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Accessible Purchasing Process FAQs

The accessible purchasing process guides purchasers in the steps to take to ensure that all digital software, application, and content purchases are accessible to all members of the Northwestern community. Below are answers to frequently asked questions related to this process.

 

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Why do I need to consider accessibility when purchasing digital tools/applications?

Ensuring that all members of the Northwestern community are able to access products purchased by the university is the right thing to do. It is also a required by law and Northwestern policy. 

What do I have to do about accessibility to comply with Northwestern’s Digital Accessibility Policy?

Those responsible for procuring Digital Content for the University, including for public, faculty-, staff- and student-facing University Websites, shall seek to ensure that contracts with Suppliers include language holding the Suppliers accountable for conforming with the Accessibility Standards.  Those procuring Digital Content will exercise due diligence to include such provisions in contracts with Suppliers, and, when conformance with the Accessibility Standards is not possible, develop an equally effective alternate access plan, which shall be promptly submitted to OE.  

Following the accessible purchasing process will help purchasers meet these requirements. 

Who is responsible for ensuring that purchases of digital tools/applications go through the accessibility process?

The person initiating and making the purchase is responsible for utilizing the accessibility process to determine the accessibility of the product they are purchasing. 

When, during the purchasing process, should I begin the accessibility process?

It is best to start the accessibility process at the beginning of the purchasing process. Asking vendors questions about accessibility of their tools/applications early in the purchasing process provides adequate time to fully explore the product’s accessibility, and if necessary, create an Equally Effective Alternate Access Plan (EEAAP) to ensure access to potentially inaccessible components of the product prior to purchase. 

I am not familiar with digital accessibility concepts, who can help me navigate this process?

Each unit should have a Digital Accessibility Liaison. This is the first point of contact for help navigating this process. If your unit does not yet have a Digital Accessibility Liaison or your questions need help beyond what your liaison can provide, contact the Office of Equity at equity@northwestern.edu. 

How can I learn more about digital accessibility?

Northwestern has an accessibility website with information, resources, and training opportunities surrounding digital accessibility. Visiting and utilizing the resources on Northwestern’s Accessibility website is a great way to familiarize yourself with digital accessibility concepts. 

What if I’ve researched several products and can’t find one that meets our unit’s needs and is fully accessible?

Northwestern’s Digital Accessibility Policy requires all digital tools and applications to meet the current standard for WCAG compliance. Should a product not currently meet those standards, the purchaser should work with the vendor to address the accessibility issues and develop an Equally Effective Alternate Access Plan (EEAAP) describing how equal access will be provided to an individual affected by the product’s accessibility issues. The EEAAP will need to be submitted promptly to the Office of Equity at equity@northwestern.edu 

I’m purchasing a software application for a small number of users, who I know will not be affected by potential accessibility issues, do I still need to go through the accessibility process to ensure accessibility?

Although it seems that all current users will not be affected by accessibility issues, it is possible that a future user may be. Based on the Digital Accessibility Policy, the accessibility process should be followed for all purchases. Your number of users may affect your overall requirements based on the product’s position in the Purchasing Accessibility Matrix. 

What do I need to do to conduct a manual test of the product I am purchasing?

To conduct a manual test, it is helpful to ask the vendor for access to a trial or sandbox version of the tool prior to purchase. Manual tests consist of making sure that tools and applications are accessible when only using a keyboard as well as when using a screen reader. To test with a screen reader, you can use VoiceOver on your Mac or download NVDA or a demonstration version of JAWS on your Windows PC. WebAIM provides good guidance on manual testing with a keyboard and as well as VoiceOver, NVDA, and JAWS. 

What type of accessibility information might I get from vendors?

Vendors generally provide accessibility information in one of the following formats:  

  • Third-Party Accessibility Verification: While rare, this type of accessibility information typically comes in the form of a report from a third-party based on their independent evaluation and determination of the product’s accessibility.  
  • Roadmap to Accessibility: A Roadmap to Accessibility is a the vendor’s plan including deadlines for addressing identified accessibility issues with the product. This type of accessibility information indicates that the vendor generally understands accessibility and is working toward making the product accessible.  
  • Verified VPAT: A voluntary product accessibility template (VPAT) is a document that details how a product conforms to applicable accessibility standards. And when a VPAT has been “Verified,” that means it has been completed and/or verified by a third-party. A Verified VPAT offers a greater likelihood of accuracy than an Unverified VPAT. If a vendor provides a Verified VPAT, purchasers can assume that the accessible and inaccessible designations therein are accurate.   
  • Unverified VPAT: An Unverified VPAT is the vendor’s assessment of their own product’s accessibility. This is the most common form of accessibility information that vendors provide and should not be assumed to be complete or accurate.  While an Unverified VPAT indicates that the vendor is at least aware of accessibility, generally, it does not necessarily mean that the vendor has addressed accessibility issues with its product. Purchasers should assume the identified accessibility issues to be accurate, but understand that the product may have additional accessibility issues, beyond what has been identified.  
  • NothingVendors that have not considered or concerned themselves with accessibility may have nothing to provide in response to a purchaser’s request for accessibility information. If the vendor is unable to provide any information regarding their product’s accessibility/inaccessibility, purchasers should proceed with caution and expect there to be accessibility issues with the product. 

At what point in the purchasing process should I start developing an Equally Effective Alternate Access Plan (EEAAP)?

You should begin developing an EEAAP as soon as possible. If you are collecting accessibility information on products from the beginning of the purchasing process, you should have the information that you need to complete an EEAAP prior to purchase. The requirement of Northwestern’s Digital Accessibility Policy is to submit the EEAAP promptly. 

How do I create an EEAAP?

An EEAAP is essentially an acknowledgement of understanding that there are potential accessibility issue(s) with a product that has been purchased and a plan on how to ensure equal access for an individual who may be affected by the issue(s). The example EEAAP (link when it is on the website) provides ideas on how to complete an EEAAP for various populations. Your unit’s Digital Accessibility Liaison should also be able to help develop an EEAAP, if needed. 

How will I know if my EEAAP is sufficient?

Once submitted to the Office of Equity, your EEAAP will be reviewed. Should the EEAAP  not be sufficient, the Office of Equity will contact you with feedback for adjustments. 

If the accessibility process has already been followed for a product’s initial purchase, does it need to be followed again for a renewal?

This process should be completed when renewing a product to determine if there are new accessibility issues based on updates since the original purchase/previous renewal. Because the process has already been completed once for the product and much of the information is already documented, it should not take long to complete the process for a renewal. 

How can I find out if another department that has purchased this product has already completed the accessible purchasing process for this product?

In order to determine if an EEAAP already exists at Northwestern for a product you wish to purchase, contact the Office of Equity at equity@northwestern.edu