Key principles for accessible procurement

By "buying accessible" public authorities can ensure that already disadvantaged groups can be more fully included in everyday life. By incorporating clear and achievable accessibility requirements that are harmonised among Member States, public procurers have the opportunity to increase the demand for accessible ICT products and services and also deliver good social outcomes. Accessible ICT procurement is an organisational strategy and therefore about setting an example and influencing the market-place.

The following are 3 key principles for accessible procurement. They should form the basis of any public procurment process.

  1. ICT accessibility is a matter of human rights.
  2. Accessibility should be considerd at the earliest stage of the procurement process.
  3. Accessible Design for ICTs maximises the number of potential users who can readily use a product or service.

1. A matter of human rights

The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities directly addresses the risks of exclusion that the increasing usage of ICTs may create for persons with disabilities in the areas of social, economic, political and cultural life. It treats ICT accessibility as an integral part of accessibility rights, on a par with accessibility to the physical environment and transportation.  It addresses the root cause of inaccessibility of many products and services and the potentially high cost of including additional requirements by emphasising the need to incorporate functional accessibility requirements as the earliest stage possible in the development cycle. It imposes Universal Design for the development of products and services as a general obligation “so that these technologies and systems become accessible at minimum cost”. 

Universal Design is therefore a key strategy for the design and development of ICT products and services that are usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible. It is defined as 

"design of products, environments, programmes and services to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialised design. “Universal design” shall not exclude the use of assistive devices for particular groups of persons with disabilities where this is needed".

2. Consider accessibility from the earliest stage of the procurement process.

The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities requires States parties to the Convention to promote accessibility in the design and development of ICT "at an early stage, so that these technologies and systems become accessible at
minimum cost". It addresses the root cause of inaccessibility of many products and services and the potentially high cost of including additional requirements by emphasising the need to incorporate functional accessibility requirements at the earliest stage possible in the development cycle.

When accessibility is considered too late in the design lifecycle, it is often not possible or too costly to address fundamental barriers. This can result in excluding some people and the need to provide the service through expensive alternative channels. The sensible approach is to plan for accessibility from the start. Don’t try to complete a design and then retrofit accessibility into it.

3. Accessible Design for ICTs maximises the number of potential users

Accessible ICT not only supports persons with disabilities but also older persons and an aging workforce and, persons with temporary reduced abilities.

Accessible ICT is essential for 10% of the population, necessary for 40% of the population and comfortable for 100% of the population.

Persons with disabilities have reduced sensory (e.g. seeing, hearing, haptic), motor (e.g. movement), or cognitive (e.g. memory) abilities. ICT products and services should be accessible and usable for persons with disabilities in the usual way, without particular difficulties and, as a rule, without help from others.

The accessibility of ICT products and services is perceived very individually due to age, experience, training or type and degree of impairment.

Accessible Design is focused on principles of extending standard design to people with some type of performance limitation to maximise the number of potential users who can readily use a product or service.

There are four main strategies for Accessible Design:

  • design for most users without modifications,
  • design for easy adaptation to different users,
  • complementary design providing alternative approaches for contradictory accessibility requirements of users,
  • design with a view to connect seamlessly to assistive technology.

Accessibility is always compromise between the following criteria:

  • need to meet the reduced abilities of people,
  • technical feasibility,
  • economic feasibility.

Accessible ICT products and services should:

  • find acceptance with as many persons as possible,
  • not have adverse effects on the functionality of the product or service or on the usability for any user,
  • not impact the privacy of the users,
  • not discriminate against, stigmatise or disadvantage users in any other way,
  • pose no safety risk to their users (and should comply with the relevant international standards under the technical safety laws of the respective countries),
  • not jeopardise security requirements,
  • be designed for the intended environment and context of use.

There are a large number of terms such as design for all, accessible design, barrier free design, inclusive design and transgenerational design that are used similarly to Universal Design but in different contexts.  Within the context of this procurement Toolkit, accessibility is considered a subset of Universal Design where products and environments are usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, thereby minimizing the need for adaptation or specialised design but ensuring interoperability with assistive technologies where required.