Understanding VPATS and ACRs
What is a Voluntary Product Accessibility Template (VPAT)?
A VPAT® or Voluntary Product Accessibility Template is a document template created by the Information Technology Industry Council (ITI) that, when completed, details a product’s level of conformance with digital accessibility standards. VPATs relate the accessibility of information and communication technology (ICT) which includes hardware, software, and electronic content. VPATs were originally designed to help companies show compliance with Section 508 when dealing with federal government contracts, but they are now common practice for demonstrating digital accessibility in both the private and public sectors. Vendors of digital offerings, including software products and platforms, are now frequently asked to provide evidence of accessibility as part of the procurement process. VPATs enable contracting officials and procurement teams to assess how commercial products and services support accessibility. They also allow product manufacturers and vendors to report how well their product meets applicable accessibility standards.
There are different versions of a VPAT, reflecting updated standards, including WCAG 2.1 and the EN 301 549. The most updated and current version is VPAT 2.4.
What is an Accessibility Conformance Report (ACR)?:
When filled out, VPATs are referred to as an Accessibility Conformance Report—or ACR. Here’s an example of a completed VPAT document.
VPAT = template
ACR = completed VPAT
When a potential customer or RFP requires a VPAT document, what they are technically requesting is the ACR; the two terms are often used interchangeably.
Why are there different editions of the VPAT?
There are four different editions of the VPAT. This allows for ICT manufacturers and vendors to create an ACR that is relevant to their target markets and contract requirements. The four additions are:
- VPAT 2.4 508: Revised Section 508 standards — the U.S. Federal accessibility standard
- VPAT 2.4 EU: EN 301 549 — the European Union’s “Accessibility requirements suitable for public procurement of ICT products and services in Europe”
- VPAT 2.4 WCAG: WCAG 2.1 or ISO/IEC 40500 — W3C/WAI’s recently updated Web Content Accessibility Guidelines
- VPAT 2.4 INT: Incorporates all three of the above standards
How do I complete a VPAT document?
VPATs are technically complex documents that are best completed by independent entities with digital accessibility experience and expertise. A third-party not only has the requisite knowledge needed for assessing and reporting on accessibility, but lends vital credibility to the document.
The VPAT document itself consists of a long series of tables. The first is a summary giving you a sense of your product’s overall level of compliance with applicable standards (e.g., Section 508), which require conformance with WCAG. The subsequent tables require details for each section of the standards.
At minimum, a VPAT document must include:
- Report Title: “[Company Name] Accessibility Conformance Report”
- VPAT Heading Information: template version
- Name of product / version: name of product being reported, including product version identifier if necessary
- Report date: date of report publication (at minimum, month and year)
- Product description: brief description of the product
- Contact information
- Notes: any details or further explanation about the product or report
- Evaluation methods used: description of evaluation methods used to complete the VPAT for the product under test
- Applicable standards / guidelines: clear indication of which Standards / Guidelines the report covers. Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0, for example
- Terms: definition of the terms used in the Conformance Level column
- Tables for each standard of guideline: showing the response to the criteria
In the tables for each standard or guideline, under the Conformance Level column, you are to define how your product did or did not comply with that specific requirement, or indicate it was not relevant to the product:
- Supports: The product has at least one mode of interaction that meets this criterion without known defects, or can meet the criterion with available facilitation.
- Partially supports: The most common rating, “partially supports” means that some of the product does not meet the criterion or only partially meets the criterion. Remarks and explanations are used to detail the specifics.
- Does not support: Most of the product does not meet the criterion.
- Not applicable: This criterion is not relevant to the product.
What if certain features of my product are not conformant?
Reporting non-conformance on one or more WCAG success criteria is fairly common. The most important objective in completing your VPAT is to provide accurate, credible information. Accurate reports will show where a product “supports,” “partially supports / supports with exceptions,” or “does not support” the standards.
In cases in which your product “does not support” or “partially supports,” your VPAT partner will help provide a thorough explanation, as well as a detailed roadmap to ensure the purchaser understands the progress taken and any alternatives for the accommodation to ensure the best possible user experience. This level of detail and transparency helps the purchaser clearly understand the capabilities of the product, demonstrates your commitment to digital accessibility, and will help your customers evaluate your product positively.
Is a VPAT/ACR a certification of compliance?
A completed VPAT document is not a certification of compliance, nor is it intended to serve as a pass/fail document. The intention of the VPAT is to provide greater insight into the degree of which a product meets specific accessibility standards. It enables vendors and purchasers to have more purposeful and direct discussions during the procurement process.
Is a VPAT required for a website?
VPATs are instruments for ICT products and services. While ICT can include websites, a VPAT only comes into play for websites and/or web-based content that are a part of a product offering. For non-product websites, a conformance statement can address a website’s accessibility.
Is a VPAT required for a mobile app?
Mobile apps may or may not need a VPAT depending on the use-case and go-to-market strategy for the app. Completing a VPAT would be necessary if the app’s usage falls under Section 508 or other applicable procurement requirements, if the app is part of a procurement process that requests it, or if procurement teams request one. You can discuss the specifics with an expert.
eSSENTIAL Accessibility’s approach to VPATs
eSSENTIAL Accessibility experts are experienced in assessing accessibility and completing VPATs. Our approach extends beyond simply populating the VPAT document and submitting the report. We take a comprehensive testing and analysis approach:
- Conduct a Critical Path Analysis to clearly understand your most critical user flows.
- Test those flows using a variety of assistive technologies (AT) on multiple browsers. Individuals with disabilities who are native AT users are among those conducting these tests.
- Deliver a comprehensive audit of any accessibility barriers our testing revealed, which includes guidance to fix those errors.
- Partner with your team to help resolve the more complex errors.
- Provide regular monitoring and re-evaluation to ensure you maintain accessibility compliance as new features of your product are released.
- Deliver an objective, unbiased, fully accessible ACR.