VPAT stands for “Voluntary Product Accessibility Template”. A 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 conducting market research and evaluating proposals.
What is a VPAT” is one of the most common questions that we’re asked. 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 U.S. 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 that electronic and information technology used by the by the government to be accessible to people with impairments, including employees and members of the public.
A VPAT documents the state of accessibility compliance for a given product. It’s often a required element of the 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 a 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 a VPAT so important?
So many reasons! Beyond your ability to compete for valuable projects, obtaining a VPAT most importantly means that 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 are all of the other 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 winning the work and being inclusive, it’s also a competitive advantage. Whether you’re vying for talent, employee productivity and retention, market share, or customer satisfaction and loyalty, having a VPAT is one more
way that you can differentiate your product.
How to know if you need a VPAT
There are two categories of “need” for VPATs: 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 that lawsuits pose. 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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