Why VPAT Compliance is Important in ICT Product or Service User Documentation

  • 6.03.2023

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    ICT product or service user documentation

    Even if a particular information and communication technology (ICT) product or service is intuitive, its end-users will always need help using it. Assuming that your customers will understand how to use your ICT product or service on their own is unfriendly. Because of this, user documentation should be provided when selling an ICT product or service to the general public.

    User documentation enables ICT organizations to provide excellent customer support, reduce customer care expenses, and guarantee that the final consumers of their products and services receive the full value for their products or services.

    Installation or set-up guides, comprehensive user manuals, and reference guides are examples of user documentation for ICT products or services. Great user documentation should use simple language, be logical in hierarchy and flow, include visuals, be searchable, link to additional resources, and, most importantly, be accessible.

    Effective user documentation generally requires determining the audience and their problems, determining the appropriate format, creating a solid outline, making the design appealing, and solving the users’ problems one by one.

    Creating effective user documentation for ICT products and services

    Businesses that invest their time and resources in developing effective user documentation for their ICT products or services tend to experience higher customer retention rates, higher success rates, and longer customer lifecycles.

    Creating effective user documentation is, however, not a walk in the park. It requires ICT product manufacturers and vendors to put themselves in the shoes of their end users, figure out the appropriate level of language for their audience, and decide the formats and channels that will best reach their end users.

    There will also be a need to update and improve the documentation on a regular basis based on the paths taken by the products and services under consideration. Most importantly, user documentation should be accessible to all customers, including those with disabilities, and should be supported by established accessibility laws and guidelines, including Section 508 for the federal government of the United States, EN 301 549 for Australia and the European Union, and the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) for websites, documentation, software, and digital applications.

    The VPAT process is complicated. Let us handle it for you.

      VPAT compliance for ICT user documentation

      VPAT compliance refers to the use of a voluntary product accessibility template (VPAT) to assess and demonstrate how an ICT product or service conforms to the established accessibility standards and guidelines.

      It entails choosing the correct edition of the VPAT template to use in assessing the accessibility of a product or service, VPAT testing the product or service, and using the results of the VPAT test to fill out the appropriate edition of the VPAT form to generate an accessibility conformance report (ACR) for the product or service.

      Just as with the ICT product or service, the accompanying user documentation needs to align with the edition of the VPAT template used in undertaking the assessment of the conformance of the product or service to the relevant accessibility standards or guidelines.

      It will be a major oversight for a manufacturer or vendor of an ICT product or service to diligently work on the VPAT certification of his or her products or services but fail to do likewise for the user documentation that customers interact with when they purchase the product or service.

      The importance of VPAT compliance for user documentation

      Imagine having an ICT product or service with excellent VPAT certification, which includes a VPAT report outlining the key features and functionalities of the product or service and their level of conformance to the established accessibility standards, but which lacks accessible user documentation to instruct users on how to unlock the various features of the product or service or assist the user in learning the assistive technologies to use in navigating the features that may have an accessibility requirement. This would be just as unkind as selling a product or offering a service without a VPAT ACR.

      While VPAT certification for an ICT product or service facilitates a business in obtaining contracts to provide the product or service to accessibility-strict entities like U.S. federal organizations and large corporations, among others, a business that is dedicated to enhancing accessibility for people with disabilities will not only focus on the accessibility considerations that endear them to increased business opportunities, but will always have the welfare of people with disabilities as their top priority.

      Businesses that consider the accessibility needs of their customers with disabilities will make sure to create user documentation for their products and services that is accessible to everyone, including those with disabilities. Just like they do for their products or services, they also subject the user manuals created for those products or services to VPAT testing. 

      VPAT certification for ICT product or service user documentation helps in the following ways:

      1. Demonstrates to customers a business’ commitment to accessibility

      VPAT compliance is being espoused by an increasing number of businesses, largely because of the economic sense it makes to the businesses.

      For instance, even if a business is not committed to making its ICT products or services accessible to people with disabilities, it will endeavor to attain VPAT certification simply because it wants to entice buyers such as U.S. federal organizations to purchase their products or services.

      Due to the impossibility of getting a contract to supply ICT products or services to U.S. federal organizations and other major entities, it is not easy to confirm whether any business or organization that has its products or services VPAT-certified is committed to accessibility. That is because some companies with VPAT-certified products or services have been forced by circumstances to do so.

      You can only determine whether a business or organization has a true commitment to accessibility by what they do beyond what appears to be obligatory. This includes their after-sale services to enable users to enjoy using the product or service. Businesses that have a true commitment to accessibility ensure that the user documentation they provide with the product or service complies with the established VPAT compliance protocols, just as the product or service itself does.

      1. Deepens accessibility compliance

      Accessible user documentation for ICT products and services provides an environment that makes it simple for everyone, not just people with disabilities and government buyers, to confirm the accessibility levels of the product or service. This helps deepen accessibility because it enables the comparison of comparable products and services so as to select one with the most accessible features.

      Given that user documentation is usually designed in a user-friendly way as opposed to the VPAT reports, which tend to be technical in nature, ensuring VPAT compliance for your user documentation can help buyers who lack the technical capacity to decipher VPAT ACRs get the gist of the accessibility levels associated with a product or service by studying the documentation. This enables them to make informed purchase decisions.

      1. Enhances the quality of VPAT testing for the ICT product or service

      When an ICT product or service has accessible user documentation, the VPAT testing professional can use it alongside the product or service to solicit insights about the accessibility of the various key features of the product or service as part of the VPAT audit process.

      During such instances, the targeted product or service can be provided to a representative group of intended users, including people with disabilities, who experience the product or service and offer feedback about how accessible the features and functionalities are. If the products or services have accessible user documentation, the participants in the accessibility testing process will not require assistance to maneuver the various features and functionalities of the product or service. This results in objective feedback that enriches the VPAT testing process, hence leading to credible VPAT audit results.

      Need help making your user documentation VPAT-certified?

      Get the assistance of Our VPAT Compliance Consultants in making the user documentation of your ICT product or service VPAT compliant. You can reach out to the consultants by calling (626) 486-2201 to schedule an appointment so you can discuss your ICT product or service user documentation accessibility needs. We provide free consultations!