What Is a VPAT? Tips for Filling Out a VPAT
What is a VPAT? A VPAT document helps users understand the accessibility characteristics and limitations of your product or service for disabled users.
All U.S. federal government agencies, as well as businesses and organizations that work with them, are required to comply with Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act, which mandates that individuals with disabilities must have full access to digital information and communications.
To know if they are compliant with Section 508, private and public agencies alike complete a Voluntary Product Accessibility Template (VPAT), a rigorous self-assessment tool that analyzes if the products they use – such as software, hardware, electronic content, and support documentation – conform to Section 508 standards.
Here’s an overview of VPAT objectives and variations of VPATs, along with resources, best practices and tips on how to fill out a VPAT.
Why Use a VPAT?
Every technology – from the printing press to WordPress, TV, to Netflix – has been slow to ensure that people with disabilities can access its content. The rationale behind legislation like the Rehabilitation Act is to fulfill the digital promise of the open and free circulation of information.
Broadly, Section 508 compels federal agencies and their contractors to create, buy, and use electronic and information technology that is accessible to people with disabilities. At the user end, all web content must be compatible with a broad range of assistive technologies such as screen readers. And the law applies to all information resources and to all people – employees and members of the public alike.
To this end, for organizations governed by Section 508, VPATs operationalize accessibility into a series of templates in order to:
- Help procurement teams to understand and assess the accessibility of products before making a purchasing decision.
- Help people understand accessibility features and limitations of a product or service for disabled users.
Who Is Required to Fill Out a VPAT?
There is often confusion around who needs to complete a VPAT document. While Section 508 is considered federal legislation, any agency in receipt of financial assistance from the federal government is required to ensure equal access to online information.
Considering that this is a federal legislation, it is clear that federal agencies need to assess if any product they are considering purchasing meets Section 508 requirements. But compliance measures are much broader than that.
Any government agency (state, county, or municipal jurisdiction) that receives financial assistance from the federal government is required to complete VPAT accessibility assessments.
The same rule applies to the private sector. Private companies operating as contractors to federal agencies, regardless of their size or the type of services they offer, are required to comply with Section 508 if they want to win business from the federal government.
Examples of technology that require a VPAT include software, hardware, and digital content.
What Are Different Types of VPAT?
The Information Technology Industry Council (ITI) is a global advocate for technology whose aim is to promote public policies and industry standards that advance competition and innovation worldwide.
To this end, the ITI has created four different editions of the VPAT, enabling agencies, manufacturers, and vendors to focus on the standards relevant to their specific markets and contract requirements:
- Revised Section 508 standards – the U.S. Federal accessibility standard.
- EN 301 549 – the European Union’s “Accessibility requirements suitable for public procurement of ICT products and services in Europe.”
- WCAG – Web Content Accessibility Guidelines.
- INT: Incorporates all three of the above standards.
All four VPAT templates are free to use and available to download on the ITI website and have instructions covering essential requirements and best practices for consistent and comprehensive reporting. The ITI also provides additional training and resources to help fill out a VPAT document.
How to Fill Out a VPAT
The VPAT document contains two sections: instructions on how to use the document and the conformance template itself. Organizations should present a thorough and honest analysis of their product.
The basic structure of a VPAT prompts respondents to assess their conformance to specific provisions relevant to a product or service and select their degree of conformance, using one of four conformance levels: supports; partially supports; does not support; or not applicable.
Here are some best practices that should be followed when completing the assessment:
- Make sure you, or a person filling out a VPAT on your behalf, are familiar with the accessibility standards of the template edition being completed. If you are not sure, use a third-party company who can help.
- The accessibility criteria in a VPAT are not pass/fail assessment, so you must provide detailed information about what your product can and cannot do.
- Make sure the completed VPAT is itself accessible.
- If you update your product, remember to update your VPAT and include the date of revision and version of the product being evaluated.
Once completed, the VPAT document becomes an Accessibility Conformance Report (ACR), which should only include the completed template. Here’s Shopify’s completed ACR report as an example
For agencies and organizations that do business with the federal government and are required to fill out VPATs, having a long-term strategy for comprehensive and ongoing accessibility monitoring and remediation is the key to success. will better position them to receive much-needed federal assistance.