In the world of accessibility, there is a variety of mechanisms used to demonstrate whether a company’s Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) are accessible. One of the most well-known and widely used formats is known as the Voluntary Product Accessibility Template (VPAT), and/or Accessibility Conformance Report (ACR). Some may be familiar with these documents due to government acquisitions, being faced with litigation because of Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) violations, or a variety of other reasons. However, if you are unfamiliar with the VPAT/ACR, this article will answer some of the questions that may have brought you here.
What is the VPAT?
The VPAT is a document that explains how information and communication technology (ICT) products such as software, hardware, electronic content, and support documentation meet (conform to) federal (e.g., Section 508) and/or other widely recognized accessibility guidelines (e.g., Web Content Accessibility Guidelines or EN 301 549). In short, the VPAT details the accessibility guidelines applicable to a product, whether the product is in conformance with each guideline, and how the product meets each guideline (if it does).
When is the VPAT Required?
The ADA and its associated amendments ban discrimination based on disability in the areas of employment, public accommodation, public services, transportation and telecommunications. Section 508 specifically requires that, “When developing, procuring, maintaining, or using electronic and information technology, each Federal department or agency, including the United States Postal Service, shall ensure, unless an undue burden would be imposed on the department or agency, that the electronic and information technology allows, regardless of the type of medium of the technology”.
We commonly see the VPAT used to demonstrate accessibility compliance of ICTs in federal procurement efforts. However, you should always request guidance from the contracting officer for the procurement. Depending on the agency, they may have their own reporting requirements and/or standards (e.g., Department of Homeland Security). Some agencies may also require documentation in addition to the VPAT.
Similar to Section 508, Section 504 bars entities receiving Federal financial assistance from discriminating against individuals with disabilities. This means, that not only do ICTs part of federal procurement efforts need to be accessible, but so do the procurement’s of state, local, tribal, territorial, public educational institutions, and others.
In fact, some states have their own laws mandating the accessibility of ICTs. For example, California’s Unruh Civil Rights Act requires that, “All persons within the jurisdiction of this state are free and equal, and no matter what their sex, race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, disability, medical condition, genetic information, marital status, sexual orientation, citizenship, primary language, or immigration status are entitled to the full and equal accommodations, advantages, facilities, privileges, or services in all business establishments of every kind whatsoever.”
Why Use the VPAT When it Is Not Required?
Conducting an accessibility audit on your ICT product and generating a VPAT is a great way to reduce the risk of litigation under existing federal and state laws. Title III of the ADA may require your company’s online presence to be accessible, as it would be classified as a “place of public accommodation”. A recent example where Title III of the ADA was viewed as applicable in such a manner was a recent legal case brought to the Supreme Court by Dominos. Failure to comply with established accessibility standards increases your company’s exposure and risk of a lawsuit under the American with Disabilities Act. The consequences of such a lawsuit may result in expenses exceeding tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars, to potentially include an award of attorney’s fees to the plaintiff. In addition to penalties under the ADA, some states (e.g., California) allow for an award of damages.
Many companies also see it as imperative that they try and make their products as accessible as possible. Not because they are required to, but because they understand that access to information is a fundamental human right, and that leaving behind those with disabilities is a breach of said human right. Many companies see accessibility as a means of righting some of the wrongs that our digital age has created. This is more common than you might think. Many companies around the world who do not need to or are safer from potential litigation than most feel that it is their duty to provide inclusive access to their products. Not only do they help everyone, but they become something to respect and aspire to be.
To learn more about the benefits of making your ICT product(s) accessible, see our article on the Top 5 Reasons to Make Your Website Accessible.
Does Anyone Else Use VPATs?
Yes! VPATs are used by some of the largest companies in the world. Companies like Microsoft, Apple, and Google all have VPATs/ACRs for their products. They understand that by having proper documentation, they are making it easier for those who wish to use procure their products know precisely how accessible said products are. Many of these companies also rely on independent accessibility experts, such as TestPros, to evaluate the accessibility of their ICT product and generate the necessary documentation.
Can I fill out the VPAT/ACR on my own?
The short answer is yes. Because of the nature of the VPAT/ACR, anyone can fill it out. The problem becomes filling it out correctly. Too often these documents are filled out by a companies marketing team to try and make their accessibility seem better than it actually is. Some companies also have their developers fill out these documents, which can cause confusion for the their customers as they might have been too verbose, or gone into too much detail which can cause issues. Because of these issues, it is always better to have an accessibility expert fill out the VPAT/ACR for your products. They understand the requirements and verbiage that makes these documents highly readable, but also accurate to the actual accessibility of said products.
If you are ready to make your website accessible, we highly suggest using experienced accessibility consultants, such as TestPros. TestPros offers full life-cycle services for accessibility compliance, to include but not limited to: initial accessibility assessments / gap analyses, accessibility regression testing, integration of automated testing solutions in CI/CD pipelines, remediation of non-compliant software, and training. To learn more about our accessibility services, contact us or check out our services page!