The Voluntary Product Accessibility Template (VPAT) is a standard form for vendors to use to document how a given product provides accessibility support for persons with disabilities according to the Section 508 federal guidelines for accessibility. The VPAT template was designed by the Information Technology Industry Council (ITIC).
The ADA, as amended, prohibits discrimination based on disability in the areas of employment, public accommodation, public services, transportation and telecommunications.
Section 508 specifically requires that government agencies: “When developing, procuring, maintaining, or using electronic and information technology, each Federal department or agency, including the United States Postal Service, shall ensure, unless an undue burden would be imposed on the department or agency, that the electronic and information technology allows, regardless of the type of medium of the technology”.
The VPAT is commonly used to demonstrate accessibility compliance of ICTs in federal procurement efforts. Depending on the agency, they may have their own reporting requirements and/or standards.
Yes! VPATs are used by some of the largest companies in the world. Companies like Microsoft, Apple, and Google all have VPATs for their products. They understand that by having proper documentation, they are making it easier for those who wish to use procure their products know precisely how accessible said products are.
Many companies also rely on independent accessibility experts to evaluate the accessibility of their ICT product and generate the necessary documentation.
Many buyers want products/services that are accessible, especially if they will be offering them as a white label product or using them as a platform for end-users. VPAT accessibility offers an easy way for everybody, not just federal agencies, to compare accessibility levels for similar products/services and choose the best one.
Customers are increasingly demanding VPAT compliance from vendors and manufacturers. They’re a way of showing that you care about accessibility and build your product/services with accessibility in mind.
Suppose your VPAT is incomplete or doesn’t correctly reflect your accessibility levels. In that case, you could miss out on because buyers will pass over it looking for a more accessible option. On the other hand, if someone buys your product/service and then discovers that your VPAT wasn’t accurate, it could ruin your reputation and destroy trust in the marketplace, even if it was a genuine mistake.
It can be tricky to find the right person to fill out your VPAT. You need someone who:
Ideally, you’d have a member of your product development team knowledgeable about accessibility and accessibility testing and experienced at filling out the VPAT template, but that’s not a common occurrence.
That’s why many companies use an external expert for their VPAT obligations.
Because the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) does not include explicit criteria pertaining to digital accessibility, there is ambiguity when attempting to clearly differentiate “accessible” and “inaccessible” digital content. Even though WCAG are universally accepted as the de facto guidelines for digital accessibility, many of the criteria are not cut-and-dry. Physical ADA standards (such as the number of accessible parking spaces or elevators in a building) are far more defined.
Understandably, organizations looking to provide irrefutable evidence that their digital content is accessible are often frustrated by this lack of clarity. This is where a VPAT can be useful to an organization, as it is clear documentation on how your digital product conforms to WCAG criteria. Even organizations that are not interested in conducting business with the Federal government can benefit from this. You can use the VPAT to demonstrate conformance anywhere a law or policy requires accessibility.
A VPAT provides a clearly defined standard against which any organization can measure its accessibility. Section 508 requirements map to WCAG, and by the nature of the officiality of the VPAT itself, organizations that can show they conform to the Section 508 requirements are seen as more credibly accessible.
Not only that, but in undergoing the process to fill out the VPAT, firms frequently unearth accessibility failures that had previously gone unaddressed. If they remediate these errors, they will emerge with better, more accessible content. Talk about a win-win situation!
Organizations that do not possess substantial accessibility knowledge will be at a disadvantage, as it’s not easy to pick up this type of in-depth subject matter expertise on the fly. Firms often rely on accessibility consultancies to fill out a VPAT for them.
In terms of ensuring accessibility for people with disabilities, a VPAT is only as good as the person reviewing it and the level of candor and transparency of the vendor that completes it. Despite its best efforts to be precise, a VPAT still offers firms the ability to remain somewhat ambiguous about accessibility failures. An organization could be less than wholly forthright and still complete a VPAT that makes their product look highly accessible.
Despite its limitations, a VPAT can be a valuable resource for any organization, regardless of its clientele.
The short answer is yes.
Because of the nature of the VPAT, anyone can fill it out. However, problems arise due to not having the experience necessary to accurately test for accessibility compliance and/or filling it out correctly. Too often these documents are filled out by a companies marketing team to try and make their accessibility seem better than it actually is. Because of these issues, it is always better to have an accessibility expert fill out the VPAT for your products.
Using an independent accessibility expert will help to ensure your VPAT is accurate, requirements are appropriately met, and the language used in the document is reflective of the level of conformance of the application.