Gatekeeping for Accessibility – Making Procurement Inclusive

DEOC partners with companies to formulate and/or review their policies and procedures created to ensure equal opportunity and non-discrimination in the domains of HR, IT, Travel, Emergency, Procurement and so on. The policy we would like to focus on, in this article, is Procurement and the role that a good Procurement Policy can play in upholding a company’s commitment towards non-discrimination against persons with disabilities.

Let us look at some real life cases that had taken place first.

Case 1: The Ombuds team in a company decided to buy a software to improve the efficiency of a given process. The team in-charge shortlisted the software after comparing the content, features and the prices of the various types of software available in the market and then finally procured it. However, after the launch of the new Ombuds system, when an employee with vision impairment tried to use it to make a complaint, it was realised that it was inaccessible!
Case 2: In another company, a vending machine was purchased for the cafeteria. After the installation, it was realised that it was inaccessible for people using wheelchairs and that the software was also not accessible for people with visual impairment!
The companies which made the above purchases had a stated equal opportunity policy and an IT policy which mandated accessibility. However, the above decisions did not go through the Diversity or the IT Departments. How could such purchases be prevented? Definitely one needs to ensure that there should be greater awareness across the organisation but at the same time, certain systems need to be place to ensure that such mistakes do not happen.
With the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act 2016, discrimination, both direct and indirect, would be considered violation of the law.
This is where the role of the Procurement Policy comes in, as every purchase decision must go through the Procurement/Purchase department. The Procurement team acts like a gatekeeper and plays a key role in implementing the company’s policies on environmental issues and sustainability. They can therefore also play a pivotal role in ensuring the accessibility of all the products and services procured by the company.
Here are a few measures that private companies can adopt to make their procurement policy and practices inclusive:

  • Modification in Procurement Policy: The policy should be modified to ensure the purchase of only those goods and services which are accessible and inclusive to all user groups including persons with disabilities.
  • Creating awareness in the Procurement Team: The procurement team should be sensitised on how built-in environments, IT systems, media etc. can create barriers for people with disabilities if accessibility standards are not followed. The concerned teams should be educated on the accessibility standards.
  • Stating accessibility requirements in RFPs (Request for Proposals): Once a suitable policy is in place, the procurement team should clearly state its accessibility requirements in requests for RFPs, contracts, quotations, and purchase orders where applicable. For example, while procuring IT systems, the suppliers can be asked to fill the VPAT in order to obtain the accessibility features of the products being sold. When suppliers are asked to make presentations, they should be asked to discuss the accessibility features also in those presentations.
  • Testing for accessibility: Further, prior to delivery, the procured item should be evaluated for usability and accessibility as part of the quality assurance process. It’s a good idea to take the end user’s feedback to ensure that there are no glitches.
  • Creating a supplier diversity programme: Lastly, a sensible procurement policy could also influence vendors/contractors to follow an equal opportunity policy in their hiring and to promote “diverse suppliers”. This can be done if the company can give a marked preference to those suppliers who have a workforce with a good representation of people with disabilities.

As an equal opportunity employer, you can also bring in social change by influencing and sensitising suppliers on accessibility through your procurement policy.

Author: Rama Chari & Nimisha Jashnani


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