Why a VPAT has become a Necessity for Tech Businesses

  • 16.01.2023
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    What is a VPAT?

    A VPAT, or voluntary product accessibility template, is a web-based standard report that is used by vendors and manufacturers of information and communication technology (ICT) products and services businesses to document how their digital products and services comply with the recognized accessibility standards or guidelines for making ICT usable by people with disabilities.

    While the VPAT was originally designed as a tool for vendors and manufacturers to document compliance with Section 508 of the U.S. Rehabilitation Act and to facilitate market research on ICT with accessible features by federal agencies, it has currently expanded to include the Revised Section 508, the EU EN 301 549, and the WCAG standards.

    The expansion was necessitated by the formulation of accessibility regulations in the jurisdictions where the standards or guidelines apply. Accordingly, the VPAT is available in four editions that enable vendors and manufacturers of ICT products and services to tailor their VPAT reports according to the accessibility requirements for ICT in the markets where they wish to make their products and services available for purchase.

    What are the four editions of the VPAT?

    The four editions of the VPAT document are: the WCAG edition, the Section 508 edition, the EU edition, and the International (INT) edition.

    The WCAG edition is used for reporting compliance with the World Wide Web Consortium’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 or 2.1. The Section 508 edition is used for reporting compliance with the U.S. Revised Section 508 standards. The EU edition is the European edition of the VPAT, which is used for reporting compliance with the EN 301 549 standard, while the INT edition is the international edition that is used for reporting compliance to all three standards.

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      Is the VPAT mandatory or discretionary?

      As the name suggests, a VPAT is voluntary. It is therefore discretionary for manufacturers and vendors of ICT products and services to create one for their products and services. But the caveat is that, for organizations and buyers that are required to comply with accessible procurement processes, obtaining and reviewing a product’s or service’s VPAT report is an imperative step in their procurement processes.

      For instance, all organizations that are directly or indirectly governed by Section 508, including the U.S. federal agencies, any government agency (state, county, or municipal jurisdiction), and any organization that receives financial aid from the federal government, are required to have an updated VPAT report for each of the ICT products or services they procure, create, use, or maintain. That is because Section 508 compels them to procure, create, use, and maintain ICT that is accessible to people with disabilities, regardless of whether they work for the federal government or not.

      This means that if you have a tech business, you are at liberty to either create a VPAT accessibility conformance report (ACR) for your tech products or services or not, but your choice of any of these options has implications for your business.

      The benefits of having a VPAT report for your tech products and services

      If you choose the option of creating a VPAT ACR for each of your tech products and services, you will reap a number of benefits. These will include the following:

      1. It saves you the time you would have spent explaining to prospective buyers the accessibility of your tech product or service.

      A VPAT helps you provide documentation and explanations about the level of compliance of your tech products and services. With proper VPAT certification, the prospective buyers of your products and services are able to independently compare your products and services with similar ones from your competitors.

      This means that the majority of inquiries that sieve through to your sales teams would be from buyers that are ready to make purchases, saving your business valuable time and resources as your members of staff spend enough time doing other assigned roles rather than responding to unbridled inquiries about your products and services.

      1. Increased business opportunities and revenues

      With proper VPAT documentation, your tech products and services can qualify to be used by federal agencies or any firm that is directly or indirectly funded by the federal government.

      Given that the U.S. federal government is the largest single purchaser of goods and services in the world, as it awards more than $500 billion in contracts, your tech business cannot afford to exclude its products and services from being procured by this multibillion-dollar purchaser of goods and services.

      Besides the VPAT certification’s ability to make your tech business win federal contracts, creating VPAT reports for your tech products and services demonstrates to people with disabilities that you care about accessibility.

      People with disabilities represent a community of approximately one billion people around the world. You can add another approximately 697 million elderly individuals, who often require the same assistance as people with disabilities do to ensure optimal participation in society, an improved quality of life, and enhanced productivity.

      Numerous studies have shown that people with disabilities and the elderly comprise a group that spends around 30% more than the conventional sector. If you add the many members of their families and relatives as well as friends to this group, then you can understand how commitment to accessibility through VPAT certification could open up the disability market for your products and services. It is a sure way to ramp up the revenues for your tech business as you enhance the participation, quality of life, and productivity of this segment of the population.

      1. Opportunities for product or service improvement

      VPAT accessibility entails an assessment of your tech products and services. You can use this assessment to understand the barriers to accessibility that your products and services present. You can use this to compare your products and services with those of your competitors and set new standards to be achieved by your product and service development teams.

      Dedication to VPAT accessibility best practices, including enlisting customized accessibility services from third-party VPAT certification professionals like ADACP to assist you with the VPAT assessments, making improvements to your products or services, and filling out the VPAT report, can significantly improve the quality of your products and services and keep them in high demand across accessibility markets.

      1. Helps in educating employees about accessibility.

      The creation of a VPAT will help you empower your employees about accessibility, which will enable them to always strive to make your tech products and services more accessible to everyone.

      The document has extensive instructions on how it should be accurately filled out, as well as information on the best practices for making a product and service more accessible. During the process of filling out the document, your employees will gain insight on how an accessible product or service should be developed and how to improve it if it has accessibility barriers.

      Consequences of not creating a VPAT for your tech products and services

      Some tech businesses may be hesitant to create VPATs for their tech products and services because they may feel that the products and services will be portrayed negatively. Failing to create VPATs for your products and services could result in the following challenges:

      1. Liability

      Failing to meet Section 508 standards could result in a liability situation for your tech business if it is a publicly funded agency that obtains software without having an accurate and complete VPAT. That is because, with a VPAT, you can verify that no claims have been made about the product that should subject your tech business to legal action.

      1. Impaired credibility and reputation

      It is no secret that buyers are looking for reliable and trustworthy businesses to work with. This is particularly the case with public agencies that are accountable to taxpayers. If you have a tech business with products and services without VPATs, your credibility and reputation with these buyers are usually dented.

      1. Reduced chances of winning bids

      Without a VPAT, prospects are denied the opportunity to make sound decisions about your products or services. This diminishes your chances of winning bids even if your products and services are of superior standards compared to those of your competitors.

      What is the bottom line regarding VPATs for tech businesses?

      Based on the foregoing benefits of having a VPAT and the consequences of not having a VPAT for your tech products and services, it is an inevitable necessity for tech businesses to ensure all their products and services have VPAT certification.

      VPATs save tech businesses the time they could have spent explaining to prospects about the accessibility of their products or services, help to increase business opportunities as well as revenues, offer opportunities for product or service improvement, assist in educating employees about accessibility, assist in avoiding legal consequences of non-compliance, avert impairment of credibility and reputation, and protect against products and services being locked out of procurement processes.

      Need help with creating or updating your VPAT?

      The information provided in an accurate VPAT report requires a comprehensive review of all the features a product or service has and needs to be as objective and unbiased as possible.

      A clear, complete, and informative VPAT report can go a long way toward ensuring a trouble-free purchase of your products and services. ADACP can help you with your VPAT certification requirements. Call (626) 486-2201 to arrange a free consultation.