Is a VPAT a Legal Document?

  • 28.02.2022
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*This article is not intended to provide legal tax advice. Please consult the IRS or your tax advisor for legal tax advice.*

In this article we’ll be walking through exactly what you need to do in order for your business to qualify for the $5,000 Tax Credit and also:

  • What it means for your website to be ADA compliant 
  • Risks of not having a compliant website 
  • How you can claim the credit before the next tax season 

If you are in a more serious situation and have already received a complaint letter for an ADA lawsuit, you can read more about the steps you need to take to protect your business clicking here.

Note: Think your business might qualify for the Tax Credit? Click here to get a Free Website Accessibility Test and see if your website has any errors. If so, having our experts quickly begin the remediation process gives you a chance to claim the credit. 

The Voluntary Product Accessibility Template (VPAT)

Google searches with the query, “What is VPAT?” have significantly increased after the avalanche of successful court cases that have been filed by plaintiffs seeking claims over failed website VPAT compliance. These searches are being done by curious website owners that would like their websites to pass VPAT accessibility tests and by serial litigants that are scanning websites for VPAT compliance issues that they can use to write demand letters to the owners of the websites.

What is a VPAT? A VPAT is a document that is prepared by a product developer or vendor to illustrate how well the product conforms to the accessibility standards of Section 508 of the US Rehabilitation Act.

The overarching role of a VPAT is to help buyers of an ICT product (Information and Communication Technology) make informed decisions about the product before purchasing it. It precisely causes the buyers to:

  • Understand the product’s VPAT accessibility or VPAT compliance
  • Compare the product’s VPAT compliance with that of similar products in the market.
  • Choose a product that best meets Section 508 accessibility standards as well as the producing organization’s functional and legal aptness regarding VPAT accessibility.
  • Plan for products of equally effective VPAT compliance when accessible products are not available.

VPATs Are Voluntary

A legal document is a formally signed written document that documents and officially expresses a legally enforceable act, procedure, or contractual responsibility, obligation, or right, and so serves as proof of that act, process, or agreement. The document, as the name implies, is optional and designed to assist a business or organization in explaining how their goods fulfill or fail to satisfy the VPAT accessibility criteria.

Continue reading to find out whether a VPAT is a legal document or not. If you need any help with VPAT accessibility, please contact us online or call (626) 486-2201 to learn more about our VPAT compliance services!

While VPAT accessibility is voluntary for suppliers (they may choose not to produce or furnish a VPAT), obtaining and assessing VPAT compliance is often one stage in the accessible procurement process. Other forms of negotiations that involve VPAT compliance include:

  • A bid for a contract with the federal government (which will most likely require a VPAT compliance or VPAT certification.
  • A merger of companies (which may require it for legal assessments) – A VPAT template includes a section on accessibility best practices and instructions, followed by a series of roughly 80 questions about the product and accessibility that are useful for mergers.
  • Any bid for a contract with a private company that has accessibility as a core value of their business, or with an organization that receives funding from the federal government.
  • Any business that is building an internal VPAT accessibility

Is the VPAT a legal document in light of what we’ve just reviewed?

Well, the answer is both “yes and no.”

In circumstances such as those stated above, it becomes a legal document when it is formally performed and reflects a legally enforceable act, procedure, contractual responsibility, obligation, or right. If you keep it secret and do not make it public, it may not be a legal document. They become lawful after they are made public because someone can depend on them to file a claim against you if they discover that the declaration made on them is false.

Each VPAT is unique based on the scope of the technology or product being evaluated. It is at the level of filling out the VPAT template that the Voluntary Product Accessibility Template transmutes from being an ordinary document to one that can be enforced as part of a contractual obligation. What does that mean for your VPAT compliance? It means that the filling of the VPAT template and its subsequent execution during the processes that need it as part of an enforceable act, process, agreement, contractual duty, etc., breathes legality into the document. This is why filling a VPAT template requires skill and expertise.

Let ADA Compliance Pros Help You to Fill Your VPAT Template

VPATs are only as useful as the information that you put in them. Imagine putting erroneous information in your VPAT that could be used by a plaintiff to prefer a charge against you or claim damages. Since VPATs are documents that are used in contracts, bids, and legal documents, it is vital that what you put in there is accurate and comprehensive. Providing false information is a felony in the United States. 49 U.S.C. 46507 (1) (formerly 49 U.S.C. App. 1472(m) (1)) makes it a crime to willfully and maliciously convey false information, or to convey false information with reckless disregard for safety, knowing that such information is false.

Filling out a VPAT template inaccurately might be interpreted as fraudulent advertising or labeling. Significant fines and responsibilities are placed on a person found guilty of misleading advertising, labeling, or characterization of a product under both international and federal and state laws. The party that sells or distributes a product that fraudulently describes or mislabels its substance, character, origin, or utility carries serious legal and criminal culpability.

Worse, if you’re in the distribution chain and knew or should have known that the false labeling or characterization of the goods occurred and yet participated in the distribution, you’re just as culpable as the falsehood’s creator! There are rules and legislation regarding these concerns at both the federal and state levels, the violation of which involves criminal consequences that a party risks breaking if it sells or deals in fraudulently labeled items. Such a person might be held accountable to anybody who is “harmed” as a result of acquiring fraudulently labeled products.

If you represent items sold or given in the United States but have fake VPAT accessibility certifications, you will be held liable. This comprises international businesses with branches in the United States. This is governed by 19 U.S.C. 1304, which governs the branding of imported goods. Violation of this act is a felony punishable by penalties of up to $100,000 and imprisonment for up to one year for the first offense. If a person becomes aware that the marks on a product are fraudulent or incorrect, even if the party was not a part of the fraud in the first instance, their cooperation would subject them to prosecution under this act.

Get VPAT Compliance Help Now

You can see why having a Subject Matter Expert fill out your VPAT template is critical. If you have someone on your team who is a Certified Professional in VPAT Accessibility key competencies or has a web accessibility certification, you can rely on them to read and fill out your VPAT template properly.

However, in many circumstances, VPAT accessibility concerns are not your company’s or organization’s primary business, which means that investing too much of your human resources on them will divert them from pursuing your core business, slowing down your business operations. This is where you will need the assistance of a professional to complete the VPAT accessibility assessment and fill out the VPAT template for you.

Here is a free website VPAT compliance checker that will help you quickly determine how compliant your website is. This complimentary test will provide the test results instantly to your inbox.

If you need help with any other matter regarding VPAT accessibility and VPAT compliance, feel free to contact us online or call us at (626) 486-2201. Our team is ready to help yours at any time!

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