August 04 2020

Do You Need a Voluntary Product Accessibility Template (VPAT)?

understanding VPATVPAT stands for Voluntary Product Accessibility Template. This self-produced document explains how a company or institution’s products meet or fail to meet Accessibility standards and is often requested by parties as part of a contract bid, company assessment or for general legal reasons. Essentially, a VPAT includes section of accessibility best practices and instructions, followed by a series of roughly 80 questions about the product and its accessibility.

A VPAT can cover anything that might be considered an Information and Communication Technology (ICT) such as mobile phones, desktops, websites, apps, landlines, cloud storage, or even in-flight entertainment. And, a VPAT be used by a range of industries – from banking or tax software, hardware and equipment, and yes, even a website.

Types of VPATs

As of February 2020, there are four types of VPATs (all version 2.4):

  1. Section 508 VPAT: for those companies who wish to contract with the US. federal government. The government generally specifies who and what needs a VPAT

  2. EU VPAT: Similar to a Section 508 VPAT but for the European Union governing body.

  3. WCAG 2.1 VPAT: The most common type that a company or business will need.

  4. And one that incorporates all three.  

All VPAT versions are created, maintained and updated by the ITI (Information Technology Industry Council). This means that all VPATs are the same for each category. This is helpful if you need a VPAT for a contract bid, company assessment or legal reasons, because each product is compared by the same standards. Each question comes pre-filled, and it is left to the company to fill out the columns on ‘conformance level’ and ‘Remarks and Explanations’.

Below is an image of the publicly available Gmail VPAT, to give you a feel for the breadth and scope of a VPAT.
google VPAT example
 

VPATs are voluntary

A company or institution will not need one unless some type of negotiation requires it. Below are types of negotiations or scenarios that might require a WCAG 2.1 VPAT:

  • A bid for a contract with the federal government will likely require a Section 508 VPAT or WCAG 2.1 VPAT if the work is strictly website-driven.

  • A merger of companies may require it as part of a legal assessment.

  • Any bid for a contract with a private company who has accessibility as a core value of their business.

  • Any company building an internal accessibility policy.

Who should complete a VPAT?

VPATs are really only as useful as the information you put into them, so it’s important that a subject Matter Expert (SME) fill one out. If you have such a person on your team, perhaps someone with Certified Professional in Accessibility Core Competencies (CPACC) or Web Accessibility Specialist (WAS) certification, then they can read all they need to read from the ITI in two hours and be ready to fill one out for you.
However, if you don’t have an SME on staff, it’s important to have a professional do the assessment. Since this is something used in bids, contracts and legal documents, it’s vital that what you put in there is accurate and comprehensive. However, be aware that you don’t need to go beyond the questions being asked. If you look at the Gmail VPAT example above, they are honest about partial support. They then explain what problems they have in terms laypersons can understand. They do not, however, lay out what section of the code is failing, what remedy they intend to do or what date they may have it fixed by. That level of details isn’t in scope for this type of document.

Less time intensive than full accessibility audit

Each VPAT is different based only on the scope of the technology being evaluated. This can affect how much or how little time it takes, but the good news is that a VPAT for a website is much less time consuming than a full accessibility audit would be. The reason is that the tester doesn’t have to come up with solutions for making the product conformant – only that a particular area doesn’t meet standards, and why.

The more you know

You might wind up hearing about a VPAT from your CCO, CTO or CEO, so now you understand what it entails and how it differs from other types of accessibility audits and documentation. If your company or institution needs a VPAT conducted, reach out to the certified ADA professionals at ZAG Interactive to start the conversation!

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posted by
Will Creedle
Will Creedle
Certified Professional in Accessibility Core Competencies (CPACC)

ZAG Interactive is a full-service digital agency in Glastonbury, CT, offering website design, development, marketing and digital strategy to clients nationwide. See current job openings.
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