Universities and colleges are making bigger investments in technology, with ed-tech spending projected to reach $27.6 billion by the end of 2021. While endless technologies are on the market to select from, far fewer are fully accessible to all students, especially to learners with disabilities.
It’s typically best practice for university professionals to ask vendors for a Voluntary Product Accessibility Template (VPAT) to evaluate accessibility. While a VPAT is a great place to start, there are other useful factors to consider when sizing up whether vendor offerings are accessible to avoid any potential trouble for your school later on.
Here are five must-dos when deciding which technologies to purchase:
1. Consider Student Use Cases
Take a moment to think about how the technology or service is going to be used and who it will be used by. Is it likely that an individual with a disability will come across it and need an accommodation? The answer is typically yes. For example, events like graduations or presentations are likely to have students who are Deaf or hard of hearing, plus stream to international audience members and non-native speakers. What technologies can be enlisted to make the ceremony accessible to them all? Captions are one technology to consider to make the event inclusive, but only live captions that meet ADA benchmarks for accuracy will be effective at providing equity and avoiding potential lawsuits. Overall, it’s best practice to consider the different use cases across in-person and remote environments for technology, and take note of whether individuals with reported or unreported disabilities will be able to participate, helping avoid potential ADA violations for high-profile events and general courses alike.
2. Ask for An Accessibility Demo
When purchasing new technologies, request a live demonstration of the platform, service or product. Demonstrations can provide great insight into a tool’s overall accessibility. For example, a vendor that provides a platform where students will need to login to a portal should be able to demo accessibility features like keyboard navigation and screen reader compatibility. If it’s a video provider or LMS they should feature options to provide captions and audio descriptions for videos. If they can’t, you should move onto a provider like AST that can provide an integration to ensure captions are embedded into the experience for greater accessibility. Live demonstrations also offer you the opportunity to ask pressing questions about the tool’s user experience which will help you better determine if the tool is truly inclusive of the needs of all students and employees with disabilities. With so many tools available and fierce ed-tech competition, there’s no need to settle for vendors who don’t tick the accessibility box.
3. Get Advice From An Accessibility Leader
Don’t assume that sales representatives from a company you’re considering are experts in accessibility. To make sure you’re getting the right information, it’s helpful to ask for the contact information of the vendor’s accessibility leader. It’s also helpful to know if they don’t have one, which could be a potential red flag. Accessibility experts are not only full of knowledge, but can help direct you to additional platforms and technologies to consider for accessibility to ensure your full needs are met. For example, companies like AST offer dedicated accessibility expertise to help address customer concerns, including advice on what to look for in a video accessibility vendor, information on useful tools like audio description that ensure accessibility for individuals who are blind or have low vision and technologies that don’t pertain to us but that we know can be helpful to you. In the long run, it’s beneficial to have a trusted contact that can help address accessibility issues. To take it a step further, it can be useful to include clauses in your agreement with agreed upon deadlines to address any accessibility-related shortcomings which may arise, as well as opportunities to terminate the contract if the product ends up falling short of ADA guidelines.
4. Negotiate An Accessibility Plan
When purchasing new tools, ask vendors what their long-term accessibility goals and product roadmaps look like for the next quarter or year. What remediation plans or continuity plans are in place? It’s important to take note of how a product or service not only supports your school’s accessibility needs now, but how it will continue to evolve or improve in its capabilities in the future. If a vendor isn’t able to meet an accessibility need from the outset, vendor compliance policies that detail accessibility needs can be drafted. One key element to look for from the get-go is whether the vendor has a clear accessibility statement listed on their website. If they don’t, it can be a red flag.
5. Make Informed Decisions, Not Hasty Ones
Most importantly, rushing to make a purchase can put your school at risk and have a strong negative impact on your students’ experience. With accessibility lawsuits on the rise by 64%, it definitely pays to do your research and double-check with other experts at your institution to make sure you’re purchasing the right technologies to best serve accessibility needs for students with reported disabilities and the greater school population, as many don’t report their needs and may be struggling even more when remote learning . To help guide professionals through the purchase process, some procurement offices are also making use of e-procurement software to support negotiations with vendors, which implement automated steps to help with determining accessibility and getting feedback from others in the purchasing process.
Build Accessibility Into Purchasing Decisions
When accessibility goals are determined by your school and built into the purchasing process initially, it removes the need to spend additional time fixing issues for students later. There’s no need to sit on 30-minute or 1-hour demos for products you can find out via email just won’t cut it. Ultimately, prioritizing accessibility when purchasing tools will help ensure all students, not only those with disabilities, are better equipped and engaged to learn – which is what ed-tech is designed to do. Plus, you’ll avoid wasted investment on products and tech that do not meet ADA guidelines and can cost you even more on legal battles later on.
You’re not meant to have all of the answers in-house. University and school leaders can turn to AST, not only for our captioning and transcription technology, but for our dedicated customer support and guidance to guarantee your school is acting inclusively to support all students. Our accessibility-first approach supports the needs of purchasing professionals in education, with proofs like the VPAT and HECVAT Lite. Understanding that our employees undergo dedicated accessibility training for true expertise should make the buying process easier for at least one of the vendors you’re considering.
Reach out today to learn more about useful tools that can offer accessible and equitable learning experiences for your students.