Selecting a Website Vendor

Icon of a contract with signed agreement.Harvard websites built or redesigned after December 1, 2019, including those designed and built by third-party vendors, are expected to be accessible in accordance with the Harvard University Digital Accessibility Policy. This means they should conform to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1 AA standard, making them inclusive to all Harvard community members and members of the public with disabilities.

One of the first steps in selecting a vendor to build or design a Harvard website is to determine if they will be able to adhere to Harvard’s accessibility policy guidelines in their work. Assessing the vendor’s competence and experience with digital accessibility is important early in the vendor selection process so that site owners may weigh multiple vendors who are able to deliver accessible sites, and then make a selection based on other important criteria. 

Include accessibility in your Request for Proposal (RFP)

When you submit an RFP to vendors, be sure to include language that communicates accessibility as a priority for the new website. 

For example, in the RFP for Harvard.edu’s redesign, the following language was included as the first item under the section, Guiding Principles: “Harvard’s new website must meet Harvard’s accessibility requirements (WCAG 2.1 Level AA). We expect this site to serve as a model of web accessibility.” 

Things to look for in website vendors

  • Is the vendor’s own website accessible? 

  • Are Request for Proposal (RFP) responses or other materials provided by the vendor accessible? 

  • Does the vendor have other content, such as blog posts or presentations mentioning accessibility? 

Be cautious when the vendor’s primary mentions of accessibility are for delivering “ADA compliant” websites — this might be a sign that expertise and understanding of web accessibility are lacking.

Questions to ask a potential vendor

Digital Accessibility Services (DAS) provides a checklist of Vendor RFP Accessibility Questions (MS Word document) that can be used for any vendor engagement. Some questions you may want to start with for website vendors include:

  • Have you built accessible websites in the past that adhere to WCAG 2.1 AA standards?
    If yes, ask to view recent projects that have met WCAG guidelines. Use an automated tool like Siteimprove or the Wave browser plugin to check the accessibility of the vendor’s project websites. (Learn more about how to review sites in an upcoming Testing for Digital Accessibility training.)

  • Do you have accessibility experts in your design / development team or do you hire outside accessibility consultants?
    If the vendor has no internal accessibility experts and does not work with consultants for expertise, it may be an indication that they do not prioritize accessibility as a regular part of their work. 

  • How and when do you test for accessibility? 
    A preferred response might be that they use a combination of methods, including automated tools, manual testing, expert review, and tests with assistive technology like screen readers throughout the lifecycle of the project — not only at the very end of the site design and development. 

  • How do you document and report to the client that the finished product is accessible?
    A preferred vendor should have an established process of documenting and communicating accessibility of the features and functionality it builds. 

Check with other Harvard clients

  • Browse contracts in the Buy-To-Pay (B2P) database to see if previous Harvard clients have worked with the vendor or if the vendor signed Harvard’s contract Accessibility Rider. 

  • If you find that the vendor has done work for Harvard, check with those Harvard clients about the vendor’s ability to deliver on the contractual requirements, and about the process they used. Ask them when in the process accessibility was considered and tested.  

Coming Soon: List of vendors who have worked with Harvard 

DAS is currently creating a list of vendors who have signed the Accessibility Rider and have created accessible websites at Harvard. If you have experience with a website vendor who delivered an accessible product, please email digitalaccessibility@harvard.edu and let us know!