Why Are My Clients Asking For a VPAT?

  • 3.09.2022
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The current economic reality of our modern society has connected us in ways we could have never imagined… but there is also an unpleasant side. Today’s marketplace is dynamic, full of uncertainty and highly competitive.  Regionality is gone.  We are now all vying against global competitors for the same contracts and opportunities.

In order to survive in this economic competition, organizations of all sizes strive for continuous growth and development. Brands hire industry specialists, growth strategies and multiple other professionals, who collaborate to attain the goal of improved customer experience. Every business, small or large, knows the significance of superior customer service. They strive to listen to the unmet needs so that they can attract and retain customers in this highly competitive marketplace.

Corporate social responsibility and brand accountability are some of the steps taken by businesses to enhance user/consumer experience. In order to align with the expectations of the customers, brands have started getting real. This is the reason, you can find a link to a VPAT ACR at the bottom of many websites.

For instance, Microsoft has a dedicated section for compliance offerings. It is mentioned that the information provided via a VPAT (Voluntary Product Accessibility Template) helps their customers to understand if the product meets their ‘specific needs’.

Declaring the accessibility levels of a digital property helps a brand to showcase its accountability standards. It helps in establishing trust among the team, the customers, the vendors and to sum it up, all of the stakeholders.

When brands accept their actions and declare their accountability standards, they become able to:

  • Strengthen relationships with the current client base
  • Forge better associations with their vendors
  • Foster a better work culture to survive the competition 

Apart from the notions that help a brand achieve financial success, VPAT compliance is also a significant means to reduce the risk of litigation.

As the name suggests, a VPAT report relies on a vendor’s “voluntary” free will. However, it would be a wise choice if every vendor considers a VPAT mandatory to reduce the chances of getting penalized. That’s the reason, your clients might be asking for a VPAT.

In order to understand how VPAT testing protects companies from lawsuits, first, you need to understand what exactly is a VPAT.

What is a VPAT?

The US Law prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability. The law protects the civil rights of the disabled population. The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 was one of the first laws that had a profound impact on the civil rights of the disabled population.

The US Rehabilitation Act was amended in 1998 and 2000, in which opportunities related to employment and access to ICT (Information and communication technology) products were added. Offerings that are included in the ICT categories are software, hardware, electronic documents and any type of support documentation.

Any organization instrumental in producing, distributing or using ICT offerings, needs to comply with the Rehabilitation Act. To put it simply, if you are a software or a hardware manufacturer or even using electronic documents for remote learning, then your offerings must be accessible to disabled users.

The term disability refers to the group of people that loosely fall into the categories of physical, sensory and cognitive impairment.

Section 508 of the amended Rehabilitation Act requires that any entity working in association with the federal agency should complete their VPAT. In simple words, the ACR (Accessibility Conformance Reports) are mandatory for business organizations that are working with a federal agency. Furthermore, if a business is receiving funding from a federal agency or indirectly working as  a contractor/service provider for the federal government, then the VPAT is mandatory for them.

ACR is the report generated after conducting the VPAT testing. The report demonstrates the extent to which a particular organization is compliant with Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act.

The document is a voluntary declaration of the level of accessibility with the offered products and services. When the government selects vendors for procurement of products and services, they make the selection based on the VPAT ACR.

How does a VPAT protect from lawsuits?

  • A VPAT offers you a competitive advantage over other vendors who are not compliant with Section 508
  • Federal agencies or any business that works in association with the Federal Governmentwould prioritize your company on the basis of the ACR
  • Accessibility assessments are also helpful in improving your products/offerings
  • When you become the preferred choice for customers and vendors, goals of financial success can be achieved easily

To sum it up, a VPAT explains how your products are accessible to the disabled users and how you comply with Section 508.

Although Section 508 mandates the use of a VPAT for federal procurement, however, documenting the accessibility of your digital property is considered a wiser step for every business regardless of their client base.

The supporting documentation for accessibility declaration is not just compliant with Section 508, but filling a VPAT enables you to test your products and offerings on the basis of different accessibility guidelines. When you conduct an accessibility test and generate a VPAT ACR, your offerings are scrutinized for:

  • Section 508 – Standards to comply with Rehabilitation Act
  • WCAG -Guidelines to comply with the ADA
  • European Accessibility Guidelines

Violating the ADA guidelines is the underlying reason behind the increasing number of accessibility lawsuits in the US. While you test your products and fill in the findings via a VPAT report, you eventually conduct an accessibility audit to comply with ADA.

Declaration of due diligence to ADA guidelinesmakes you a better and safer choice for business associations. It not only offers you a competitive advantage of being an accountable vendor but also ensures that your offerings are ADA compliant and accessible by every user despite their disability.

There is a lot of misinformation about VPATs. Most organizations assume that VPAT is only for those who rely on federal funding. However, the truth is a VPAT offers you all-round protection because you are testing your products against Section 508 as well as ADA.

Civil penalties for ADA violations may go a hundred thousand dollars. To reduce the risk of litigation, timely updating of the VPAT ACR is a wise decision.

What does a VPAT report look like?

The VPAT 2.4 template can be downloaded from the website of ITIC (Information Technology Industry Council). Filling out the form begins with a Section 508 audit. Accuracy is highly important to fillout the template, therefore, it is recommended to generate the ACR after a thorough assessment and in-depth accessibility audit.

Self-evaluation is certainly not a useful strategy for VPAT testing. Sound knowledge of accessibility requirements along with testing methodologies is needed to fill out the VPAT template.

If your in-house team lacks the technical knowledge, you must avoid filling out an incorrect VPAT. For precise evaluation of the degree of accessibility, you will need audit specialists.

Our team of accessibility experts can help you develop an honest and accurate baseline for VPAT compliance. We can conduct a thorough manual audit and help you find accessibility errors in your products.

Based on the audit reports, you can take action to remediate the accessibility issues and fill out an accurate and impressive ACR.

If you want to be a priority of your clients and if you want to reduce the risk of lawsuits, generate a VPAT ACR right now. Contact us for a thorough manual accessibility audit. ADA Compliance Pros has been helping clients with accessibility compliance for over 12 years.

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