Accessible Technology Procurement

Icon of a contract with signed agreement.If you are contracting with a vendor, tool, or service outside Harvard for a technology product, the procurement process is subject to the Accessible Technology Procurement and Development Policy (ATPDP).

The ATPDP policy covers non-Harvard created platforms, products, and services including: 

  • Work done by vendors who develop, host, manage, or provide products and services 
  • Platforms with online components, such as a websites, mobile applications, or software-as-a-service (SaaS) platforms
  • Products or systems intended for use or access by Harvard students, alumni, faculty, staff, applicants, prospective students, or members of the public generally

Evaluating a Potential Vendor

As early as possible in the engagement with potential vendors, you’ll want to indicate Harvard’s expectations for accessibility. Considering accessibility early and across several vendors helps ensure that accessibility will be included and prioritized in finalist selection criteria. No need to be an expert to start — discussion about the vendor’s approach and commitment to accessibility can begin the conversation. You can start with this list of accessibility questions for vendors.

Unfortunately, sometimes vendors will say that they're committed to accessibility without demonstrating product features or affirming that commitment as part of the agreement. We've created this guide as a collection of resources to help ensure that when a vendor commits to accessibility, they're able to deliver on that commitment. 

Further reading: Asking the Right Questions for Procuring Inclusive, Accessible Technology by Kyle Shachmut, Assistant Director, Digital Accessibility Services

How can a vendor demonstrate a commitment to accessibility?

  • Demo of the product's key features using only the keyboard and a screen reader
  • Voluntary Product Accessibility Template (VPAT) or Accessibility Conformance Report (ACR)
  • Harvard’s WCAG 2.1 Vendor Checklist (Excel spreadsheet)
  • Harvard (or a contracted third party) assessment of the product

Website Vendors

If you're looking to work with a vendor on website creation or redesign, DAS has related guidance on assessing a website vendor for accessibility. You can also email DAS at digitalaccessibility@harvard.edu for additional assistance in the vendor selection process. Doing so earlier in your process will yield the best opportunity for success.  

Accessibility Rider 

Make sure the Accessibility Rider is included in the vendor contract. By signing it, a vendor commits to upholding Harvard’s accessibility standards. This will make it much easier to address accessibility issues promptly if they arise after the product is in use. Download the Accessibility Rider (Word document, HarvardKey required) from the Office of General Counsel (OGC) website.

Roadmap

Icon of two map markers connected by a dotted line indicating a roadmap.If the vendor is unwilling to sign the Accessibility Rider, there needs to be other assurances they will improve their product’s accessibility over time so that eventually they may comply. An accessibility roadmap should be established, explaining what accessibility issues need to be addressed and the timeline upon which the vendor intends to address them. Periodic check-ins with the vendor should also be scheduled to measure progress against accessibility goals. Contact DAS (digitalaccessibility@harvard.edu) for help developing an accessibility roadmap.

Temporary Exception 

When a vendor is not yet able to provide fully accessible technology, but a roadmap has been established that shows their plan for bringing the technology into compliance, a Temporary Exception for Accessibility form (PDF) can be filed that will grant a one-year exception to the Accessibility Rider. The Temporary Exception Form explains the limitations of the vendor’s accessibility and their commitment to improving, while also allowing the product owner to consider how someone needing an accessible product might still gain equivalent access. In accordance with the ATPDP it is signed by the CIO of the school/unit. 

Saving the Agreement

Save any key accessibility documentation along with the contract. If you’re documenting the contract in Harvard’s Total Contract Manager (TCM), contact the Contract Manager for document uploading. Learn more about how to document accessibility in TCM

Renewing a Contract

When renewing a contract, the Accessibility Rider should be re-offered, regardless of whether or not it was signed previously. Accessibility documentation should also be reviewed for renewal, including:

  • VPAT/ACR reports
  • Past Roadmaps/Temporary Exception Forms
  • Other vendor documentation

Feedback and support

DAS would like to learn about good or poor experiences with vendors regarding accessibility. Finding and sharing about willing vendor partners committed to accessibility helps ensure we all make a more inclusive experience. Your feedback will help us compile a list of vendors that can be recommended for their work with accessibility.

For any questions related to this process or for questions about digital accessibility in general, send your questions to: digitalaccessibility@harvard.edu.