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Evaluating Product Accessibility (VPATs)

With each passing day, technology becomes a more ubiquitous part of our lives. Devices like smartphones and tablets are no longer just a fun escape for most people–they’re our primary means of communicating with one another, allowing us to remain productive and accomplish critical work for our jobs at the same time.

However, this poses a challenge for the estimated 18.7% of the United States population that is currently living with some type of disability that may impair their ability to actually use these devices.¹

For any business operating in the modern era and especially those who do work with the Federal government, product accessibility is no longer a recommendation, but a requirement. To that end, there are a number of major resources that are designed to help bring your organization up to speed on the requirements laid out in accessibility guidelines like WCAG.² A VPAT is perhaps one of the most important of those, and it’s a document that you should become very familiar with for a number of reasons.

What is a VPAT?

The acronym VPAT is short for “voluntary product accessibility template.” A VPAT is a document that explains how software, hardware, electronic and other support documentation for WCAG specifically conform to the revised Section 508 Standards (or internationally the EN 301 549) for accessibility.³,4 The Revised Section 508 standards were first published in the Federal Register on January 18, 2017 and were last amended on March 23, 2018.

A properly completed VPAT should break down everything that you’re doing regarding product accessibility in an incredible level of detail, proving both that you do what you say you can do and that you do what you need to do in order to generate the best possible user experience for everyone involved. Based on this document, your product will be given one of the following levels:

  • Supports. This means that you either meet all the specific factors dictated by the Revised Section 508 Standards in a very literal way, or you accomplish the same goals by way of “an equivalent facilitation.”
  • Partially Supports. As the term suggests, this means that you meet a majority of the criteria in the Revised Section 508 Standards, but there may still be certain “known defects” (read: things you have to work on) that are present.
  • Does Not Support. This describes a situation where the majority of your product’s functionality does not meet the Revised Section 508 Standards in any way, shape or form.

There are a few key best practices that you’ll want to follow to make sure that you wind up with a template that people actually find valuable. First and foremost: you need to be honest. A VPAT can only be created after a careful and thorough analysis, which means that you’re going to get full visibility into your product. Naturally, your instinct will be to minimize and downplay any issues you find in terms of product accessibility along the way. You will need to fight this instinct.

In fact, this is the reason why more and more groups are requiring VPATs to be completed by a third party accessibility company, due to bias or lack of education of accessibility.

Where Can I Find a VPAT Template?

VPAT templates, just like software, get version upgrades. It’s important to know what the most updated VPAT version is and for you to use it. You can get the latest version, which happens to be VPAT Version 2.3, from the Information Technology Industry (ITI) Council website.

These VPAT default templates give you more than enough room to add remarks to each item. If a particular product accessibility problem is identified, use this space to go into detail about the steps that you’re taking to fix it and when you can expect to finally meet that status.

Finally, you’ll want to make sure that you’re being as thorough as necessary. Don’t forget that part of the purpose of a VPAT is to confirm to potential buyers that yours is a product that is a good fit for their organization. At the end of the day, you don’t want to go through the trouble of having someone make an ill-informed purchasing decision.

Don’t be shy about adding as much detail as possible about your product features, how they support the standard, what issues you’re addressing, your product roadmap, and more. If your product is not fully accessible, your product roadmap should show the timeline of how long it will be to make any necessary changes to make your product compliant.

If you’d like to get even more information about how to effectively evaluate product accessibility for your own business, or if you’re just eager to learn more about the wide array of different benefits that a VPAT can bring to the table, watch our 30-minute on-demand webinar on VPATs today.

References:

  1. Disability and Health, HealthyPeople.gov, 2019
  2. WCAG 2.0 – Why It’s Time to Turn to the Current Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, eSSENTIAL Accessibility, 2019
  3. Voluntary Product Accessibility Template (VPAT), Section508.gov, 2018.
  4. Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Final Standards and Guidelines, United States Access Board, 2019

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