October 31, 2021

There is more to a VPAT than just filling in some information to the VPAT form every few years and hoping for the best. The VPAT is a necessary, legally binding document that’s required to be completed by every federal agency or any organization that interacts with a federal agency, should they wish to comply with section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

Are you a beginner to VPAT compliance? Read on to find out how to move from the beginner to the master, and learn how to get your VPAT compliance today.

What is VPAT Compliance?

The VPAT was created by the Information Technology Industry Council (ITIC) and the General Services Administration (GSA) in 2001. They made it to help government agencies who have to conform to Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. 

Section 508 requires any technology that’s used by a federal agency directly or technology used by members of the public who are interacting with the government agency to be made accessible to people with disabilities.

VPAT stands for Voluntary Product Accessibility Template, and it's a template for companies that provide digital products or services within or interacting with federal agencies. This is used to guide the preparation of an Accessibility Conformance Report (ACR).

What is an ACR, you may be wondering?

Quite simply, an ACR is a completed VPAT plus all the information about the report itself. Completing the ACR means you have a completed VPAT, and it will be used to validate for conformance to section 508.

Section 508 and ADA: aren’t they pretty similar?

Actually, no. Section 508 requires that all federal agencies and all bodies interacting with federal agencies make their technology accessible for people with disabilities. Created in 1973, it’s America’s oldest accessibility-related legislation. It may seem slightly weird to encompass such few bodies. However, it includes any organization that even receives federal funding. This can include museums, universities, and some medical centers, to name a few. So, section 508 encompasses all public entities.

ADA, therefore, is the complete contrast of covering all private entities. It requires all private businesses, whether it’s a restaurant, hotel, or even pharmacy, to provide accessible services to their customers or users. Although it doesn’t directly speak about websites and online portals, the steady increase of court rulings and lawsuits over recent years has confirmed that it does apply to online services as well. In 2020 alone, 10,982 suits were filed in federal court. 

If you want to ensure you’re ADA compliant, learn more from accessiBe, the market leader in web accessibility, providing solutions to businesses of all sizes.

What accessibility standards are currently included in the VPAT?

The VPAT incorporates the following accessibility standards:

In 2017, the ITIC released VPAT 2, which incorporates the revised requirements of Section 508, known as the VPAT 508 Refresh. That's also when WCAG 2.1 and provisions from EN 301 549, which is the European accessibility standard, were included.

Is a VPAT really that important?

Yes. It most certainly is. If you want to sell your digital products or services to a federal agency, you need a VPAT to get through procurement. Without VPAT compliance, no agency that receives federal money will buy from you. 

The VPAT ensures that your ACR is complete. If you win a contract and the customer discovers that your product/service doesn't meet VPAT criteria, your company could suffer. The VPAT is a legal document, so you could be subjected to legal action if it’s not completed correctly. 

Moving beyond the letter of the law, VPAT compliance can also help make your product or service better. When you complete a VPAT, you'll be forced to notice all the ways that your product/service doesn't meet accessibility requirements, and you’ll likely go back and fix them. By and large, a more accessible product is also a better product because it's easier to use, more intuitive, and better organized. 

Using VPAT in purchasing decisions

Many buyers want products/services that are accessible, especially if they will be offering them as a white label product or using them as a platform for end-users. VPAT accessibility offers an easy way for everybody, not just federal agencies, to compare accessibility levels for similar products/services and choose the best one.

Customers are increasingly demanding VPAT compliance from vendors and manufacturers. They’re a way of showing that you care about accessibility and build your product/services with accessibility in mind.

Suppose your VPAT is incomplete or doesn't correctly reflect your accessibility levels. In that case, you could miss out on contracts that you deserve because buyers will pass over it looking for a more accessible option. On the other hand, if someone buys your product/service and then discovers that your VPAT wasn't accurate, it could ruin your reputation and destroy trust in the marketplace, even if it was a genuine mistake.

Who is the Best Person to Complete A VPAT In Your Company?

It can be tricky to find the right person to fill out your VPAT. You need someone who:

  • Fully understands accessibility laws and requirements
  • Has a good grasp of the legal obligation of a VPAT and ACR
  • Is knowledgeable about your product
  • Knows how to test for accessibility

Ideally, you'd have a member of your product development team knowledgeable about accessibility and accessibility testing and experienced at filling out the VPAT template, but that's not a common occurrence. 

That's why many companies use an external expert for their VPAT obligations. Keep reading below to find out how accessiBe can help you with completing your VPAT!

Renewing Your VPAT Each Year...Is This Really Necessary?

Yes. It is highly recommended to renew your VPAT each year to ensure that you are complying with section 508 of the rehabilitation act. 

Suppose your VPAT is incomplete for a new online service you are offering, or someone asks for an updated version before carrying out business with you. The last thing you want is to have an incomplete, outdated, and incorrect VPAT. Updating it each year ensures you don’t fall behind on complying with section 508 and it prevents all further consequences which come from noncompliance.

VPAT: Complete It and Give Yourself a PAT on the Back

Luckily for you, accessiBe’s AI-powered overlay simplifies the VPAT process to ensure you have the smoothest yet most efficient section 508 compliance. Our VPAT service is combined with automated and manual services to provide a filled VPAT complying with section 508 standards.

accessiBe’s ‘How To’ on VPATS:

  • Get an ACR certification with a VPAT template for your website with accessiBe
  • Our full suite of accessibility solutions and services allows websites of all sizes to manage their website accessibility from start to finish. Once you approve the price quote issued based on your website’s VPAT certification, our team of experts will take it from there!
  • During the testing process of the web application, our team will use multiple evaluation methods, including both automated (aCe checking tool, Wave evaluation tool), and manual testing on Windows 10, Mac OSX, and iOS. A major part of the process includes using assistive technology (JAWS, VoiceOver) to assess conformance with the criteria.
  • Your VPAT will be completed, and you can ensure that you are section 508 compliant!

When you complete a VPAT, remember that your goal isn't to prove total compliance with Section 508 or any other guideline. Instead, you want to make sure you accurately represent the accessibility of your product/service. Using accessiBe’s VPAT service can ensure your ACR certification is completed to be as accurate as possible.

For Federal Companies, VPAT Compliance Is Unavoidable

VPAT compliance is 100% necessary should you wish to enter into a contract with a federal agency that requires section 508 compliance. An accurate, complete, and well-written VPAT and ACR can increase the appeal of your product/service and raise your chances of making a sale, thereby helping boost your profits and improve your bottom line. 

accessiBe’s AI-powered overlay creates an automated and manual process that provides an incredibly quick and scalable turnaround time to producing your VPAT. This will save you time, energy, and the worry of not completing your VPAT in time for a deadline. Find out more on our services today.