Section 508 And Federal Procurement
It is not widely known that a government procurement procedure includes checking for Section 508 compliance. Section 508 requires accessibility for people with disabilities when the Federal Government develops, procures, maintains and uses products. If a product does not comply with this legislation, in most circumstances it is automatically disqualified. If you were still able to sell products to the government which were not Section 508 compliant, most likely the procurement process was not properly administered.
Procurement and Section 508
As part of the procurement procedure, when you describe your product which you want to sell to the government, there is a question if your product is Section 508 compliant. In case the answer is yes, the procurement specialist should still check the validity of the statement. If not, chances are very low that your product can be sold to the government, however, certain exceptions apply. Remember that while Section 508 compliance is crucial, primarily the functional requirements drive the procurement process.
When you sell to the government, you might encounter the following scenarios:
- Your product is sole source
- Three or less products meet the functional requirements
Your product is sole source
If your product is sole source, meaning that based on the functional requirements only your product meets the government's requirements, the government has to buy your product. However, making your product Section 508 compliant is still the right thing to do, because:
- People with disabilities will be able to use it.
- You increase your chances to sell other products and services to the same agency.
- You can sell your product to another government agency where it is not a sole source.
More than three products meet the functional requirements
During the final round of research, the procurement specialist narrows down the number of potential products to three. If your product is not Section 508 compliant, while it meets all the functional requirements, if there are three more products which are Section 508 compliant, your product is automatically disqualified. If all competing products are only partially comply with the Section 508 requirements, you still have a chance to compete.
Three or less products meet the functional requirements
If your product is Section 508 compliant, then the rest of the procurement specifications will determine if your product will be purchased. If the other competing products are not Section 508 compliant, your product will automatically qualify and will be procured.
If your product is not Section 508 compliant, together with the other competing products, the one which meets the requirements of the most Section 508 standards will be purchased. This determination, however, can be very subjective.
Which product meets the most requirements?
When several products are competing for procurement, the procurement specialist determines how many standards are applicable in connection with the products. Then, an evaluation of the products is conducted and the one which complies with the most of the applicable standards will be purchased.
Please note that compliance with most standards does not mean that this product is the most accessible. It might be for example that a web application complies with all but one standard, while two more products do not comply with three standards. Even if the non-compliance with this one standard makes it impossible for people with disabilities to use this web application, the product should still be procured despite of the fact that the other two are more accessible and user friendly.
Create the winner product
You can prepare for competing with other products in the final round.
Make your product Section 508 compliant. Unfortunately, it is still rare that many products meet the functional requirements and they are all Section 508 compliant. If your product is, most likely you have just sold it.
Sometimes it can happen that your product is not Section 508 compliant yet, but you are in the process of making the necessary changes. Let your client know about it. If you can bring your product to Section 508 compliance within a reasonable amount of time, you might have the best negotiating tool.
Always support Section 508 compliance with thorough documentation. While theoretically it is enough to check a box stating that your product is compliant, when you address each applicable standard in detail, you can help the procurement specialist to conduct product comparison. If your product does not comply with a standard, explain why not, and provide a road map for compliance if possible. The industry standard for this kind of documentation is a Voluntary Product Accessibility Template (VPAT), which will address all the necessary information needed to determine Section 508 compliance. Also on this site, you can learn how to create a VPAT, and list your product in our free VPAT directory.
If you have any questions in connection to this article, or you would like assistance determining your product's compliance, or you need help producing the supporting documentation, please
Contact Even Grounds.