A Voluntary Product Accessibility Template (VPAT®) is a document that explains how information and communication technology (ICT) products such as software, hardware, electronic content, and support documentation conform to the Revised 508 Standards for IT accessibility. A VPAT helps Federal agency contracting officials and government buyers to assess ICT for accessibility when doing market research and evaluating proposals.
The government will specify accessibility requirements in solicitations that include ICT, indicating the necessary provisions to ensure the deliverable is accessible. Normally a VPAT® is a good way to address the accessibility requirements defined in the solicitation.
What is a Voluntary Product Accessibility Template (VPAT)?
The Information Technology Industry Council (ITIC) crafts the Voluntary Product Accessibility Template (VPAT), which is a comprehensive document. It serves the purpose of outlining the extent to which ICT products and services adhere to digital accessibility standards. ICT encompasses a wide range of elements, such as software, hardware, electronic content, and accompanying support documentation.
A complete VPAT report provides a comprehensive breakdown of the following information:
- The accessibility requirements that are relevant to a specific product.
- The extent to which the product aligns with each guideline, indicating its level of conformance.
- An explanation of how the product meets each guideline.
Who needs a VPAT?
Any business or organization that has to demonstrate the compliance of their ICT with Section 508 standards has to produce a VPAT.
Indeed Government-related business transactions may require companies to provide an Accessibility Conformance Report (ACR) or a Voluntary Product Accessibility Template (VPAT) to assess the accessibility of their information and communication technology (ICT) products.
Similar to Section 508, Section 504 prohibits entities that receive federal financial assistance from engaging in discrimination against individuals with disabilities. Moreover this implies that ICTs must be accessible as part of federal procurement initiatives. This requirement extends to the procurement processes of state, local, tribal, territorial, and public educational institutions.
When is a VPAT required?
When a Federal government agency requests it, a Voluntary Product Accessibility Template (VPAT) becomes mandatory. Typically, a contracting official or a government buyer makes this request.
To secure a contract with the federal government, your organization must adhere to Section 508, which entails completing a VPAT. The following are a few of the requirements that agencies must meet, as outlined in Section 508.
The VPAT demonstrates the accessibility compliance of information and communication technologies (ICTs) during federal procurement endeavors. Nevertheless, it is crucial to seek guidance from the contracting officer responsible for the procurement. Different agencies may have their own unique reporting requirements and standards, such as the Department of Homeland Security. Additionally, some agencies might necessitate supplementary documentation alongside the VPAT.
Additional reasons to complete a VPAT
Ensure Compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), as amended, prohibits discrimination based on disability across various domains, including employment, public accommodation, public services, transportation, and telecommunications. Under Title III of the ADA, your company’s online presence is necessary to be accessible as it falls under the category of a “place of public accommodation.” A recent example illustrating the applicability of Title III of the ADA in such cases is the Supreme Court case involving Dominos.
Adhere to Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG)
The “Web Content Accessibility Guidelines” (WCAG) provided by the W3C offer comprehensive accessibility guidelines that certain organizations must follow. For instance, organizations in Ontario, CA, have to comply with WCAG as part of AODA (Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act) compliance. By utilizing a VPAT, you can evaluate your product’s compliance with WCAG 2.0 standards.
Conform to EN 301 549
European businesses must ensure that their websites comply with EN 301 549, a European law and standard for digital and web accessibility. Adhering to EN 301 549 is crucial for maintaining accessibility compliance in European jurisdictions.
Advantages of using a VPAT
Business organizations, individuals, and governments benefit from using a VPAT. Here are some of the advantages.
With the increasing recognition of the significance of accessibility, both businesses and government agencies are investing substantial resources in ensuring their products are usable by individuals with disabilities.
Discrimination against individuals with disabilities infringes upon fundamental human rights. By utilizing VPATs, organizations not only foster inclusivity but also experience rapid business growth.
Prominent companies such as Apple, Microsoft, and Google actively employ VPATs, understanding the significant impact that proper documentation can have. This approach allows them to prioritize the development of devices and services that are accessible to everyone right from the outset.
Mitigating Legal Risks
Taking proactive measures, such as conducting an accessibility audit of your ICT products and services and creating a VPAT, can help reduce the potential for legal action under current federal and state laws.
Through accessibility auditing, you can identify potential barriers that individuals with disabilities may encounter when using your products and services. While VPATs provide guidance on how to address and eliminate these obstacles.
Non-compliance with accessibility standards increases legal risks under the ADA, including potential lawsuits with expenses reaching tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars. Courts may award plaintiffs attorney’s fees, and some states permit the recovery of damages in addition to ADA penalties. Consider the detrimental impact on your brand and reputation.
What are the uses of a VPAT?
The significance of VPATs for organizations to demonstrate inclusivity and gain a competitive edge is evident. There are various uses of a VAPT, as outlined below.
VPATs serve as a valuable resource for individuals with disabilities, enabling them to determine if an organization can meet their specific needs. These documents provide comprehensive information about an organization’s products or services, facilitating well-informed decision-making.
Organizations that utilize VPATs leave a positive impression on diverse audiences. It showcases their commitment to growth, accessibility, and inclusivity, emphasizing that they value all individuals, regardless of their abilities.
Government agencies also employ VPATs for accessibility evaluations, identifying areas that require further attention and improvement.
Different Ways to get a VPAT
Consult an Expert
Involve an accessibility expert in completing the VPAT to ensure accuracy and usefulness. This helps avoid common issues like insufficient experience in testing for accessibility compliance, incorrect information, or excessive detail. Marketing teams complete these documents in an attempt to overstate the organization’s accessibility capabilities.
Do it yourself
Alternatively, you can attempt to fill out a VPAT yourself. A training course is available that assists in writing an accessibility conformance report using the VPAT format. It also provides guidance on evaluating VPAT reports. The training consists of modules covering popular accessibility standards.
While VPAT 2.0 enjoys widespread recognition, the Information Technology Industry Council’s website offers the latest VPAT templates for download, with VPAT 2.4 being the most recent version.
Here are some steps to fill a VPAT and submit a winning proposal
Step 1: Audit Your Accessibility
Before beginning the VPAT process, conduct a comprehensive audit and develop a checklist to identify areas for improvement in your web presence.
Step 2: Complete the Voluntary Product Accessibility Template (VPAT)
Take advantage of online training courses to assist you in successfully completing this step. Visit the official website of the Information Technology Industry Council to obtain the latest VPAT. Consider involving an expert due to the extensive nature of the process, as some VPATs can span up to 10,000 pages, requiring technical knowledge and evaluation skills.
Step 3: Ensure Integrity
Maintain up-to-date documentation and be truthful in your data representation. Establish a standardized procedure for accuracy testing and implementing changes.
Step 4: Publish the VPAT
Finally, provide a link to your VPAT on your official website or ensure it is available upon request. This makes it accessible to interested parties.
Tips for creating an effective VPAT
To ensure the effectiveness of your VPAT, consider the following tips:
Include your organization’s name in the VPAT to establish credibility and promote your commitment to accessibility.
Report any changes made to the VPAT and update the document accordingly. Share the evaluation methods employed to enhance the audience’s understanding of your organization’s accessibility efforts.
Include a Legal Disclaimer
Adding a legal disclaimer to the VPAT provides additional protection for your organization. Ensure the disclaimer outlines any limitations related to the accessibility of the product or service.
codemantra has over two decades of experience working with state and local government agencies, higher education institutions, and the commercial sector, helping them meet their digital accessibility responsibilities and goals.
codemantra’s accessibilityInsight™ is an AI-powered platform to assess and remediate documents to global accessibility standards. The platform makes digital assets, including PDF, audio, video (CC), and URL links, accessible for print-disabled citizens by conforming to PDF U/A and WCAG 2.1 Level AA standards.
codemantra conducts testing of customer products for conformance to WCAG 2.1 AA guidelines, identifies deficiencies, and provides VPATs (Voluntary Product Accessibility Templates) to assist buyers in evaluating product accessibility.
Each client engagement involves an extensive consultancy and discovery process to tailor the approach based on subject expertise and workflow experience, ensuring an effective way forward. Get in touch: mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org