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Government’s Role in Including Accessibility in Procurement

During a session at the 2022 Code for America Summit, experts explored how government agencies can do a better job of centering accessibility during procurement processes and how to overcome obstacles.

Hands typing on a laptop with digital images of shopping carts hovering above.
Experts discussed the barriers and opportunities for procuring government technology at the 2022 Code for America Summit, placing the greatest focus on accessibility.

As the government tech market continues to heat up, government agencies are looking for ways to improve the way they purchase products. And while government aims to become more accessible overall, procurement processes may need to be refined.

During the virtual session titled “Procuring accessibility technology: Why it’s so hard and how we fix it,” Justen Proctor, contracting officer for the General Services Administration (GSA), spoke optimistically about the state of procurement and accessibility in government due to current support and visibility of the effort.


The procurement standards that currently exist — Section 508 — pertain primarily to the federal government. These guidelines address policy, acquisition and more for federal agency staff that work in IT accessibility.

When a federal agency is looking to procure a new product, they will want to ensure that it complies with accessibility standards.

And while Section 508 offers guidance for federal agencies to make digital channels accessible, Ken Nakata noted that such guidance does not exist at the state level. Nakata is a principal at Converge Accessibility, a company that offers support to government agencies trying to transform their digital services.

To ensure compliance and measure accessibility of products, the Information Technology Industry Council partnered with the GSA to create a template that enables reporting on how conformance with these standards is being achieved. The blank template was called the Voluntary Product Accessibility Template, or VPAT®. A completed VPAT is referred to as an Accessibility Conformance Report, or ACR.


Nakata said many entities are not yet able to use Section 508 because their state does not have any accessibility law that requires its use. This contrasts from federal agencies where a mandate exists. Nakata, however, cited the World Economic Forum’s Accessible ICT public procurement policy, which he said a lot of cities have incorporated.

“So even if you don’t have the hammer of the federal government, you can still do these things,” he stated.

Proctor underlined progress in this space in recent years, specifically noting the work of GSA’s Technology Transformation Services integrating accessibility into processes, the appointment of Andrea O’Neal as the senior adviser to the administrator on equity, and the development of a guide for accessibility in procurements — something that is currently underway.

And while the guide Proctor mentioned is still being created, there are other resources that can help agencies looking to improve their processes. Proctor specifically underlined and

Mike Gifford, senior strategist at CivicActions, a firm providing technology and consulting services to government, also underlined a resource created in collaboration with GSA, OpenACR, which enables analysis and comparisons of digital product accessibility claims by using a machine-readable format.

Nakata believes the challenge is trying to underline to procurement officers that ensuring accessibility is not a hard thing to do — and the burden should lie with the vendors.

He recommended that agencies include language in their requests for proposals that ask specifically about how a given product complies with assistive technology and whether that can be demonstrated, which creates an incentive for the vendor and allows the procurement officer to see the accessibility of a product without becoming an expert themselves.

Another thing that could be centered in the procurement process moving forward is the Authoring Tool Accessibility Guidelines, Gifford explained, which he deemed an important part of the framework for accessible digital channels.

“All of this stuff is not part of general procurement language, and it can be,” said Gifford. “We can start building that in, so that this is something we can make substantial improvements [in] if we’re able to go off and build these into our legally binding agreements with vendors.”

For state and local government agencies with fewer resources, Nakata recommends making use of the aforementioned resources and implementing an accessibility policy as part of the procurement process.

He explained that in many contracts issued by state and local governments for website development, few include a provision for how accessibility will be incorporated.

“I think that the vendor has got to prove that the thing that they’re providing to you is accessible,” he said. But it is up to those government agencies to demand that evidence.
Julia Edinger is a staff writer for Government Technology. She has a bachelor's degree in English from the University of Toledo and has since worked in publishing and media. She's currently located in Southern California.