The Accessibility Consulting market is composed of a wide array of companies ranging in size from small sole-proprietor operations to large companies and everything between. Some vendors focus solely on accessibility while others are large companies that perform a full line of IT services or focus on accessibility, privacy, and security. Similarly, like choosing other professional services vendors, it can become challenging to vet each vendor among the different criteria. Making the right choice when it comes to accessibility consulting services can be critical to avoiding huge compliance or legal problems in the future. The information outlined below can assist in making the right decision for an organization.
Experience and Accessibility Focus
Foremost in the decision process is to ensure that the chosen vendor has the experience and knowledge necessary to perform accessibility work. The right organization must know and understand accessibility from multiple levels. They need to not only identify what issues occur in a product or solution but also how to fix the problems. Additionally, the organization must be able to give you intelligent guidance on what is needed to bring the product or solution into compliance and assist in determining level of risk. Similarly, the organization must be able to provide a deep level of knowledge on platform specific accessibility issues — not merely automated testing results for web content. The following criteria are important:
- Minimum of seven (7) years of experience auditing Information Technology (IT) systems for accessibility
- Minimum experience working with at least thirty-five (35) enterprise class organizations to support accessibility initiatives
- Staffing mix of at least thirty (30) percent employees with disabilities
- Demonstrated institutional knowledge and experience base with Section 508 and WCAG requirements
- Minimum of 50% consulting staff with direct professional experience in web or software development
Organization Stability and Continuity
After addressing whether or not the company as a whole has the right level and mix of experience, the next factor to consider is whether the vendor has the stability and continuity to handle the work. Once a decision is made to engage a third party to assist in the accessibility compliance needs, it is crucial to know that your vendor will be around as long as they are needed. This is made all the more important by today’s challenging economic climate. Finding a qualified accessibility consultant is hard enough as it is, without needing to find one each time you need new work performed. In addition to the organization’s stability, the company must have enough staff to handle your organizations work (plus the work of the vendor’s other clients) and that the composition of their staff is stable as well. For example, some smaller firms will employ the use of sub-contractors to handle increased workload. While this might sound like a good approach, when it comes to the ability to manage your account and the work you bring, in the quality, accuracy, and reliability of work performed it may vary widely. It is important to know that a call to the accessibility vendor will show they still exist and that it is possible to directly speak to the person who performed the accessibility audit or review. A strong accessibility vendor with a solid methodology will provide consistent, reliable, and verifiable information and guidance no matter who you talk to in that organization. Strongly consider the following criteria:
- Minimum of ten (10) full-time employees
- Minimum of ten (10) years of continuous operations
- Demonstration of a firm capital base and stable operations; and
- Use of in-house (W2) employees to perform services
Audit and Reporting Capabilities
The bulk of the work performed by an accessibility consulting firm is to perform reviews or audits against their clients’ information and communication technologies (ICT) systems to determine compliance against defined industry standards. Surprisingly, this is the area where the greatest differences lie between accessibility companies. The depth, breadth, level of detail, accuracy, and quality of guidance delivered can vary significantly. The following criteria must be used in the vetting process:
- Produced reports should include a level of detail relevant to a variety of parties in your organization including Internal Development Teams, QA teams, Executive Management, and Risk and Compliance staff
- The reporting system used should have the ability to track and compare compliance of systems over time
- The accessibility audit process should include automated, manual and assistive technology validation and should include the use of individuals with disabilities to perform assistive technology validation.
- Staff should be able to audit against a unified set of conformance criteria for the industry and/ or internal standards relevant to your company/ organization’s compliance needs
- Reports delivered should include a description of accessibility issues, media types, non-compliant code examples, compliant source code examples, recommended approach and options for addressing issues, unit tests allowing for validation of the issues, and source public standards associated with the rule.
Making the right decision when it comes to choosing an accessibility vendor can be critical to ensuring regulatory compliance, legal risk mitigation, and profitability of a company, agency, or educational institution. Making the wrong choice can turn out to be costly, time consuming, and risky while needlessly adding to project delivery timelines.
Questions to ask your Accessibility Vendor
As part of evaluating vendors SSB recommends that clients work through the following checklist to determine if a vendor is a good match for them.
- How long have you been in business?
- What standards do you have experience working with?
- What US Federal government customers do you work with?
- What’s the average length of time you’ve been doing business with your customer base?
- Accessibility Focus
- How long have you been working in the area of accessibility?
- How many accessibility audits have you completed?
- How many individuals with disabilities do you have on your team?
- What types of assistive technology do these individuals use?
- Organizational Structure
- How many direct employees do you have?
- How long has the average employee been with the firm?
- Will the person doing the work for me be an employee or a sub-contractor?
- Implementation Focus
- Do the people who will do the work on my project have direct professional experience doing development?
- What experience does the firm have in working with enterprise class firms?
- Does the firm provide specific, code level guidance on addressing compliance issues?
- Auditing Process
- Does the firm have a standard, published process in place to validate accessibility?
- Does the proposed audit cover both your technical and functional auditing requirements?
- Technology Coverage
- Does the firm have experience auditing applications for compliance across all development platforms your firm has in place?
- Does the firm have experience providing recommendations for addressing compliance issues across all the development platforms you have in place?
- Can the first readily produce detailed examples of the audit reports that will be provided across such platforms?
- Standards and Technology Agnostic
- How does the firm provide coverage for new accessibility standards or new versions of current standards?
- How does the firm provide coverage for new development technologies or updated versions of current development technologies?
- Does the firm have experience across all accessibility standards targeted?
- Solutions That Reduce Legal Risk
- Does the audit test for the full scope of manual and global issues?
- Does the vendor readily recognize the limits of automatic testing?
- Support Capabilities
- Does the firm have a clear, published support policy?
- Is the response time reasonable in the context of your organization?
- Does the firm have a number of staff available to support your needs?
- Does the firm provide free training on the product’s use?
- Is the support for the product provided as part of the overall license fee or is it charged as a separate fee?