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Selection criteria for the acquisition of a sustainable accessible website

Before the order is placed for the construction of a website, a choice will have to be made between the different offers received. One important criterion for an initial selection is the extent to which the offers fulfil the requirements set in the request for an offer. This may sound simple, but it can be a very difficult process. How can we assess whether the product offered will actually fulfil the requirements set and how do we know whether the party issuing the offer is capable of actually supplying the product offered?

The assessment of whether the offer complies with the sustainable accessibility requirements can be formally arranged by having the accessibility requirements set confirmed in the offer. In this way, the product can be checked against these requirements upon delivery. How do we know, however, whether the supplier is able to fulfil the requirements set? This is a tricky selection criterion. To answer this, we need information showing that the supplier builds websites that comply with the requirements set. There are two methods for determining this. Firstly, qualifying the supplier's products and secondly qualifying the supplier.

Qualification of products

When qualifying products, use will be made of generally applicable testing criteria. In many sectors, there are standards hallmarks (e.g. ISO, CE Mark) that are used to label products, allowing users to find out easily what general requirements the product fulfils.

This mechanism requires generally accepted testing criteria for products and that there is an independent and accepted inspection institute that can check the products against these criteria. At present, a number of sectors have such an inspection apparatus, but this is not yet present for the testing of websites. Nevertheless, there are a number of initiatives in this area. For instance, with its WCAG guidelines, the W3C Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) has drawn up a list of accessibility requirements.

the Quality mark has also drawn up requirements to be complied with by websites in order to offer access to all (incl. people with disabilities and people with a non-PC browser or other environment). Many, if not all, of these requirements however are based on the accessibility requirements of WAI. Both initiatives grant hallmarks if the website fulfils the requirements set, but without independent and ongoing testing of the website against these requirements.

Also in terms of the sustainable accessibility requirements defined in this manual, both initiatives are part of sustainable accessibility. The requirements set are aimed at making websites accessible, and less at the sustainable accessibility of the information presented on websites.

There is at present no suitable standard for sustainable accessible websites and their information. However, the requirements referred to in the framework of requirements could form a sound basis for a future standard.

Qualification of the supplier

Another method for obtaining greater certainty about whether a supplier is able to fulfil the promises made in its offer is certification of suppliers. This certification gives an indication of the extent to which the supplier works in accordance with particular standards. This certification may concern the supplier's method of working (for example ISO9001) and the degree of satisfaction principals have about the contractor concerned and the products supplied.

The latter method is often used on the Internet, where web stores are rated by customers. This method is not based on a clear and uniform system of requirements with which a supplier must comply. The person assessing the supplier is also not an independent party. Nor is it clear what the expectations and conditions were that were set in advance for the realisation of the product. After all, when driven by a low price for a product, the supplier can be forced to make concessions in relation to quality, whereby a lower rating could be given. In this method, it is difficult to express a valuation of a supplier in relation to the price/performance ratio. Although this method is much used, it is not a reliable basis for expectations in relation to the supplier.

The certification of suppliers on the basis of easily measurable standards drawn up in advance gives a much better indication. The requirements to be fulfilled by the supplier in accordance with these standards often concern the supplier's way of working. Although this method does provide an indication of the supplier, it is no guarantee of the quality of the products supplied. After all, it is the way of working that is certified, not the product. A supplier could, by working in a way that complies with the standards, supply a product that does not fulfil the requirements set. There is no such accepted standard at present in the web design sector.

Neither of the two qualifying methods referred to above seem to be suitable for giving a clear direction to the selection process on their own. However, combining both methods can give better support in the selection process. In this way, a considered qualification of a supplier and the products supplied is achieved. A certified supplier in combination with many satisfied customers gives a good indication that this supplier will be able to realise that put forward in the offer.

Setting qualification requirements by the government

Setting qualification requirements by the government for suppliers of products must be undertaken with care. When setting requirements, suppliers may not be excluded in advance from doing business with the government. The primary selection process must therefore be based on the requirements set and the extent to which the supplier complies with or can comply with these. The government may not take a discriminatory attitude by excluding particular products or suppliers. In practice, sufficient clarity must be achieved through explicit description of the specifications and the associated testing criteria.

Contents: The Manual

  1. Introduction
  2. How to use this manual
  3. Selection
    1. Selection criteria for the acquisition
    2. Selection Process
  4. Development
  5. Operations
  6. Evaluation

Web Guidelines version 1.3, November 2007.