No VPAT, No Contract: Why Accessibility Requirements are Tightening for Businesses in 2023

  • 26.11.2022
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    Normalize product and service designs with accessibility in mind

    Do you ever consider how the statistics presented regarding people with disabilities can affect the design of your products or services? What thoughts come to mind when you learn that one in every seven people has a disability that affects how they interact with the world and their devices? Have you ever imagined yourself in the shoes of people with disabilities when designing your products or services?

    Anyone, at any time, can become disabled. People develop disabilities at any age, for any length of time, and with varied degrees of severity. A temporary impairment, such as a wrist injury from a fall or voice loss from misuse, can occur. All of these factors can influence how people interact with your technology and the world around you.

    Imagine yourself in this situation and consider how it might affect how you develop products or services! This is what is motivating many institutions and organizations to make accessibility a priority in their operations as we approach 2023 and beyond!

    What is accessibility?

    The term accessibility refers to the circumstance in which the requirements of people with disabilities are expressly recognized when products, services, and facilities are planned, developed, or adjusted so that everyone, regardless of disability status, can utilize them.

    To be considered accessible, a product or service must provide people with disabilities with the same information, engage in similar interactions, and enjoy similar services as people without disabilities in an equally effective and equally integrated manner, with substantially equivalent ease of use.

    To achieve accessibility, a person with a disability must be able to get information as fully, equally, and independently as a person without a disability. This includes websites, learning technologies, educational management systems, healthcare management systems, videos, and documents.

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      Accessible technology

      In terms of accessibility, the tech sector has seen considerable focus, a trend that is projected to accelerate in 2023 and beyond. This is because people with disabilities are expected to benefit more from increased access to technology during the period. Greater access to accessible technology leads to greater social inclusion and equal enjoyment of human rights, including more inclusive workplaces, improved access to education, and increased involvement in cultural and recreational activities, among other things.

      Many experts expect that macroeconomic conditions will alter in 2023 and beyond due to concerns about inflation, supply chain challenges, geopolitical conflicts, and economic instability, among other things. During the projected turbulent environment, all firms are under strong pressure to defend their revenue models and maintain their competitive edge.

      Undoubtedly, technology will play a huge role in enabling and securing those revenue streams and unlocking more opportunities for efficiency. Some of the tech areas that will be trendy in 2023 and beyond include cloud, mobile, and virtual collaboration; frictionless digital experiences; cyber security and artificial intelligence; real-time data sharing and hyper-automation; technology solutions for remote work and culture; hybrid clouds; flexible architecture; and data storage and analytics, among others.

      These digital transformation frontiers foreshadow future economic potential for tech companies to conduct business with the federal government, large corporations, and enterprises. However, there is a catch to your tech company reaping the benefits of these trends: without a properly completed voluntary product accessibility template (VPAT) and accessibility conformance report (ACR) for the tech solutions, expect no contract to supply to the federal government and leading corporations and businesses!

      Expect a tech contract to insist on having a completed VPAT in 2023

      The expected digital transformation trends for 2023 and beyond will only result in income explosions for tech institutions that conform to the amended Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

      This law requires that when federal agencies construct, manage, or employ information and communication technology (ICT), people with disabilities have equal access to the ICT as people without disabilities, unless the provision imposes an unreasonable burden on the agency. This applies to both federal employees and disabled members of the public.

      The revised Section 508 Standards for ICT include scoping and technical requirements to ensure accessibility and usability by people with disabilities. Compliance with these standards is mandatory for all federal agencies. The General Services Administration (GSA) Office of Technology Policy is mandated to assist federal agencies in educating their employees about their responsibilities under Section 508 as well as building the infrastructure necessary to support ICT accessibility and the implementation of Section 508 countrywide.

      The VPAT was created in collaboration with the GSA by the Information Technology Industry Council (ITI) to address the general issue of aligning ICT product features to Section 508 accessibility criteria via a checklist. Your ICT product or service cannot participate in federal procurement processes if it lacks VPAT accessibility, even if it is of higher quality than those that do have Section 508 compliance certification.

      Typically, federal agencies will demand a properly completed Section 508 VPAT in order to examine the accessibility aspects of an ICT product or service. With the expected increase in tech products and services due to likely digital trends, the standards for VPAT accessibility are expected to rise due to an improved experience with accessible ICT products and services used in various sectors, as well as manufacturers and vendors of ICT products and services constantly improving their products and services to eliminate any accessibility flaws that could prevent them from securing contracts to supply.

      Reasons for the tightening of accessibility requirements in 2023 and beyond

      If you want to secure a contract to deliver ICT products or services in 2023 and beyond, you should be aware that the accessibility standards will be more stringent than you are used to. What is VPAT accessibility today will almost certainly become redundant in the future for the following reasons:

      1. Greater participation of people with disabilities in determining accessibility

      More and more organizations and corporations are collaborating closely with people with disabilities to conduct VPAT assessments on ICT products in order to precisely identify characteristics that need to be improved. As more ICT products become competitively accessible, accessibility requirements will be tightened to allow for the procurement of the most accessible products or services.

      1. Increased awareness about VPAT accessibility

      Many institutions that use ICT products and services are becoming aware of VPAT accessibility, including VPAT testing, the use of an appropriate VPAT form, and making a VPAT ACR accessible to potential customers, in order to capitalize on the fortunes presented by digital trends projected for 2023 and beyond. This greater knowledge, together with the corresponding attention on the accuracy of the completed VPAT ACRs, means that the accessibility levels for purchasing an ICT product or service will surely climb in 2023 and beyond.

      1. Enhanced experience of the accessibility duty bearers

      Accessibility officers are continually analyzing VPAT reports for ICT products and services destined for various economic sectors. This enables them to identify areas for improvement in accessibility standards as well as VPAT versions and editions.

      For example, the VPAT 2.4 template was developed and replaced prior versions of the template based on the experience of analyzing numerous VPAT ACRs and keeping an eye on worldwide best practices. Other accessibility standards have been tightened with the creation and release of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1, as well as the projected WCAG 2.2 edition.

      Increased commercial potential for ICT products and services in numerous sectors are expected to draw a wide range of actors eager to profit from the predicted digital changes in 2023 and beyond.

      If you want to maximize the benefits of these projects and technological trends, keep in mind that if you don’t have a VPAT for each of your tech products or services, you won’t be able to get a contract to supply the product or service to federal agencies or large corporations and institutions that are committed to VPAT accessibility. You can, however, begin your path toward Section 508 compliance certification now so that you are not caught off guard in 2023!

      Get started with creating/updating your VPAT ACR for 2023 contracts

      You can get help creating or updating your VPAT ACR for your ICT product or service so that you are ready when federal procurement processes begin.

      Working with a VPAT accessibility expert while you plan and implement your company idea is the most effective method to maximize your efforts in realizing the prospects predicted by the 2023 digital changes. To begin the VPAT accessibility journey, please contact us via our contact page or call (626) 486-2201 to discuss your accessibility requirements.