few people. An alternative solution might be to print three different versions – standard, large print and Braille. This would be better but more expensive and some people might still not have their needs met.
With IT, a better solution comes a lot easier. A business card presented on a display screen can be zoomed to whatever size the viewer requires. The colours can be changed to suit different preferences and the content can be read aloud by text-to-speech software for blind people, people who cannot easily read English language or people who are driving their car at the time. It is much more flexible because the viewer has far more control over the presentation of the information.
Accessibility is not merely a compliance issue. It is not just about conforming with technical guidelines or legal requirements. By focusing on accessibility an organisation can achieve a universally consistent quality of service for its customers. This service equality should be the driving principle and motivation, not compliance.
Accessibility is about “user friendliness” and “ease of use”
Accessibility is not just about whether a person can or cannot perceive and physically operate an IT device. It is also about whether they can do so effectively and efficiently to enable them to carry out their tasks without undue difficulty. It is therefore a person-centred issue, not a technology-centred one. This means that success should ultimately be measured by looking at the experiences of the people using the product or service. Can they carry out their tasks? Can they do it quickly and easily? Is the experience “user friendly” for all users? One of the best ways to find out is to carry out user testing with people with a variety of abilities.
Accessibility should be included from the start
The time to start considering accessibility is before any design has been done. When accessibility is considered too late in the design lifecycle, it is often not possible or too costly to address fundamental barriers. This can result in excluding some people and the need to provide the service through expensive alternative channels. The sensible approach is to plan for accessibility from the start. Don’t try to complete a design and then retrofit accessibility into it.
Involve people with disabilities
Universal Design means inclusive design and user-centred design. The people who are to use a product or service must be involved in the design process from the beginning to the end. Their input is necessary and indispensable. In terms of procurement, this means that people with disabilities should be involved throughout the contract management lifecycle – during specification, supplier selection, design and implementation. The toolkit gives guidance on how to do this in the End-user Involvement section.
Full accessibility in one step may not be possible
If the decision has to be made that a product or service cannot be made accessible, or if there is going to be a time lag before accessibility can be achieved, there should be a plan for how to provide an alternative means of accessing the service so that disabled users are not disadvantaged. In the meantime, be prepared to do things in small achievable steps towards the final goal of full accessibility. Every step will bring benefits to both the customers and the service provider.
Procurers and suppliers need a good understanding of accessibility
It is easy to ask for an accessible solution, but how do you know if you have received one? In many cases, suppliers can be trusted to deliver on their promises. However, accessibility is often not a core competence for a lot of IT suppliers and they may not know as much about it as they think they do. Not only does the supplier need to develop a good understanding of accessibility in order to do the work, but the procurer must also develop a good understanding of accessibility requirements and the appropriate processes in case the supplier is lacking. For more about this, read the Skills Needed by Procurers section.