Accessibility - the relationship between client and contractor

Accessibility is a market like any other. Numerous service providers are active there. It is often difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff. At this point, I would like to give you a few tips on how to find a service provider and check whether they meet your requirements.

Work with existing Service Provider

First of all, you should find out whether your existing service providers already have experience in accessibility. In the case of a web agency, this may be the case. The service provider may also be willing to familiarise themselves with the topic.

Personal Recommendations

If this is not the case, ask your colleagues or acquaintances whether they have already worked with experienced agencies. As a rule, experts have already built up a reputation in the region, so that they are known, for example, by the chamber of commerce or other local organisations.

If you don't find what you are looking for here, you still have to search the internet. This is actually the hardest place to judge how much expertise is available. However, you can proceed as you would with any service provider: Check the references and ask about implemented projects. If the agency has already worked for state or federal institutions, that is a good sign.

Ask for Expertise

There is a lot of half-knowledge and outdated knowledge about accessibility in web development. Many experts focus on the topic of design for the blind and visually impaired. This is certainly an important topic, but not the only one. So don't be afraid to ask for concrete expertise for other target groups as well.

It is also important how the concrete process works. For example, how does the service provider check whether the service provided is actually accessible? How does he ensure that he is up to date? In the case of a complex and expensive project, you should also ask the service provider these questions.

In any case, you should also obtain cost estimates from at least two providers. The costs of otherwise comparable service providers can vary considerably. Be suspicious if an offer is too cheap. High daily rates are not uncommon in this specialised industry.

If you employ several agencies for certain areas, you should carry out these checks for each agency separately. If one agency does the design, the second the web development and the third the accessibility, all involved should nevertheless have experience with accessibility. If the service providers have little or no experience, you must work with a strict requirements management system.

Accessibility Consultant as external Specialist

If you would like to continue working with your existing agency that does not have accessibility experience, you can also bring in an accessibility specialist as a consultant. He or she can steer you and the agency with regard to accessibility and support you in quality assurance.

Excursus: Disabled experts

A disability does not automatically qualify a person to be an accessibility expert. The individual disabled person primarily has his or her own problems in mind. A person who has just become blind usually faces different problems than a person who has been blind from birth. Personal abilities have a considerable influence and can accordingly distort the picture. In addition, a disabled person usually has the requirements of his or her own group in mind first and foremost. A blind person is already unable to grasp the problems of even closely related disabilities, such as profound visual impairments. He is even less aware of the problems of other disabled persons if he has not explicitly dealt with them.

Therefore, proceed in the same way when looking for disabled experts as when looking for service providers. Check references, ask about specific projects carried out, see if the person has published on the topic or appears as a speaker at professional events. An expert can always prove his expertise in one way or another.

Regardless of this, you can and should of course involve colleagues from your organisation who have a disability that is relevant in this context.

The client decides

It is basically up to the client to decide on the level of accessibility that will be implemented. We experience time and again that the client rejects certain aspects of accessibility because they interfere with the visual design, for example. It is the client's right to decide this way, but in this case he must also take responsibility for it. As a contractor, you should respect this responsibility, but also make it clear what problems can come with it.

If the client still does not want to accept your recommendation, you should document this in writing in order to be protected from recourse claims. Employers can change their minds and personnel changes can also occur, and memory lapses are not uncommon among project managers.

As the client, you should consider such decisions thoroughly, but then also take responsibility for them.

Another frequent point of conflict is the client's decision-making and time management. From the contractor's perspective, the client always demands tight schedules, but does not always fulfil its own responsibilities in a timely manner. It is the employer's prerogative to take its time. However, it is bad form to dump one's own management on the back of the contractor. Especially with freelancers and small agencies, such delays can quickly become a burden. Most of the time it is due to internal organisational conflicts or employees on long-term sick leave without adequate substitutes. The optimisation of the corporate culture described in the first section can help.

Last-minute requests also contribute to such problems: A function that was elaborately made accessible is cancelled or a complex function is added, which in turn has to be elaborately made accessible. In this case, you as the client must have the patience or postpone the launch of this function until it can be implemented accessible.

Goal conflicts

Furthermore, we often observe conflicts resulting from different service providers. Often, for example, the layout is done by one person and another agency then has to implement it accessible. This is not a problem if all parties involved do their job as described above. If the designer does not, the client has to do something about it: Either the designer is not sufficiently briefed or he has not implemented the briefing properly. The problem can be exacerbated if several service providers are working on the application.

It often happens that the content is contributed by the client or another service provider. This means that the contractor who implements the web project initially has no influence on it. This can take a long time, especially with multimedia content, and thus jeopardise the start of the project. Here we see once again how important control and requirements management are.

You as the client must then intervene or hand over the responsibility to one of the contractors, who then short-circuits with the other contractor. This depends very much on which party is better versed in accessibility. The decisive service provider may then also have to be given the necessary authority over the other service provider. Such conflicts should be excluded from the outset through good know-how on the part of the client and clear requirements management and control.

Especially external consultants hired by the client rarely have the authority to assert their concerns vis-à-vis the contractor. As an external consultant, you usually only get to see what is shown to you voluntarily. In the end, it falls to the client to enforce decisions against the agency. Consultants also often have numerous different projects running in parallel and cannot always have a 100 per cent overview of a single project.

Digital accessibility is a complex field in which there is often no one correct answer. If the consultant's advice seems strange or illogical, feel free to ask what he or she is basing it on.

Also feel free to ask for "clean" error reports. Sloppily prepared accessibility reports are unfortunately common in the industry: Error reports without screenshots, missing references to the guidelines, no references to sources when solutions are suggested and so on.

Where does the expertise lie?

As described above, it will often happen that there is only one person in the project who has enough knowledge about accessibility to be able to steer or advise projects. Let's play through the different scenarios.

As a contractor, you have the task of getting deep enough into accessibility. If you say you will deliver accessibility, then you must deliver it. If you don't implement accessibility cleanly, you will harm yourself in the medium term. Word will get out in the industry and the economic damage could be great because you will be seen as unreliable in your other fields of activity.

If you have accessibility expertise within the agency, it will very often be the case that you not only manage and advise internally but also the client on accessibility.It will be very common, due to the lack of accessibility experts, that the client and other service providers involved are at best rudimentary, at worst not in the topic at all. This is not good news, because it can drastically increase your workload because you have to explain a lot. It also increases the pressure on you to do everything right, because the other participants will blame you if there are problems.

It would therefore make sense to conduct a basic training for all participants.In one or two hours you can explain the essential requirements of accessibility, the regulations and key documents.This should be enough for the other stakeholders to read up further or receive more in-depth training if they wish.You should also allow enough time in the meetings and for the documents to explain actions or issues.

There is also the reverse case: the client has the expertise and the service provider does not.In this case, control of the service provider and quality assurance are important.As described above, in the medium term it makes sense for as many persons as possible to have basic knowledge.The experts should be competent in their own field to the extent that they do not have to constantly do research.

This also applies to the AG. The point is to be informed and not to decide on the basis of gut feeling, especially in the case of specific problems. It does not make sense to transfer the entire responsibility to the contractor: you as the client will always be at a disadvantage if you cannot assess the accessibility of a service at all.In the end, the operator is always held responsible for inadequate accessibility.

Often, an external consultant is brought in by the service provider or the client.Consultants can interpret their role in different ways.I myself see myself more as an advisor than as a controller: that is, I give advice and describe problems.The task of steering and decision-making lies with the organisation that has commissioned me. As explained elsewhere, the consultant often lacks information.He only has access to the documents that are made available to him.He does not know the relationships within the other organisations involved, nor does he know the relationship between the client and the service provider.He is usually not involved in meetings between the client and the contractor. In addition, he is often not involved beyond the overall project.For these reasons, he also has little authority over the processes.Therefore, it is rarely possible for him to control the project in detail.

Accessibility Specialist and Consulting