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Guidelines for Purchasers

Testing Before You Buy

As a small institution, we tend to make independent purchases of apps and software of varying complexities without consciously considering usability and accessibility implications. What follows are some guidelines and how-tos to help us all keep accessibility in mind as we make purchases.

What is Digital Accessibility?

Digital accessibility means providing the same user experience when people access websites, mobile applications, software, and electronic documents. We want to ensure these are easily navigated and understood by a wide range of users, including those users who have visual, auditory, motor, or cognitive disabilities.

Impact: Why Choose Accessibility?

At our institutional core is the desire to contribute to the creation of a world that is just, humane, and sustainable. We also have a very real desire to get our work done effectively and efficiently. Technology can sometimes help us meet this second goal, but not always the first. The tools and platforms we choose to use make a real difference in increasing ease of use for all users. You can have a direct and positive impact on our community when you choose accessibility.

Working through these steps will help us make purchases that better serve users of all abilities.

Our goals are to:

  • be true to our mission of a more just, humane, and sustainable world
  • purchase reasonably priced, high-quality electronic services
  • meet our legal obligations
  • better serve users of all abilities

How: Preliminary Testing Anyone Can Do

Here are some statistics to keep in mind. In the United States, approximately 1 in 4 persons have an identified disability. In addition, the World Health Organization estimates that about 15% of the world's population lives with a disability.

Testing for accessibility can be complex and involved. Fortunately, the techniques detailed below are not. These are very preliminary steps and are best used during the initial vetting process — when you are trying to narrow choices.

The first three, putting away your mouse, using the "Squint Test" and checking for captions and transcripts are the most important. They are also very easy to do. The others are more involved and are included if you want to try something more technical. Each is actionable, and creates a way for you to have a positive impact.

Put Away Your Mouse

Can you get to the different parts of the page using just the tab, arrows, space bar, and return/enter keys?

Here is a great article about how to navigate without using a mouse or trackpad.

Use the "Squint" Test

The Squint Test is usually used by graphic designers to give them an idea of how their design will be perceived by others. It gives designers a quick, high-level view of potential design issues. It can also be a very effective tool to find low-contrast issues when doing an initial evaluation of software.

To use the Squint Test, take a step back from your screen and squint your eyes. The screen should become blurry, and you will find only some things on the screen can be clearly perceived.

  • What elements stand out?
  • Are there some parts of the page that are difficult to see?
  • Is the text easy to see?
  • What about the text inside buttons? Does that text sort of blur into the background?

If you said yes to any of the above items, it may be hard for users to see what is on the page.

Check for captions or transcripts
  • What happens if you turn off sound for video or audio files? Can you figure out what is going on?
  • Is there a way to read captions? Are transcripts available?
Use high contrast

Turn on high contrast mode. Is the screen a lot clearer when you do this?

Two ways to do this:

Turn off images

Without the images can you still figure out what to do?

One way to do this:

Next Steps

  1. Ask vendors to answer some questions about accessibility
  2. Answer the following questions and forward to accessibility@swarthmore:
    • Who will be interacting with this software or electronic device (e.g. students, faculty, staff, campus visitors, the general public?)
    • Are they performing an essential task via this software or electronic device, i.e. a class assignment or task connected with pay/benefits or registration? Is there an alternative to using this software or electronic device?
    • Approximately how many people will be affected?
    • What problem is this software or device attempting to address?
    • Will the software need to be integrated with another system on campus?
    • To your knowledge, does the company have an accessibility policy?
    • Does the company have an individual to contact about accessibility questions? If so, what is their contact information?
    • If the software needs to be integrated with other systems, or for widespread community use, please submit a ITS Project Service Request.
  3. Reach out to with the gathered information, telling us about the purpose of the software and your timeline for implementation. In addition, invite us to any follow-up demos so we have the opportunity to test the software and learn more about it.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: If I can test only one thing, which one will tell me the most?

A: The easiest and most impactful is to test using only your keyboard.   Look for things such as:

  • focus rings,
  • skip to nav/main link near the beginning of the page,
  • logical tab order,
  • traps - areas you can't get out of without using a mouse

Q: What are examples of items do I need to be concerned with?

A: Just about everything that is digitally-based will fall under this umbrella. Our Guidelines for Vendors page has a fairly comprehensive list. A short list of some of those items includes:

  • Web sites
  • Software and mobile applications
  • Computer operating systems
  • Computers
  • Multimedia

Q: Why do I have to test for accessibility? Isn't there someone else who should be doing this kind of test?

A: Creating an inclusive environment is everyone's responsibility. You are in a position that allows you to choose software or electronic devices. Just as you perform an initial vetting for security you must also perform an initial vetting for accessibility. Once a product is chosen, and we have all the necessary information detailed above, we will perform more in-depth testing for WCAG compliance.

Have more questions?

Please send an email to Thanks for taking the time to reach out to us with your question; we will do our best to get back to you quickly.