You’ve been told you need to make your technology more accessible to people with disabilities, so you’ve taken steps to ensure compliance with the revised Section 508 standards of the Rehabilitation Act or the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). Accessible technology will empower people with disabilities to live their best lives with access to information and communication technology used in education, employment, and many other areas.

Now, you’re embarking on your next mission: to curate your company’s Accessibility Conformance Report (ACR) in the VPAT format to document the level of support for the standards.

A smartphone screen shows a bookshelf. An open book is labeled VPAT.

A yellow file folder with several pages popping out. The top page is a checklist that appears complete.

What is a VPAT?

The Voluntary Product Accessibility Template, or VPAT, is a template used for creation of an Accessibility Conformance Report (ACR)—a document you provide to your potential buyers.

Essentially, the VPAT ACR is a way for you to report what level of compliance your digital products support in terms of accommodating users with disabilities. In it, you provide specifics on how the features and functionality of your product meet each technical requirement of accessibility standards such as the revised Section 508 standards, WCAG 2.0, WCAG 2.1, or EN 301 549.

Why do you need to complete a VPAT?

The VPAT may seem like it’s highly technical, but it’s just an element of a larger mission to make technology accessible by everyone, regardless of their disabilities. In 2001, the VPAT was created by the Information Technology Industry Council (ITI) and the General Services Administration (GSA) to further the accessibility of information and communications technology (ICT) products and services. This ensured that U.S. Federal Government agencies could have documentation supporting the technical and functional performance requirements of Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act.

Since then, the demand has grown for ICT product manufacturers and vendors to document their conformance with accessibility standards.

To address the demand, ITI has updated the VPAT format to cover changes to Section 508. These changes are known as the “Section 508 Refresh” and incorporate the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 (WCAG 2.0 or ISO/IEC 40500) by reference. There are several versions of the VPAT 2 template which also allow you to document conformance to other common accessibility standards such as WCAG 2.1 and EN 301 549 for those who sell into Europe or Australia.

In short, an ACR created using the VPAT format outlines the digital accessibility functions of your technology, while showing that you’ve taken the necessary steps to make sure your digital properties are accessible to people with disabilities.

What accessibility standards are currently covered in the VPAT?

Section 508 (revised)

Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (as amended in 1998) (29 USC § 794d) requires that when U.S. Federal government agencies develop, procure, maintain, or use electronic and information technology (called ICT in the current law), federal employees and members of the public with disabilities must have access to it.

WCAG 2.0 (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines)

WCAG 2.0 acts is a voluntary consensus standard for web content accessibility. It’s a universal guideline that ensures the web content is perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust.

WCAG 2.1 (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines)

WCAG 2.1 is an updated and extended version of WCAG 2.0 and is a voluntary consensus standard for web content accessibility. It’s a universal guideline that ensures the web content is perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust. WCAG 2.1 addresses responsive variations of web pages as well as aspects related to mobile device use and additional issues relevant to users with low vision, motor impairments, and cognitive and learning disabilities.

EN 301 549

EN 301 549 is a digital accessibility standard used in the European Union (EU). The latest version includes the WCAG 2.1 standards.

Ready to create a standout VPAT?

Here’s a few key guidelines to get you on the right path:

Understand Applicability

  • Evaluate your product or service’s functionality
  • Determine which standards apply to you
  • Consider hardware, software, support documentation, and services

Standardize Process

  • Establish a defined internal process and procedures to prepare VPAT ACRs
  • Implement internal standards to ensure VPAT format ACRs are complete and accurate

Test All Requirements

  • Use best practices to test multiple standards
  • Adopt a proven and efficient audit methodology
  • Employ automated, manual, assistive technology validation, and use case testing by people with disabilities

Ensure Quality

  • Train resources who prepare your VPAT ACRs and/or hire knowledgeable consultants
  • Keep your VPAT format ACRs up to date
  • Implement customer feedback loop for improvements
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Who should complete your VPAT?

Now that you’re ready to fill out a VPAT template, you’re ready to choose someone best suited to do it for you. It’s extremely important that the person you select is up to date on the current accessibility laws and standards and has using experience using the latest VPAT 2 template. This is mostly to protect your company, and ensure your report has all the necessary elements. An incomplete or inaccurate ACR can put your company at risk if you’re awarded a contract and your product does not meet the criteria indicated in the VPAT template.

Check out our report on How to Choose a Digital Accessibility Vendor to learn more about how you can ensure you’re getting the right person for the job.