‘Voluntary Product Accessibility Template‘, a VPAT is, as it sounds, a template for which a company documents compliance with accessibility requirements — as is outlined in both Section 508 and the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). A VPAT can cover product accessibility for e-learning, websites, mobile apps, remote access tools, documentation, software, or hardware. No matter what they are for, a VPAT will always fulfill the same basic purpose: to serve as a template to both evaluate and demonstrate that your product or service is up to requirements when it comes to being accessible for people — no matter what their needs are.
Once completed, a VPAT will be used to create your Accessibility Conformance Report (ACR), which will state what accessibility standards you meet. It also alerts users to any impediments to accessibility they may find.
While technically the VPAT refers specifically to your voluntary product accessibility template, rather than the filled-out completed product that goes into creating your ACR, they are generally used interchangeably with the completed document specific to your company.
Although this all may seem like a strange concept, it really is nothing new. After all, we are well used to seeing signs indicating a place may not be suitable for wheelchair users, a theme park ride may not be suitable for someone with a heart condition, or a film or tv show may not be suitable for those with epilepsy. A VPAT, and subsequent ACR, is just a continuation of this process for the digital world, to ensure people with disabilities are aware of what they can use, and what they may have issues with. Also of note: this is a highly litigious area of ADA laws and not being accessible can lead to a costly lawsuit.
GOOD TO KNOW:
VPAT: Voluntary Product Accessibility Template
ACR: Accessibility Conformance Report
WCAG: Web Content Accessibility Guidelines
ICT: Information and Communications technology
ADA: Americans with Disabilities Act
Despite the ‘voluntary’ in ‘voluntary product accessibility template’ and the fact there is no legal requirement to have a VPAT specifically, there are U.S. federal and EU regulations that lay out vigorous accessibility requirements and transparency for ICT (information and communications technology) products.
For example, Section 508 standards of the Rehabilitation Act requires that U.S. federal government agencies ensure that any ICT they develop, procure, maintain, or use meets certain accessibility standards. This applies to all companies that receive federal funding, such as educational institutions, hospitals, nursing homes, mental health centers, and a whole host of others. Similar compliance guidelines are mirrored in the European Union’s EN 301 549 standard. In fact, given that the Information Technology Industry Council (ITI) and the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) actually created the VPAT for vendors to supply the documentation to fulfill these requirements 20 years ago, it is safe to say that while they are not a legal requirement, for many companies they are indeed a practical one.
Even if your company is not receiving federal or EU funding, you may still require some form of accessibility documentation. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), for example, requires that any person, business, or organization covered by the act must communicate effectively about their programs, services, and activities.
With regulations and laws such as these, and others, it is highly likely that you need to document the accessibility of your ICT product or service, and a VPAT is the most efficient, comprehensive, and widely acknowledged way to do that. Also of note: most purchasers of ICT products will want a VPAT from the seller to verify the level of ADA compliance.
The fact is that despite any initial misgivings, you should actually want to complete your VPAT, and not just because of Section 508 from the federal government, EN 301 549 standards from the EU and web content accessibility guidelines. No, you should want to complete your VPAT for the simple reason that the more you complete this template and document your accessibility, the more requirements you will see you are not catering to, and the more you will work on making your product or service accessible to them.
Apart from this being hugely beneficial to people with disabilities and for society as a whole, this also boosts your bottom line. In the US for example, an estimated 48 million people have a disability — that’s 19% of the entire population. After all, by definition, the more people that can use your product or service, the better your business will do.
The truth is, if you wanted to you could create your own VPAT today, or get someone at your company to follow a VPAT template that they find online. However, the accessibility domain knowledge to create an ironclad VPAT is extensive, and unless you have someone with that knowledge you are leaving yourself exposed. With around 3000 digital accessibility lawsuits a year, if you do not accurately and fully represent how accessible you could well be at risk of having real financial consequences.
As such, we recommend getting a professional VPAT service, to cover yourself, and improve your accessibility. To learn just how we can help your business to stay on the right side of this important issue, get in touch today to find out more.