If one is engaged in the field of technology vending or software development, they are likely familiar with the concept of VPAT, which stands for Voluntary Product Accessibility Template. The VPAT, or Voluntary Product Accessibility Template, is a comprehensive document that outlines the extent to which a product or service adheres to accessibility standards and rules pertinent to its target market.
The utilization of a Voluntary Product Accessibility Template (VPAT) may effectively showcase an organization’s dedication to ensuring accessibility, adherence to regulatory obligations, and expanding its client demographic. This blog aims to explain the concept of a Voluntary Product Accessibility Template (VPAT) and its significance, outline the process of its preparation, and shed light on the prevalent problems and traps that should be circumvented.
Table of Contents
What is a VPAT?
A VPAT is a standardized format for reporting a product or service’s accessibility features and limitations. It includes an introduction, summary table, detailed report, and appendix. The introduction details the product’s name, version, and accessibility standards. The summary table provides an overview of these standards and how the product meets each criterion using levels of conformance. The appendix provides additional information for users or evaluators.
Although a VPAT is not legally mandated, it can assist in ensuring compliance with relevant laws and regulations. The adherence to various accessibility standards and criteria for a product or service may vary depending on the specific market and client base. For example, any organization providing products or services to the US federal government should adhere to the regulations outlined in Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act.
Additionally, compliance with EN 301 549 in Europe or the online Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) is essential for ensuring online accessibility since these standards are widely acknowledged as the most effective practices on an international scale.
Components of a VPAT
A VPAT consists of four main components:
- Introduction: The introduction outlines the product or service’s name, version, date, contact information, legal disclaimer, purpose, scope, VPAT accessibility standards, and any assumptions affecting accessibility.
- Summary Table: The summary table is a comprehensive overview of accessibility standards and guidelines supported by your product or service, listing each standard’s name, version number, and detailed report.
- Detailed Report: The detailed report contains your product’s compliance with standards and guidelines, providing a level of conformance, description, exceptions, clarifications, and references to supporting documentation. It should follow the original document’s structure and numbering.
- Appendix: The appendix offers additional information for users or evaluators, including testing methods, tools, resources, best practices, user feedback, and plans beyond the VPAT components.
Preparing your VPAT
Here are some steps that can help you design a high-quality VPAT:
- Define your scope: To create a successful VPAT, it’s crucial to define the scope of your product or service, including features, platforms, environments, user groups, and scenarios.
- Choose your standards and guidelines: Select accessibility standards and guidelines for your product or service, considering market requirements, best practices, and user expectations, taking into account legal requirements and user preferences.
- Conduct an accessibility audit: Conduct an accessibility audit of your product or service, testing against standards and guidelines using automated tools, manual checks, and user testing, documenting results, and addressing any issues or limitations.
- Write your VPAT: After completing the accessibility audit, create a standardized VPAT with accurate, complete, and consistent information, using clear, concise language, and supporting claims of conformance with evidence and references.
- Review and update your VPAT: Regularly review and update your VPAT to reflect your product’s current status, address user feedback, and monitor accessibility standards and guidelines affecting your product or service.
Using VPATs in Procurement and Accessibility Planning
Here are some more benefits of VPAT for vendors and buyers.
- Showcase their product or service: A VPAT can help vendors showcase their product or service positively, highlighting its accessibility features and benefits. It can also help vendors differentiate their products or services from their competitors, showing their competitive edge in accessibility.
- Comply with legal requirements: This helps vendors comply with their product or service requirements. It can serve as proof of conformance to the accessibility standards and guidelines mandated by law. A VPAT can also help vendors avoid potential lawsuits or penalties for non-compliance.
- Increase their customer base: It aids vendors in increasing their customer base by reaching out to more users with disabilities. It can also help vendors meet the needs and expectations of their existing customers, who value accessibility.
- Compare and evaluate different products and services: This helps in comparing products and services based on accessibility features and limitations, offering a quick overview and detailed information on each product’s conformance level.
- Plan and implement their accessibility strategies and policies: It aids in devising and executing accessibility strategies, identifying gaps and opportunities in their technology portfolio, and prioritizing actions based on product impact and feasibility.
Challenges and Common Pitfalls
While a VPAT can be a valuable tool for vendors and buyers, it also comes with challenges and common pitfalls that must be avoided. Some of these challenges and pitfalls are:
- Inaccuracy: A VPAT may contain inaccurate information due to human error, lack of expertise, outdated data, or intentional deception. An inaccurate document may mislead users or evaluators about the actual accessibility level of a product or service. Furthermore, it may also expose vendors to legal risks or reputational damage.
- Incompleteness: Omitting important information in the VPAT document due to negligence, ignorance, complexity, or ambiguity. An incomplete document may fail to cover all the relevant aspects of a product or service regarding accessibility. An incomplete document may also leave users or evaluators with unanswered questions or doubts about the accessibility level of a product or service.
- Inconsistency: An inconsistent VPAT may confuse users or evaluators about the actual accessibility level of a product or service. An inconsistent VPAT may also reduce the credibility and trustworthiness of the vendor.
Real-World Case Studies
To illustrate the benefits and challenges of VPATs, here are some real-world case studies of vendors and buyers using VPATs in their accessibility efforts.
- Blackboard: Blackboard, a global educational technology provider, has been using VPATs since 2001 to document the accessibility of its products and services, continuously improving and innovating in accessibility and acknowledging its progress.
- Microsoft: Microsoft, a global tech giant, has been using VPATs since 2003 to document product and service accessibility, maintain collaboration with customers, and ensure accuracy, completeness, and consistency in its accessibility documentation.
A VPAT is a document that describes how a technological product or service complies with accessibility standards and guidelines. It assists vendors in demonstrating their dedication to accessibility, meeting legal requirements, and expanding their consumer base. It also helps consumers evaluate and compare products based on their accessibility, features, and limitations. Inaccuracy, incompleteness, inconsistency, or misuse can make the VPAT difficult.
Vendors must follow a systematic process, including defining scope, choosing standards and guidelines, conducting an accessibility audit, composing the VPAT, and revising and updating it. Buyers must comprehend the VPAT’s purpose, format, content, and limitations.
The VPAT is not a guarantee or certification of accessibility, but rather the vendor’s self-disclosure or statement of conformance. It does not replace user testing or the buyer’s independent evaluation. A VPAT is dynamic and evolving, reflecting the present condition of a product or service. The ultimate objective is to develop products and services that are accessible and satisfy the requirements and expectations of all users, regardless of their abilities or disabilities.