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VPATs: Why They Are Important

Kimberly Springs

Jeff Rodgers

September 10 9 min read
By Kimberly Spriggs 9/10/2022

Increasingly businesses are requesting information about VPATs and having us audit and create them. But why? One reason is that accessibility lawsuits have created awareness, but the main reason is for any business, foreign or domestic that wishes to work with the U.S. Federal Government, needs a VPAT (or several). Understanding that the document is vital if a business, institution, or groups are receiving funding from the U.S. government ― it is required.

The VPAT process can be one of those mystifying hurdles that may seem too complicated to tackle. It’s not. With a good idea of why and what it’s about you can address VPATs like a pro, or just hire a pro! In order to understand the documents’ importance, it has on the disability community, you need to understand the laws, and the depth behind it.

What is a VPAT?

The Voluntary Product Accessibility Template, or VPAT is very important business document and becoming a standard for most businesses wanting to conduct any business with the government and its agencies. The document explains in detail how the ICT, or information and communication technology conforms to accessibility Revised 508 Standards set by the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

NOTE: See table at the bottom of the blog with accessibility terms.

The VPAT process analyzes ICTs such as, electronic content, hardware, software, and supports detailed documentation about how accessible the ICTs are to persons with disabilities.

Increasingly, it is required by a growing number of businesses, buyers, contractors, and all federal organizations before the purchase or use of any ICTs ― especially if those entities are doing business with the government themselves.

Purpose of a VPAT, to help buyers/contractors of ICTS make informed decisions before purchasing, and:

  1. Provide a comprehensive analysis of ICTs compliance to Revised 508 Standards.
  2. Understanding of the ICTs level of accessibility.
  3. Gives companies an opportunity to explain their conformance to each individual criterion.
  4. Compares accessibility compliance of similar products.
  5. Helps choose an ICT that best meets accessibility standards as set by the organization’s functional and legal requirements.

Why A Business Might Need a VPAT

Why A Business Might Need a VPAT

With new regulations enacted like WCAG 2.2 coming this December 2022, the VPAT helps ensure that all citizens of the United States, not just federal employees, are afforded the right to access and use digital documents, devices, websites, and software – equally. Here are several reasons why:

  1. Any business that might have their ICTs used by a federal employee. (Comply with 508 Regulations).
  2. Any organization that receives any state or federal funding (such as schools) or groups working indirectly with state, federal groups, and institutions.
  3. Some states, such as California, have their own accessibility laws and the document can help comply.
  4. Any public-facing website with a physical nexus should also conform to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA Title III) to ensure that the public can digitally access it equally.
  5. Any business that has a product or site that is intended to be used by persons in European countries that have accessibility regulations. (Comply with EU Accessibility Act).
  6. Many public and private organizations are requiring it as part of their purchasing process, and only purchase or use accessible products and ICTs.
  7. Those public and private businesses and institutions require a VPAT that is completed by an independent, third-party accessibility auditor or agency, to ensure accessibility and/or compliance is accurate, honest, and impartial.

Are There Different Types of VPATs?

There are four specific VPATs for different accessibility standards and requirements:

  1. 508 VPAT: The U.S. Revised 508 Accessibility Standard.
  2. WCAG VPAT: U.S. Accessibility guidelines for the web.
  3. EU VPAT: The European Union’s accessibility requirements.
  4. INT VPAT: Incorporates all three of the accessibility standards (International)

Is It Legally Required?

While you won’t be breaking any laws if you don’t have it, not having a VPAT may prevent certain federal or state groups from doing business with you. Title III of the ADA may require your company’s online presence to be accessible as a “place of public accommodation” or a nexus to your physical space. Plus, having a VPAT is a great way to minimize the risk of litigation under existing federal and state laws.

What is a VPAT Process?

Sample of 2-pages of an ACR, or Accessibility Conformance Report from Accessiblu and New Possibilities Group.
Sample of 2-pages of an ACR, or Accessibility Conformance Report from Accessiblü.

If you are considering a VPAT, it will make sense to conduct the audit first, review the resulting Accessibility Conformance Report (ACR), then make any necessary remediations before approving a VPAT. The terms VPAT and ACR are sometimes interchanged and that can be confusing. While a VPAT is considered to be an Accessibility Conformance Report, many accessibility companies provide a more comprehensive report, which they call an ACR to differentiate from the VPAT form, they will also charge more for each report and documentation. While the two terms can mean the same thing, at Accessiblü our VPATs are included as part of a more comprehensive ACR.

For the document to be prepared properly the ICT needs to be fully audited by a reputable accessibility agency, like Accessiblü. Accessibility and testing are conducted through AI and hands-on testing by an accessibility auditor.

Each ICT item requires the process is as follows:

  1. Full Accessibility Audit of the intended ICT (website, app, electronic content, hardware, or software) is conducted against Revised Section 508 or specified VPAT that is required.
  2. After the audit, an Accessibility Conformance Report (ACR) will detail accessibility issues for each criterion and fully address the accessibility requirements needed to comply to the 508 Standards.
  3. ACR provided will also give evaluation methods used to validate for remediation.
  4. Review the resulting ACR, make any necessary remediations through an accessibility team, skilled agency, or dev team capable of fixing the accessibility issues before authorizing the VPAT.
  5. Authorization, the VPAT document does allow for comments including indicating areas you are currently working on remediating so it can be updated and published in tandem while working in issues. You can also publish an updated VPAT at any time.

These processes are established to help our fellow citizens. Yes, this document may sound intensely detailed, but with the right people behind you, it is worth the effort and cost to be compliant.

The better your product conforms to Section 508, WCAG, ADA, and Title III, the better off you are in a vendor selection position.

How to Create a VPAT

Anyone can create a VPAT. The forms are freely available

Audit - official digital accessibility examination for businesses as concept on virtual screen.
Begin with a digital accessibility audit.

Begin with a digital accessibility audit.

However, completing one requires someone with extensive knowledge about accessibility and assistive technology and how to use and test the specific criteria needed to complete each document. Testing criteria are 70% manual and only 30% automated testing. It is important to understand the distinction and testing methods used to create a valid ACR blueprint. Most companies utilize a third-party like Accessiblü who specializes in accessibility to conduct an audit in addition to completing the ACR and VPAT.

If you are using an outside source, make sure you get the VPAT 2.4 (or higher). Section 508 was revised in 2017, and now measures accessibility using Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1 criteria. So, if a VPAT was developed before 2017, it may be out of date, especially if the ICT has been updated since then. Plus, obtaining and reviewing a product’s VPAT is one step in a growing number of businesses and federal accessible procurement processes.

However, a VPAT is voluntary for vendors – they may choose to not create or provide one. But then again, a federal contract can be a sizeable nut to crack, well worth the costs and efforts of becoming accessible. Not to mention, accessibility is the right thing to do.

How Often Does a VPAT Need Updating?

Best practice, yearly or every time you make a significant change or revision. A major change would be a new document release or say how the website is structured, ICT modified, or making an updated version of an application. Also, when new accessibility standards or updates are released, any existing VPATs should be updated.

Can a VPAT Legally Protect?  

While a lawsuit can happen, and have increased in the last few years, by law, anyone can file a lawsuit alleging noncompliance with ADA or 508 regulations at any time, without notice. If you receive a demand letter and have a VPAT, it shows a court that you are aware of what is and what is not accessible. That you are making concerted efforts to remedy towards accessibility. Additionally, there is a Legal Disclaimer section within the VPAT where most companies craft a statement that can also help protect.

While a lawsuit can happen at any time and have significantly increased in the last few years, by law, anyone can file a lawsuit alleging non-compliance with ADA or 508 regulations at any time, without notice. If you receive a demand letter and have a VPAT, it shows a court that you are aware of what is and what is not accessible. That you are making concerted efforts to remedy towards accessibility. Additionally, there is a Legal Disclaimer section within the VPAT where most companies craft a statement that can also help protect.

Finally, most accessibility lawsuits are less about financial compensation and more about improving the ability for disabled persons to access or use something. Conducting an audit and having a VPAT shows you are working towards achieving accessibility conformance. Accessiblü also recommends publishing an ‘Accessibility Statement’ along with any VPATs to show a commitment to accessibility and inclusion.

Let us know how we can help further your accessibility goals.

Accessibility Term Description
VPAT: Voluntary Product Accessibility Template
ICT: Information and Communication Technology
ACR: Accessibility Conformance Report
PWD: Persons with Disabilities (or persons with different abilities)
Revised 508 Standards: Revised 508 Standards to ensure your information and communication technology (ICT) is accessible and usable by individuals with disabilities.
Rehabilitation Act 1973: Prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in programs conducted by federal agencies, in programs receiving federal financial assistance, in federal employment, and in the employment practices of federal contractors.
ADA, American with Disability Act: The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in several areas, including employment, transportation, public accommodations, communications, and access to state and local government’ programs, and services.
WCAG 2: The WCAG 2 is a “stable, referenceable, technical standard” developed by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) intended to guide the creation of accessible websites and web content.
WCAG is divided into four principles: P.O.U.R Perceivable, Operable, Understandable, and Robust.
WCAG 2.2 WCAG 2.2 is set to be released December 2022.