Strengthening Nonvisual Access Procurement Enforcement

To: Members of the Maryland General Assembly
From: Members of the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland

Contact: Sharon Maneki, President
National Federation of the Blind of Maryland
9013 Nelson Way
Columbia, MD 21045
Phone: 410-715-9596

Subject: Strengthening Nonvisual Access Procurement Enforcement
Date: January 18, 2018


Maryland has excellent laws that require state government agencies to make information and communication technology (ICT), and technology services, such as websites, accessible to the blind. Unfortunately, these laws are poorly enforced and sometimes completely ignored. Consequently, blind citizens are denied access to information that is available to the rest of the public. Blind state employees are often ineffective at their jobs because they do not have nonvisually accessible tools to do their work.


In 1998 and 2000, the General Assembly enacted legislation to incorporate nonvisual access requirements into the procurement process. The Maryland General Assembly should now strengthen these laws by enacting the “Nonvisual Access Cost-Savings Act” of 2018. This proposed legislation establishes penalties for noncompliance by vendors, thus saving taxpayer money, and will update the 2000 law to reflect changes in current technology.


Blind people can use special screen reading devices that enable them to read data and fill out forms by using synthetic speech or Braille output devices. These screen reading devices will work only if the websites, document formats, or other hardware and software are designed to accommodate nonvisual access. The methods for nonvisual access are well known and well documented. The first publicly available accessibility guidelines were published in 1995 and have been updated periodically. Yet, the problem of nonvisual access remains unresolved in Maryland and elsewhere.

The executive branch of Maryland state government continues to discriminate against blind citizens by denying us access to public information and services. This discrimination persists even though there are specific state and federal laws requiring access for all citizens. These laws have been in effect for decades.

When the state of Maryland solicits bids from vendors, it requires the products in question to include nonvisual access. The concept used in state and federal laws of placing nonvisual access requirements in the procurement process is a good one. It is cost-effective for vendors to incorporate nonvisual access during the design phase of the product rather than having to go back later and redesign the product. Why then does the problem of nonvisual access remain?


The proposed legislation should include the following provisions for contract enforcement and the payment of penalties which will result in net savings to Maryland state government:

    • The present procurement law includes no consequences for a vendor’s failure to provide nonvisual access.

    Currently, a vendor has no incentive to comply with procurement accessibility requirements. Strengthening the procurement law by providing for vendor penalties will demonstrate the importance of the requirement to the vendor. Charging any vendor to remediate the product so it contains nonvisual access components will also save money for the state. The following two reasonable requirements will not have a detrimental impact on the vendor, but will ensure enforcement of the contract and achieve the goal of nonvisual access.

  1. Requiring that all state contracts with any vendor shall include a provision that, upon a determination within eighteen months from procurement or latest upgrade, if any access barriers are present, the Department of Information Technology (DOIT) shall notify that vendor of such access barriers, and that vendor shall be required to remediate those barriers.
  2. Requiring the DOIT to notify a vendor of the access barrier in writing at the vendor’s place of business, and requiring that vendor, at its own expense, to remedy the defect. Should that vendor fail to remediate the access barrier within twelve months from the date of notice, a civil penalty shall be applied at the rate of 1% of the total purchase price of the contract for each day until the problem is remediated, or until the full price of the contract is refunded.

No vendor should object to this requirement because it has a year to fix the problem before any penalty is invoked. Placing a cap on the penalty that is the price of the contract, is fair to the vendor while helping the state to recoup its losses. In the long run such a penalty will allow full enforcement of the contract while saving the state money.

• The procurement law needs to be updated to accommodate changes in technology.

Technology has improved and changed dramatically since the nonvisual access requirements in the procurement law were enacted in 2000. During these eighteen years, technologies have become more powerful and cheaper. For example, instead of buying a desktop system for thousands of dollars, an iPad Pro can be purchased for $600. Currently, the procurement law allows a vendor to ask for an exemption to the nonvisual access requirement if adding the accessibility features would cost an additional 5%. Since it is cheaper to produce technology, the limit of this exemption is too low. Raising the exemption to 15% would be a more reasonable reflection of the actual accessibility cost, and it is still fair to the vendor. Raising the exemption to 15% will close the floodgates that currently permit vendors to opt out of accessibility requirements.

The state of Maryland adopted the federal government’s Section 508 Nonvisual Accessibility standard as its standard of operation. Since the federal government has recently updated this standard, the state of Maryland should adopt the new updated standard by January 1, 2019. This new standard should apply to all future technologies to be purchased by the state of Maryland. Any implemented technology that is compliant with the old standard should be “grandfathered in.” This is a reasonable timeline because the new standard already exists.


The proposed legislation should not discourage vendors from bidding on state procurement contracts for information technologies. The components for nonvisual access are readily available and relatively inexpensive to acquire. What vendors must understand is that there is a “right way” and a “wrong way” to implement these components. Without careful thought, integrating nonvisual access into the overall design of a system for information technology can be disastrous. However, finding the “right way” does not require a stroke of genius or an immense amount of work. Vendors now have an inordinate amount of prior successful experiences which they can adapt to fit their needs.

Nonvisual access to public information provided by the state of Maryland should be improving because the knowledge and tools now exist to provide greater access. According to state and federal laws, Maryland is not supposed to purchase information and communication technology products or services that are not accessible to the blind. Blind citizens do not currently have the same access to information as the rest of the general public, because Maryland does not enforce its laws. Maryland should be a model employer of persons with disabilities. However, Maryland ignores the accessibility laws and blind workers do not have the tools to perform their jobs efficiently. The state of Maryland should receive the nonvisual access that it has already paid for. It is time to strengthen the procurement law to ensure nonvisual access becomes a reality.