VPAT stands for Voluntary Product Accessibility Template. The VPAT is a document that describes how products such as software, hardware, digital content, and support documentation (user manuals) meet accessibility standards. VPATs are also used to help businesses serving Federal agencies as well as government buyers to assess technology for accessibility while carrying out market research and evaluating proposals.
The question “what is a VPAT” is one of the most common we get about accessibility. It comes up most often – sometimes urgently – when a company is in the running for a big contract. We thought we’d help you get a jump on knowing what a VPAT is, why it’s important, whether you need one, and how to get one.
Understanding the Voluntary Product Accessibility Template
You may have heard about Section 508, especially if you provide products or services to the US Government. It’s part of the Workforce Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which establishes requirements for electronic and information technology developed, maintained, procured, or used by the Federal government. It requires Federal electronic and information technology to be accessible to people with impairments, including employees and members of the public.
The VPAT documents the state of the accessibility compliance for a given product. It’s often a required element of a Request for Proposal (RFP) process. That’s especially true when bidding for government contracts, but not exclusively. Other businesses also use VPATs as part of their selection process when buying and selling software. Having a VPAT for a product can improve the chance of that product being selected.
There are four versions of the VPAT, so it’s important for you to know which one/s you need. They are:
- VPAT 508 – for U.S. compliance
- VPAT EU – for European compliance
- VPAT WCAG – for compliance with Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), a set of globally accepted criteria for digital accessibility
- VPAT INT – the most comprehensive international version that encompasses all of the other three
Why is the VPAT so important?
So many reasons! Beyond your ability to compete for valuable projects and related revenue, obtaining a VPAT means you are maximizing the accessibility and inclusivity of your digital assets for internal and external users.
By now, many people and entities know that websites must be accessible as “public spaces”. What they often miss is all the things integrated with the website, such as:
- Store Locators
- Job Application Forms
- Performance Review Systems
- Benefits Administration
- Human Resource Software
- Diagramming Tools
- Data Visualization Charting
- Analytics Platforms
- Learning Management Software (LMS)
- Customer Relationship Management (CRM)
In addition to being about winning the work or being inclusive; it’s also a competitive advantage. Whether you’re vying for talent, employee productivity and retention, share-of-market, or customer satisfaction and loyalty, having a VPAT for your product can give you a competitive advantage.
How to know if you need a VPAT
There are two categories of “need” for VPAT: sellers/providers and buyers/users. Let’s look at it from both angles.
From a seller/provider perspective, we’ve already outlined the main reasons for needing a VPAT for the products they’re selling. Reasons include eligibility for consideration as a supplier/vendor, competitive advantage, and delivering inclusive, accessible products.
From a buyer/user perspective, it may be necessary and will always be beneficial to require a VPAT for digital technology. That’s because when buyers request a VPAT for digital assets and technology tools, and the VPAT reflects accessibility compliance standards clearly, then buyers and users can confidently know the level of accessibility of the product prior to purchasing it.
One more consideration we have yet to discuss is the risk of lawsuits. When you use third-party assets on your website or in your organization like those mentioned above, you may still be vulnerable even if you’ve done the work to make your website compliant. Requiring a VPAT that demonstrates compliance to recognized accessibility guidelines can protect your organization from costly litigation related to ADA Title III, the basis on which accessibility litigation has virtually exploded since 2017.
How to Get a VPAT if You Need One
Unless you’re trained and experienced in accessibility guidelines, legal requirements and remediation techniques and are aware of the challenges faced by users with varying impairments using various types of assistive technology, you’ll probably need expert help.
Look for experts who have a comprehensive process that includes manual assessment by developers experienced in accessibility remediation. Never settle for a company that relies on automated testing alone. You may also consider seeking guidance from people holding certifications such as those offered by the International Association of Accessibility Professionals (IAAP). We qualify on all levels, so contact us when you’re ready.
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