Where Should You Start With Section 508 Compliance Certification

  • 14.12.2021
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Section 508 was drafted to address very specific criteria of accessibility standards related to Information and Communication Technology (ICT) products. Although WCAG standards are one of the most popular and widely adopted guidelines to ensure accessibility compliance, getting the 508 compliance certification can also become a milestone for technology related business verticals.

As a business owner, your concerns related to the most useful accessibility criteria are obvious. Failure to meet the guidelines may lead to expensive lawsuits and reputational damages. Therefore, all sizes of businesses are publishing the VPAT accessibility reports on their websites to showcase their conformance standards. This post can be of great help to those who wish to validate their 508 compliance but don’t know where to start. This post will provide the overall guidance of the documentation phase that help an organization to confirm adherence to the revised 508 standards.

What’s new in the Revised Section 508?

Section 508 is an update to the Rehabilitation Act which ensures that disabled individuals have equal access to ICT products and offerings. It mandates federal agencies to confirm the accessibility standards. Compliance to Section 508 can be defined by following certain practices to implement general, technical and functional specifications ensuring equal access to disabled individuals.

The revised accessibility standards were initiated in the year 2018. Major changes that were made during the revision were aimed towards improved accessibility standards.

  • The revisions aim to align with WCAG standards to portray a global level accessibility conformance.
  • It restructures the products and services based on functionality and not just product types.
  • It streamlines the guidelines to resolve conflicts and ensure that revised 508 standards will be applicable during conflicts with reference standards

 

What is VPAT Accessibility?

VPAT stands for Voluntary Product Accessibility Template that is published by vendors to announce their conformance to Section 508. To put it simply, a business would employ the VPAT certification to make a public declaration that their ICT products including websites, software, applications and documentations are easily accessible by disabled individuals.

VPAT has undergone multiple revisions and the latest version is VPAT 2.4. Currently, there are four editions of the same, which include:

  • VPAT EU: It confirms the European Union’s accessibility standards.
  • VPAT 508: It is used for Federal compliance to Section 508 standards.
  • VPAT WCAG: It declares conformance to the latest version of WCAG norms.
  • VPAT INT: It combines the guidelines mentioned in above listed editions.

To summarize, when you use the latest version of VPAT, your ICT offerings become compliant with the EU standards, WCAG guidelines, and Section 508 for accessibility.

Can VPAT reports put your products in a bad light?

VPAT is used by vendors to voluntarily portray their conformance to the accessibility standards. Although it is mandatory to provide true and accurate information related to the functionality of ICT offerings; this doesn’t mean that a business owner is only using a VPAT to highlight the pitfalls. Addressing the issues won’t put their products and their brands in a bad light. Using the 508 Compliance Certification is helpful in many ways:

  • It helps your vendors to make an informed choice between compliant and non-compliant business partners
  • Publishing the VPAT report instils a sense of accountability in business organizations
  • It also broadens your reach to the target audience. When you are able to address the accessibility issues through the conformance report, your business becomes accessible and operable by those who are disabled
  • A compliant product with a wider reach can also be translated into increased sales and maximized profitability

 

By addressing the issues you are not belittling your own brand. The overview helps in recognizing the gaps in your ICT offerings and overcoming the gaps would definitely boost the sales while showcasing your company’s commitment to accessibility for all.

How to get 508 compliance certification?

VPAT was developed by Information Technology Industry Council (ITI) and be downloaded for free from their official website. The template is used to draft the Accessibility Conformance Report (ACR). Most people use the terms VPAT and ACR interchangeably, but it is incorrect. VPAT is just a blank template and ACR is the completed VPAT. Don’t get confused between the two. To ensure your compliance with Section 508 you need ACR which includes required information such as, product description, methods of evaluations used, applicable standards and the VPAT template.

While filling a VPAT, the main content that your address includes i) name of the addressed accessibility criteria, ii) level of conformance, ranging from fully supported, partially supported, to not supported, and iii) Remarks to explain the accessibility issues and partially supported criteria.

Best Practices for VPAT Certification

VPAT certification can be issued in-house or you can seek the help of third party service providers. It is important to accurately fill in the details in the VPAT; therefore, to complete the ACR you would need an accessibility audit as well.

Generating an ACR is not a part of the audit – for best practices, it is recommended to hire third party auditors who can first identify the accessibility issues, resolve them and then generate an impressive and accurate ACR for your ICT products and offerings.

Not every organization has in-house accessibility specialists. It requires adequate information and up to date knowledge about the latest versions and accessibility standards. ACR issued by third party companies is more accurate and reliable.

In addition to this, ACR defines the conformance standards for ICR products which include mobile apps and software. If you want to attain the compliance standards specifically for your website, it is best to address the statements related to WCAG standards. Therefore, hiring the specialists would be the most viable solution to get the requisite certification.

Final Word

Accessible products and offerings protect your business from legal obligations and also widen your reach to a broader segment of your target audience. Use our free accessibility tools to check the compliance standards of your website. Additionally, for a comprehensive evaluation, get in touch with our accessibility specialists and attain a proactive approach to 508 Compliance Certification.

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