Procurement FAQs

Background and requirements

VPAT® and ACE Tool

EIR Accessibility compliance reviews

EIR Accessibility exception requests

Potential procurement scenarios

Moving forward

Background and requirements

What is IT Accessibility?

IT accessibility is the set of strategies, guidelines, and resources that make Electronic and Information Resources (EIR) accessible to everyone. It involves developing policies and implementing processes to ensure the functional use of EIR by people of all abilities in an independent manner.

What does EIR mean?

EIR is an acronym for Electronic and Information Resources. Some terms that may be used interchangeably:

EIR Accessibility = IT Accessibility = ICT (Information and Communications Technology) Accessibility

Texas A&M Standard Administrative Procedure 29.01.04.M0.02 supports state and federal laws that govern EIR which include, but are not limited to:

  • Software applications and operating systems
  • Websites, including public-facing and intranet
  • Telecommunications products
  • Video and Multimedia products
  • Hardware, including desktop computers, laptops, and closed products such as copiers, printers, kiosks, digital signage, etc.
  • Functional performance criteria described in 1 TAC §213.35
  • Information, documentation, and support described in 1 TAC §213.36
  • Emerging technologies

Is procurement of accessible EIR required?

Yes. Federal and state laws require institutions of higher learning to procure the most accessible products possible to meet a given business need.

What laws are the basis for procuring accessible EIR?

Effective April 18, 2020, unless an exception is approved by the president or chancellor of an institution of higher education or an exemption has been made for the following EIR categories pursuant to 1 Texas Administrative Code §213.37, all EIR developed, procured, or changed by an institution of higher education shall comply with the standards described in the following subchapters.

EIR Category Technical Accessibility Standards
Software Applications and Operating Systems Title 1, Rule §213.30 of the Texas Administrative Code
Websites Title 1, Rule §206.70 of the Texas Administrative Code
Telecommunications Products Title 1, Rule §213.31 of the Texas Administrative Code
Video and Multimedia Title 1, Rule §213.32 of the Texas Administrative Code
Hardware Title 1, Rule §213.33 of the Texas Administrative Code
Functional Performance Criteria Title 1, Rule §213.35 of the Texas Administrative Code
Support Documentation and Services Title 1, Rule §213.36 of the Texas Administrative Code

This requirement does not apply to:

  • Devices containing embedded information resources that are integral to the product, but the principal function of the product is not to be an information resource.
  • Medical equipment in which EIR are integral to operation.

Why is procurement of accessible EIR so important?

Ensuring the procurement of accessible EIR is the first step to enabling everyone to perceive, understand, navigate and interact with useful technologies. Specifically:

  • It's the right thing to do. It supports our long-standing tradition of inclusiveness and promotes a key Texas A&M mission of diversity.
  • It makes sense. As an institution, it allows us to reach more individuals with our teaching and learning initiatives, with our research findings and with the real-life applications associated with each of them.
  • It's required by law. As a state-supported institution, as well as one that receives federal funding for grants and initiatives, our university is required to provide accessible EIR.

VPAT® and ACE Tool

What is a VPAT®, and how is it used?

The Voluntary Product Accessibility Template®, or VPAT®, when completed accurately by vendors, allows those who procure goods or services to make preliminary assessments regarding the accessibility of EIR. By outlining how EIR measure up to specific criteria found within Section 508, the VPAT® allows for comparisons of EIR being considered to fulfill a business need. The current Section 508 VPAT® can be found on the ITI website in the "Resources" section near the bottom of the VPAT® page.

How should I obtain a VPAT®?

Vendors may voluntarily provide the VPAT® on their websites as part of their product or service offerings, however you may need to request it when contemplating an EIR purchase. A VPAT® could potentially be available within the Division of Information Technology ACE ToolSee procurement tips including use of the VPAT®.

What is the ACE Tool, and how can it help me adhere to accessibility requirements?

The ACE Tool—Accessibility Conformance Evaluation Tool—is a searchable web page that allows you to see if System or campuswide exceptions are already in place for certain EIR. If “System-wide” or “University-wide” is indicated and the exception has not yet expired, you may notify procurement personnel that an exception is already in place. This allows any accessibility holds to be removed so the purchase or contract can be completed. The ACE Tool is also helpful when you’re vetting IT solutions to meet a particular business need. If available, a vendor-completed Voluntary Product Accessibility Template (VPAT®)—also known as an Accessibility Conformance Report—can be downloaded for each EIR from the tool to allow you to determine which product is the most accessible.

If the vendor does not already have a VPAT®, which version should I ask them to complete? 

The vendor should fill out the current Section 508 VPAT®; it can be found on the ITI website in the "Resources" section near the bottom of the VPAT® page.

I'm having trouble finding an IT product or service that measures up to the criteria in the VPAT®; what should I do?

Oftentimes, there may be no perfectly accessible product or service to meet a given business need, however with proper research and/or modifications to configurations and settings, users with disabilities may still be able to utilize it effectively.

What happens if I cannot secure a VPAT® for the product or service I intend to procure?

If you cannot secure a VPAT® from the company website or from the vendor, try one of the following:

  • Check the ACE Tool, an online searchable resource which could potentially contain the VPAT® you need.
  • Ask the vendor to complete a VPAT®; the current Section 508 VPAT® can be found on the ITI website in the "Resources" section near the bottom of the VPAT® page.
  • Ask the vendor for evidence of their capability to produce accessible EIR; this may include an accessibility statement, an accessibility roadmap, examples of previous work, etc. Encourage them to complete a VPAT® to keep on file in the event of future purchases.
  • If neither of the previous is available, fully document your attempts to retrieve the information and submit to the IT accessibility team with your compliance review request or your EIR Accessibility Exception Request form. Encourage the vendor to complete a VPAT® to keep on file in the event of future purchases. Note: For contract renewals in subsequent years, inability to produce a vendor-completed VPAT® could jeopardize approval of the EIR Accessibility exception request.

EIR Accessibility compliance reviews

What is involved in an EIR accessibility compliance review, and how long will it take?

An accessibility conformance review is completed for the purpose of procuring accessible EIR or for ensuring that an existing EIR is compliant with state and federal laws. You can review a vendor-completed VPAT® in order to see how it measures up to the accessibility criteria which are applicable for that particular resource. If unsure of the process, you may contact the IT accessibility team to review the EIR and provide helpful information regarding EIR limitations, accessibility enhancements and/or potential methods of alternative access for those with disabilities. Steps include:

  • A request for an accessibility conformance review can be submitted via email to itaccessibility@tamu.edu, or a request prior to procurement of EIR may come in via an AggieBuy comment.
  • Upon receiving the request, the IT accessibility team will email the requester within 24 hours with a few questions to verify that a review is actually needed and/or to expedite routing.
  • Within 24 hours of receiving answers to the questions, the IT accessibility team will inform you about a preliminary decision. Some possible decisions are:
    • Not an EIR, so no accessibility compliance review is needed; requester can forward the decision to procurement personnel for removal of accessibility hold
    • No user interface; no accessibility compliance review needed and requester can forward the decision to procurement personnel for removal of accessibility hold
    • EIR being used by a single individual only; user is responsible for determining accessibility of the EIR, but no formal accessibility compliance review by the IT accessibility team is needed; requester can forward the decision to procurement personnel for removal of accessibility hold but must adhere to requirements of single-use EIR
    • EIR conforms to Level AA criteria; requester can forward the decision to procurement personnel for removal of accessibility hold (or EIR is deemed in compliance, if not associated with a purchase)
    • EIR may be registered with a quick e-form; the form should be validated by the IT accessibility team within 24 hours of form completion, requester to forward the validation message to procurement personnel for removal of accessibility hold (or EIR is deemed in compliance, if not associated with a purchase)
    • EIR Accessibility Exception Request form needed with routing to your dean or vice president and subsequently the President or designee; typical review time is five to ten business days. If approved, forward the decision to procurement personnel for removal of accessibility hold (or EIR is deemed in compliance, if not associated with a purchase)

Does the IT accessibility team or the EIR Accessibility Coordinator approve or reject the use of a particular EIR?

The role of the IT accessibility team with regard to procurement of EIR is one of advising and consulting as well as facilitating the routing and review of EIR Accessibility exception requests, if applicable. The team begins a compliance review for a particular EIR upon request or once an accessibility hold is placed on a requisition, and facilitates routing of exception requests.

EIR Accessibility exception requests

What should I do if there is no accessible EIR available to meet my business need?

All websites, web applications, and other EIR must comply with technical accessibility standards, in our case, WCAG 2.0 Level AA guidelines. If achieving compliance with these standards is not possible, an EIR Accessibility Exception Request Form (pdf) must be submitted for each non-compliant EIR. It is important to note that an approved exception is not an exemption from making EIR accessible. Instead, it is documentation of temporary acceptance of risk until the EIR or associated service can be brought into compliance through modification, substitution with a comparable EIR, or discontinuation of use due to end of life (EOL).

Will I need to fill out an EIR Accessibility Exception Request form for every EIR that is not 100% compliant?

Since the implementation of a more streamlined workflow for accessibility compliance reviews, not every noncompliant EIR will require an EIR Accessibility Exception Request form. Depending on the type of EIR you are choosing to procure, expedited routing may be possible. The IT accessibility team will inform you if this is the case, allowing the use of a quick electronic form instead. 

Are there any instructions or tips for filling out the EIR Accessibility Exception Request form?

An EIR Accessibility Exception Request Form (pdf) must be submitted for each non-compliant EIR; see instructions for filling out the exception request form or request a pre-filled example from the IT accessibility team

What steps are involved once I complete an Accessibility Exception Request?

  1. Once the EIR Accessibility Exception Request Form (pdf) is completed and prior to dean or vice president routing, send a saved copy of the PDF form and the vendor-completed VPAT® for the product or service to itaccessibility@tamu.edu
    Note: This form should be filled out by Texas A&M personnel, not the vendor. Providing concise, accurate and complete information will help avoid delays in routing.
  2. The request form is reviewed by the IT accessibility team to ensure that the form is filled out completely and thoroughly. 
  3. Once reviewed, you will be asked to make the requested changes, if any, and secure your dean or vice president's approval.
  4. Send the approved form back to itaccessibility@tamu.edu for further routing, including the EIR Accessibility Coordinator and the President, or designee.
  5. You will be informed if the exception request is approved, at which time, you may forward to procurement personnel to facilitate purchase of the EIR.

What factors impact approval of accessibility exceptions?

Many factors are considered when determining if inaccessible EIR accessibility exception requests are approved. Some considerations are:

  • Degree of compliance with WCAG 2.0 Level AA conformance, functional performance criteria, and/or accessibility of support documentation and associated materials.
  • Scope of use, when combined with degree of compliance can help determine potential risk for the university
  • Business justification
  • Willingness of the vendor to make accessibility improvements and enhancements
  • Consideration of other more accessible EIR which could perform the same business function
  • Analysis of the alternate means of accommodation to ensure equitable access.

What is equitable access?

Equitable access affords everyone who utilizes a particular EIR the opportunity

  • to have a similar experience
  • in an independent manner
  • within the same time frame
  • without segregating or stigmatizing.

Potential procurement scenarios

Why is an accessibility hold placed on my requisition, and what do I need to do to resolve the issue?

Procurement Services or Contract Administration will place a hold on your requisition if the item being procured is an EIR. The hold will be removed if the IT accessibility team determines that one or more of the following apply:

  • The resource is not an EIR
  • The EIR is exempted by the state of Texas
  • The EIR has either a valid System-wide or campuswide exception, or there is a valid exception in place for your particular unit
  • The EIR is Level AA compliant or meets associated functional performance criteria
  • The EIR does not have a user interface, i.e., no way for users to interact with the technologies and/or resulting output or data (A user interface includes command line, graphical representations like websites or mobile apps, form-based, spoken, or menu-driven interfaces as well as access to any electronic support documentation; APIs and middleware are not considered user interfaces.)
  • The EIR is being used for one individual only; see information about single-use EIR
  • The EIR is either:
    • A device containing embedded information resources that are integral to the product, but the principal function of the product is not to be an information resource
    • Medical equipment in which EIR are integral to operation but whose primary function is not collection, transmission or distribution of date
  • The EIR falls into a category that allows completion of a quick electronic form to register the exception; this can only be determined by the IT accessibility team
  • The EIR, although not 100% compliant, has been reviewed for accessibility conformance and an EIR Accessibility Exception Request Form (pdf) has been approved by the President or designee.

If an institution or agency within the A&M System has an exception in place, will I be able to procure that resource without internal vetting?

No. Every institution or agency must determine if it is appropriate to accept the risk of using an EIR which is not 100% compliant. Each unit requesting the exception must also determine how to provide equitable access when needed by students, staff or visitors. Exceptions must be approved by the President of Texas A&M, or designee.

Certain EIR may be a part of System-wide shared services contracts. If this is the case, and an unexpired exception has been approved by the A&M System CIO, you may procure the resource. Check the ACE Tool prior to procuring EIR to see if the “System-wide” designation applies.

Do I need to consider accessibility compliance for open source (free) EIR?

Yes. Accessibility compliance needs to be considered for all EIR which is developed, utilized, changed, procured, distributed or referenced, including open source EIR.

The EIR I want to purchase is being used by a very small team, none of whom have a disability; why can’t I just purchase the EIR without an accessibility conformance review?

  • Accessibility is a requirement of state and federal law. Accessibility conformance reviews ensure that either an EIR is compliant or that an alternate means of access can be provided for those who may have a disability.
  • Some disabilities are not visible, so assumptions about users of the EIR may be inaccurate.
  • Future users of the EIR may need to have fully accessible EIR or an accommodation due to a disability
  • A temporary disability may present itself at any time, including but not limited to temporary vision loss, inability to use a mouse due to an injury, etc.
  • Accessible EIR are typically created using principles of universal design, which consider multiple modes of access and user preferences to create a better experience for everyone.

Moving forward

How can I make a difference regarding procurement of accessible EIR within my campus unit? 

  • Do your homework by researching the accessibility of a given product or service before taking steps to purchase it.
  • Request a VPAT® from vendors or search for the VPAT of the specific product and version online. If neither is available, ask them to complete a blank VPAT®. Note: The current Section 508 VPAT® can be found on the ITI website in the "Resources" section near the bottom of the VPAT® page.
  • Ask questions; if vendors have never heard of accessibility, chances are their products and services are not accessible. Don't just ask if their product or service is accessible; ask how it can be accessed by user groups with a particular disability, including individuals who
    • are blind or have low vision,
    • are Deaf or hard of hearing,
    • have motor skill impairments, and/or
    • cognitive conditions that may impact access.
  • Compare several products or services that meet your business need, and choose the one best fits your need as well as accessibility requirements.
  • Make accessibility a part of RFPs, Purchase Order requests, and other essential parts of your business processes.
  • Get your procurement and contract offices involved. They oftentimes have accessibility language ready to insert into contracts and can work with specific vendors to ensure compliance.
  • For additional information, enlist the help of the IT accessibility team by emailing itaccessibility@tamu.edu

Did you know?

  • In the United States, about 55 million people have a disability (src: 2010 U.S. Census).
  • About 1 in 5 Americans have some kind of disability (src: 2010 U.S. Census).
  • The percentage of people affected by disabilities is growing as our population ages.
  • Two popular, free screen readers are VoiceOver (Mac OS and iOS) and NVDA (Win).
  • Good accessibility practices can improve the search ranking of your website.
  • Form fields without labels can cause problems for some assistive technology users.
  • Low color contrast makes content difficult to see, especially for users with low vision.
  • Documents linked on a website need to be accessible too (e.g., PDF and Word files).
  • Audio content, like podcasts, need transcripts for deaf or hard of hearing users.
  • Online videos should be captioned for deaf or hard of hearing users.
  • Using HTML tags correctly is very important for accessibility.
  • Descriptive link text helps make a website more accessible. Avoid using "Click here" or "Read more."
  • A "screen reader" is an application that reads content aloud to a user.
  • There is no "alt tag" in HTML. "Alt" is an attribute used with the img tag.
  • HTML uses the alt attribute to provide a text description of an image.
  • Alt text should describe an image, if the purpose of the image is to convey information.
  • If an image is a link, the alt text for the image should explain where the link goes.
  • If an image is only being used for decoration, the alt text should be null (i.e., alt="").
  • If a table has headers, using header tags (<th>) will make the table more accessible.
  • An accessible website is one that can be navigated and understood by everyone.