What Is The VPAT Compliance And How To Get VPAT Certification

  • 25.11.2021
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The ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) prohibits discrimination against those who have disabilities. In order to guarantee civil rights to the disabled, the US courts applied the ADA compliance guidelines to technology domains as well. However, the ADA is very broad and due to legal ambiguity, many times becomes difficult for commercial websites to precisely adapt to the technical requirements. As a result, we are in the midst of a massive increase in lawsuits in federal and state courts – a 30% increase in website lawsuits annually for the past five years. In fact, after the updated release of WCAG 2.1 in the year 2018, even some big names like Nike and Dominos made the headlines. Out of all lawsuits filed, 85% of the small and midsized businesses had to face expensive settlements due to lack of conformance to the accessibility guidelines.

 

Since the ADA concepts are considered nebulous and open to interpretation, it requires explicit criteria to overcome the issue of lack of clarity. A Voluntary Product Accessibility Template (VPAT) is a clear documentation that helps organizations measure their accessibility standards. The template is outlined according to the Section 508 and the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). The VPAT Certification can be a valuable resource that helps organizations conform to the best practices set out for accessibility while also promoting accountability. From the level of the accessibility compliance demonstrated, potential buyers can make an informed decision.

 

What is VPAT Compliance?

VPAT compliance fulfils the basic purpose of making your Information and Communication Technology (ICT) products ADA compliant. Since a growing number of buyers outside the federal government consider accessibility an important factor to choose the vendors, it becomes important for the organizations to prove their VPAT compliance. The certification can unearth accessibility failures in a wide range of digital products such as:

  • E-learning platforms
  • Mobile apps
  • Websites
  • Software or hardware
  • Remote access tools

 

The VPAT Certification acts as a primary tool for communicating the accessibility conformation of the products offered. To make a sense of impact on the potential buyers, organizations use VPATs to draft their Accessibility Conformance Report (ACR).

 

Who needs a VPAT Certification?

Earlier it was assumed that only government entities procured ICT products and services from vendors who have submitted their VPAT certification. But that is no longer the case. VPATs are not only needed when you are conducting business with an organization that gets funding from the federal government because the template acts as a useful source for any organization, regardless of whom they are conducting business with.

 

It is useful to adapt to the VPAT approach to enhance the credibility of your offerings to the clientele from the federal government, state government, non-profits, and private sector. ICT is a broad category, the revised Section 508 not only applies to digital products but VPAT reporting is now important for certain physical products as well.

 

To put it simply, VPATs are a useful resource for organizations that are dealing in the following products and services:

  • Applications and software programs used by public-facing agencies
  • Software or applications developed to be used by employees or public
  • Public or employee-used websites that are externally hosted
  • Interactive voice response programs
  • Digital documents
  • Any services accessed through ICT
  • Physical products like copier machines, smartphones, tablets and telephone systems

 

To ensure that your product and offering definition remains consistent with the revised guidelines of Section 508, certain physical products are also added to the list of products for which VPAT reporting is important.

 

How VPAT Certification is helpful?

Whenever we buy prepared foods, we look at the Nutritional Facts label before buying just to be sure about the content. In the same way, VPATs are helpful to enhance your accessibility conformance. The Certification is considered helpful for the vendors of ICT products that will be used by federal workers. However, every organization should consider adhering to the VPAT reporting guidelines to enhance their business opportunities and commitment to accessibility. VPAT compliance offers a multitude of benefits to organizations:

  • The clear documentation of a VPAT is helpful to overcome the lack of clarity issues in the ADA standards
  • It proves accessibility conformance to the WCAG criteria
  • ACR helps to enhance your credibility to entice potential buyers
  • VPAT certifications make the comparison easy between compliant and non compliant organizations, helping buyers make an informed decision
  • Accurate representation of accessibility conformance, via the VPAT certification, also increases the transparency of an organization
  • It acts as an eye-opener too, as many organizations are able to address failure issues that were unknown earlier

 

From the business perspective, a VPAT is essential, besides, it is also helpful in assuring the overall user experience. For consistency and accuracy, all organizations should opt to seek professional consultation to attain the ACR without delay.

 

How to get a VPAT Certification?

The VPAT template can be found easily online. You can download it and ask anyone in your organization to fill it out for you. The template is co-developed by Information Technology Industry Council (ICS)  and General Services Administration (GSA) to ensure that all ICT products and services that fill out the template will meet the guidelines mentioned in Section 508. To describe the accessibility features, you are required to draft the ACR. Although anyone can do it in-house, but to do so with the required accuracy, you are expected to have sufficient knowledge about digital accessibility. Failure of the accurate representation of your accessibility standards may lead to expensive lawsuits, therefore it is always recommended to hire experts who are specifically trained to handle the complicated and time consuming task of VPAT reporting.

Hiring third party experts will offer peace of mind and the assurance of accuracy as accessibility professionals bring years of experience in researching the ins and outs of Section 508 to the table. The procedure to generate the VPAT certification includes the following steps:

  1. An unbiased and accurate audit of your ICT products and services based on the guidelines of Section 508.
  2. Improve the compliance based on the errors identified in the audit of the technical requirements, functional performance, and support requirements.
  3. Generate the required compliance data to create a VPAT.

 

The revised Section 508 now measures accessibility using the WCAG 2.1 criteria, so it is recommended to get VPAT 2.0 or higher. The reporting requirements in VPAT 2.0 are more stringent and hence it becomes essential to complete the reporting with the most possible accuracy. 

 

Interested in improving your product offerings with VPAT?

 

VPAT compliance offers a greater insight into accessibility conformance. It is a useful resource to facilitate meaningful communication and a faster procurement process. To create sufficient access, having experienced auditors by your side is crucial. If interested, you can contact our accessibility team to discuss the best approach to attain accessibility.

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