Home / ADA compliance / VPAT Explained: A Guide For Business Owners
Filipe
Researcher
#vpat #webaccessibility
October 26, 2022
3-5 minutes

If you’re in the business of developing software, applications, and other products with online functionality, and want to comply with Section 508 requirements, there are a few things you should know about VPAT compliance.

In this guide, we outline everything you need to know about a Voluntary Product Accessibility Template (VPAT), including how it applies to your business, why it matters, and how to fill it out.

Let’s dive right in and start with the basics.

What Is a VPAT?

ADA Standards for Website in New York

The Americans with Disabilities Act was put in place to prevent discrimination against anyone living with a disability. Unfortunately, unclear guidelines related to the online and technology space have been an ongoing issue, making compliance difficult.

Maintained by the ITIC, the VPAT was created to help businesses measure the accessibility of their products against Section 508 and the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG)

A VPAT is essentially a report that highlights which accessibility criteria a product meets, helping buyers make a more informed decision. It also shows a company’s commitment to keeping its customers informed, while creating a more inclusive world for all. 

Who Needs a VPAT and Why?

A VPAT certification was once only necessary for organizations that received funding from the federal government. Today, this template is useful for any business that wants to enhance the credibility of its offerings.

VPATs are recommended if your organization deals with the following products and services:

  • Software and applications intended for public-facing agencies or for use by the public
  • Externally-hosted websites designed for the public
  • Digital documentation
  • Interactive voice response programs
  • Digital devices such as smartphones and tablets

It should also be noted that completing a VPAT for accessibility purposes doesn’t mean your organization needs to be 100% Section 508 compliant – this isn’t always possible. Instead, you should view this document as a reflection of a product’s current level of compliance. 

So why should you bother with VPATs?

For one, having VPATs for your ICT products ensures you are meeting legal accessibility requirements outlined by the ADA and other accessibility legislations. Being compliant means you don’t have to worry about costly lawsuits and brand damage.

The other reason is that many of today’s organizations only want to use products that they know are accessible to everyone. Having VPATs provides buyers with the information they need to compare your products to those of competitors. 

How to Get a VPAT for Compliance?

California ADA compliance

A VPAT example can be downloaded from the ITIC website

Version 2 of the VPAT was expanded to include the leading ICT accessibility standards: Section 508 (U.S.), EN 301 549 (EU), and W3C/WAI WCAG.

It’s essential to complete a VPAT as accurately as possible to avoid unnecessary lawsuits, so knowledge of accessibility standards is required. 

If you don’t feel confident taking this process in-house, there is always the option of hiring an expert who handles VPAT accessibility on a daily basis. 

The VPAT certification process is made up of 3 key steps:

  • Conduct an unbiased audit of ICT products and services, using Section 508 as a guideline.
  • Improve compliance as much as possible based on errors identified.
  • Generate compliance data in order to complete a VPAT.

Section 508 & VPAT

When conducting an audit of an ICT product or service, you will be measuring it against the following Section 508 requirements:

  • Technical standards
  • Functional performance criteria
  • Information, documentation, and support

It’s the findings from these three areas that will help you improve the accessibility of your product before you complete a VPAT.

How to Fill Out a VPAT

As mentioned above, you can either hire an expert to assist you with the VPAT accessibility process or you can do it yourself.

Here are a few best practices to adhere to
  • A VPAT should only be completed by someone who is familiar with accessibility laws and standards for high accuracy. 
  • A VPAT contains template guidelines and instructions. Be sure to check for any guidelines that are specific to your type of organization. This could include using specific terminology.
  • Along with indicating whether a product meets a particular accessibility requirement, it’s also important to provide a description that backs this claim. Be detailed, but to the point.
  • If there are any criteria that your product does not meet, be honest and outline the steps your organization is taking to rectify any shortfalls where possible. 
  • If product features or functionality change, it’s important to update your VPAT and include a revised evaluation date.
  • Consider posting your completed VPAT on your website, while also ensuring the document is accessible to online users. 
  • Remove any VPAT document instructions from the template before submitting it.

Conclusion

If accessibility and legal compliance are important to your organization, VPATs make a lot of sense. What’s more, it can help your ICT products and services stand out – clients will always value honesty and transparency.

And if you don’t have enough accessibility knowledge to complete a VPAT yourself, there are experts available to assist you with this process. 

VPAT FAQs

What Happens If I Fail the VPAT?

An incomplete or inaccurate VPAT can cost your business valuable vendor partnerships. Federal and government buyers use VPATs to compare product and service options. If your organization cannot produce VPATs, you may not meet vendor proposal requirements. 

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