Why are all my Clients Asking for a VPAT?
- 40 views
A VPAT, or voluntary product accessibility template, is a prototype document that was created by the Information Technology Industry Council to assist manufacturers and vendors of information and communication technology (ICT) products and services to supply information regarding the level of compliance with the technical, functional performance, and documentation and support requirements of Section 508 of the U.S. Rehabilitation Act, the World Wide Web Consortium’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), or the European Union’s EN 301 549 accessibility standards for making ICT usable by people with disabilities.
The VPAT document can help procurement officials and contracting teams make preliminary assessments during market research required for commercial items (FAR Part 12). This involves the vendor or manufacturer of an ICT product or service being required by the procuring officials to provide a duly filled out VPAT template, which consequently makes it not so voluntary, for evaluation of the product’s or service’s level of accessibility conformance.
The VPAT template has therefore become the de facto tool used by vendors and manufacturers of ICT products and services to communicate with their prospects and clients about the compliance of their products and services with the accepted accessibility standards and guidelines.
VPATs are, however, not about listing all the accessibility issues associated with an ICT product or service. Rather, they are about providing an overview of the accessibility hits and misses associated with the product or service, as well as explanations about what could be done or is being done to reduce the accessibility misses.
ICT business clients and prospects are increasingly becoming conscious of VPAT accessibility and its crux in making digital products and services usable by everyone. If your clients or prospects are asking you for your products’ or services’ VPATs, it could be for any of the following reasons:
If you are an ICT business, you should expect more and more clients and prospects to ask you for your products’ or services’ VPAT reports because more and more clients and prospects are becoming aware of the importance of making ICT products and services accessible for everyone. They therefore don’t want to buy products and services that will have accessibility barriers when used in their businesses, thereby excluding their services to people with disabilities.
When clients and prospects ask for VPATs for a particular product or service, they want to understand the product’s or service’s level of accessibility conformance so that they can learn whether there are any accessibility barriers that could significantly interfere with the purposes for which they want to procure the product or service.
Clients and prospects ask for VPATs because they help ease their procurement processes. Accurately completed VPAT reports help the clients and prospects get all the accessibility details they need through the reports instead of searching for them in brochures, websites, or tedious communication with sales teams, as some may lack experience explaining about the accessibility of a product or service.
VPATs also have a format that enables clients or prospects to easily check out the information they want. Because they are standard templates, they ease the process of preliminary market research for accessible ICT products and services when they are properly filled out.
Clients also ask for VPATs because their structured formats facilitate easy review of the accessibility of their associated products or services against those of products and services offered by competitor businesses. This enables informed selection of the products or services with the most accessibility features or those that are relevant to the purpose for which the product or service is being procured.
When VPATs for similar products or services are compared, clients or prospects can choose the equally accessible product or service when the required one is not available.
Some of the ICT clients and prospects may not be technically endowed to distinguish a good ICT product or service from a bad one. However, they understand that credible and reputable ICT businesses engage top-notch accessibility professionals like ADACP to assist them through the VPAT accessibility processes.
Clients and prospects who want to benefit from the expertise of professionals involved in a product’s or service’s VPAT accessibility process usually seek to establish the methodology used in undertaking the product’s or service’s VPAT testing. VPAT reports created by internal teams are often held in suspicion over their credibility because of internal teams’ inclination to provide information that is biased and non-objective.
VPAT testing that is undertaken by a credible third-party agency usually gives such clients confidence that the methodology used in creating the VPAT report is trustworthy. This is why every ICT business needs to take the VPAT testing component of its VPAT accessibility very seriously because it can either create clients’ and prospects’ confidence in a VPAT report or not.
Besides helping to identify the accessibility barriers in a product or service, VPAT testing also helps the manufacturer or vendor of the product or service fix the identified accessibility issues before the product is made available in the market. VPAT testing also helps the ICT business plan for customized accessibility services to deal with the identified accessibility challenges. This contributes to enhancing the quality of the concerned product or service.
Nowadays, the attention paid to diversity and inclusivity in society is rapidly increasing. An increasing number of individuals and organizations are resolving to offer inclusive and diverse environments. Governments are also working hard to foster multi-diverse societies.
The demand to include people with different backgrounds, including people with disabilities, is on the rise. This has made organizations hire employees that are representative of the existing state of diversity. Consequently, organizations are proactively enacting policies that support the accessibility of ICT for all people, including people with disabilities.
This drive toward inclusivity is what is contributing to clients and prospects of ICT businesses asking for VPATs before making ICT purchase decisions. They do not want to buy ICT products that will be inaccessible to their diverse employees or the people they serve.
Some clients or prospects could be asking for a VPAT just to establish whether an ICT business is committed to accessibility or not. Some of them could be from organizations that serve people with disabilities and want to find out what the soul of a business is as far as people with disabilities are concerned.
Often, businesses whose soul is not in the accessibility drive will have VPAT reports characterized by a sense of reluctance, inaccuracy, and incompleteness. Businesses that are deeply committed to accessibility will go above and beyond to make their products and services accessible to all people.
While Section 508 focuses on federal agencies and organizations that receive federal funding, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) ensures that people with disabilities have the same rights and opportunities as everyone else by providing civil rights protection for people with disabilities. You can face legal action and hefty penalties for discriminating against people with disabilities.
According to recent data, ADA lawsuits have increased by 320% since 2013. Many of these lawsuits are brought against unsuspecting businesses that are targeted because they have limited means to defend themselves. Some of your clients could therefore be asking for your products’ or services’ VPATs to study them and find grounds to file lawsuits against your business.
ADACP can help you create a VPAT report that will not only protect you from frivolous ADA lawsuits but boost your chances of winning contracts, boost your credibility and reputation, and deepen the penetration of your products and services into the disability market niche.
You can review a VPAT example to learn how you can create one for yourself, or call us for help creating or updating your VPATs. You can arrange for a free consultation by dialing (626) 486-2201.