What Is a VPAT?

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What Is a VPAT? Tips for Filling Out a VPAT

Posted May 04, 2023


Posted May 04, 2023

Text document with a purple magnifying glass with the text Voluntary Product Accessibility Template
Text document with a purple magnifying glass with the text Voluntary Product Accessibility Template

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A Voluntary Product Accessibility Template (VPAT) helps people understand the accessibility characteristics and limitations of your product or service.

All U.S. federal agencies — as well as any organization that works with them — are required to comply with Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act, which mandates that all information and communications technology (ICT) is accessible to people with disabilities.

To know if they are compliant with Section 508, public and private agencies alike must complete a Voluntary Product Accessibility Template (VPAT), a self-assessment tool that analyzes if the products they use — such as software, hardware, electronic content, and documentation — conform to Section 508 standards.

In this post, we provide an overview of VPAT objectives, break down the different types of VPATs, and share tips and resources on how to fill out a VPAT.

Examples of assistive technology such as braille displays and mouse alternative joystick

Why Use a VPAT?

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 — whether they are an employee or a member of the public.

For users, that means all web content must be compatible with a broad range of assistive technologies, such as screen readers.

VPATs help operationalize accessibility into a series of templates in order to:

  • Help procurement teams assess the accessibility of products before making a purchase.
  • Help people understand the accessibility features and limitations of a product or service for disabled users.

Who Is Required to Fill Out a VPAT?

There is often confusion about who needs to complete a VPAT document. Although Section 508 is considered federal legislation, but it can also apply to:

  • State, county, and municipal authorities that receive financial assistance from the US government.
  • Universities, museums, galleries, medical centers, and other organizations that receive federal funding.
  • Any contractor — regardless of size or services offered — that wants to work with the US government.
A courthouse with an arrow and a dollar sign that points to a place of business

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.

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.

A text document with the words Voluntary Product Accessibility Template

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.  

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