Why an Accessibility Conformance Report is More Than a VPAT

  • 4.07.2022
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    Clarifying the difference between VPAT and an ACR

    As the awareness of digital accessibility has skyrocketed, we’ve been consumed with the delivery of our manual audit reports and ACRs (filled out VPATs) for our clients. During this time, we have realized that some misunderstandings have arisen in regards to the distinctions between the Voluntary Product Accessibility Template (VPAT) and the Accessibility Conformance Report (ACR). Stepping a little back to reflect on the matter, we would like to provide important clarifications about the two concepts so as to add value to the accessibility discourse.

    What is a VPAT?

    Let’s begin by asking the question that most people who are new to the concept of accessibility frequently ask us: “What is a VPAT?” VPAT epitomizes the essence of making products and services accessible to people with disabilities—the voluntary empathy for socially disadvantaged members of our society when making decisions about the design of products and services for the market. It is an overview of the compliance of a product or service with the accessibility standards set out in Revised Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act.

    The VPAT, as its name suggests, is a generic standard template that was created by the Information Technology Industry Council (ITI) in collaboration with the United States General Services Administration (GSA) to be voluntarily completed by vendors and developers of information and communication technology (ICT) in order to document the degree to which their ICT products and services comply with the established accessibility standards.

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      What is the difference between a VPAT and a VPAT report or VPAT ACR?

      As previously mentioned, VPAT is the template document that is unfilled, and was created by ITI in collaboration with and GSA. In fact, it is trademarked, which technically implies that what businesses and organizations produce after completing the VPAT cannot be referred to as a VPAT.

      By definition, a trademark acknowledges the ownership of the object by a particular person or entity, and identifies the property as being theirs. In terms of intellectual property, trademarks are seen as a type that may or may not be registered. According to this definition, VPAT cannot be altered or owned by several companies and institutions. We note that the term “VPATTM” is among the most frequently overused in the accessibility field because of this. This belief is supported by a technical definition of the word, which is an unfilled generic standard template that can be filled out without changing the inquiries or specifications it makes of sellers and developers of ICT goods and services.

      When a business, organization, developer, or vendor completes a VPAT with the necessary data regarding their ICT product or service, they are left with a VPAT report or VPAT ACR rather than a VPAT. Therefore, a VPAT report or VPAT ACR is essentially what most individuals in the accessibility industry refer to as a VPAT. The latter includes both this and the pertinent information about the good or service the filled-out VPAT ACR refers to, whilst the former has simply the details that direct businesses, organizations, developers, and vendors in filling out the document.

      So, when a potential customer or RFP requires a VPAT, what they are technically asking for is an ACR. From a technical perspective, the two terms tend to be used interchangeably, but from a marketplace perspective, they should be as we’ve articulated.

      The first version of the VPAT was based on Section 508 standards. However, more recent versions are based on the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) developed by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), as well as the European Union standards EN 301 549, and the international version, INT, which incorporates all these three versions. You can have a look at a VPAT example by clicking on this link.

      Why an ACR is more than a VPAT

      ACRs have more content and are more voluminous than the VPAT for obvious reasons, which include the following:

      1. ACRs are specific to an ICT product or service whereas the VPAT is general

      The VPAT is generic, and only a few versions that address the various accessibility standards exist: Section 508 (addressing the United States market), the WCAG version (that addresses the web and other digital content), EN 301 549 (that accommodates the EU market), and the international version that embraces all three of these three. ACRs, on the other hand, are varied in content and as many as the ICT products and services that have undergone VPAT assessments. This means that ACRs are more detailed than the VPAT and the information they contain is specific to the products or services that they relate to.

      2. ACRs bring out the essential features in a product or service

      While the VPAT only itemizes what the vendor should consider when filling it out, including the VPAT version, name of product and version, product description, date of publication, contact information, evaluation methods in the VPAT assessments, and the applicable standards (WCAG 2.0, WCAG 2.1, Revised Section 508, EN 301, 549), ACRs provide the product’s details based on these focus areas. VPAT could therefore be likened to the skeleton of a body, while ACRs can be likened to the body plus the skeleton, hairs, flesh, nails, etc. As a result, the VPAT serves as the framework for VPAT assessments, and ACRs include both the framework and the details that provide the framework with the desired value.

      3. ACRs offer additional information beyond what the VPAT provides

      During VPAT assessments for a product or service, the accessibility expert may discern questions that users of the VPAT report could raise regarding the accessibility of the product or service, or their conformance to the set standards. They therefore provide notes and further information on those discerned issues or areas to make the users adequately informed about the accessibility of the product or service. The manner in which these notes and further information are captured in the ACRs may be more than what is contemplated in the VPAT. That makes ACRs richer in terms of the information provided in formation when compared with the VPAT that guided their development. 

      Connect with us for more information and help with the VPAT and ACRs

      If you need more information about the VPAT and ACRs, a VPAT ACR example, or help with VPAT assessments and the crafting of ACRs, we can help. Click this link or call (626) 486-2201 to connect with us and start the conversation.