Understanding VPATS and ACRs
What is a VPAT?
A VPAT® or Voluntary Product Accessibility Template is the industry accepted document that, when completed, details a product’s level of conformance with digital accessibility standards. VPATs describe the level of accessibility of information and communication technology (ICT) which includes hardware, software, and electronic content. VPATs were created by the Information Technology Industry Council (ITI) and were originally designed to help companies show compliance with Section 508 of the U.S. Rehabilitation Act 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 web platforms, are now frequently asked to provide a completed VPAT or Accessibility Conformance Report (ACR), 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 their product meets applicable accessibility standards and guidelines.
There are different editions of a VPAT, reflecting different standards, including WCAG 2.1, Section 508, and the EN 301 549. The current version of each VPAT edition is revision 2.4. When new accessibility standards are released, a new VPAT version follows.
What is an Accessibility Conformance Report (ACR)?
Beyond “what is a VPAT?”, you may also be wondering about another acronym term—ACR. When filled out, a VPAT is referred to as an Accessibility Conformance Report—or ACR. Here’s an example of a completed VPAT.
VPAT = initial 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?
The four different editions of the VPAT allow for ICT manufacturers and vendors to create an ACR that is relevant to their target markets and contract requirements. When questioned about VPAT certification, you may be asked about one of these VPAT editions:
- VPAT 2.4 Rev 508: Revised Section 508 standards — the U.S. Federal accessibility standard
- VPAT 2.4 Rev EU: EN 301 549 — the European Union’s “Accessibility requirements suitable for public procurement of ICT products and services in Europe”
- VPAT 2.4 Rev WCAG: WCAG 2.1 or ISO/IEC 40500 — W3C/WAI’s recently updated Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG)
- VPAT 2.4 Rev INT: Incorporates all three of the above standards (also known as the international edition)
How do I complete a VPAT document?
VPATs need to be completed based on an audit of the product or service. The template references technical standards that require specific knowledge to answer accurately and 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. This way, you can ensure that your requested ACR is valid.
At the beginning of the VPAT document is some background information that must be completed to describe the report, product, and evaluation methodology used. The template then consists of a long series of tables. The first is a summary of what standards (e.g., Section 508, EN 301 549), are covered by the report. The subsequent tables review each section or chapter of the relevant accessibility standard or standards (when an edition that has multiple standards is used).
At minimum, a VPAT report includes:
- 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 2.1, for example
- Terms: definition of the terms used in the Conformance Level column
- Tables required under the specific VPAT edition
In the tables for each standard or guideline, under the Conformance Level column, the following terms are used to indicate level of conformance of your product to the criteria:
- Supports: The functionality of the product has at least one method that meets the criterion without known defects or meets with equivalent 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: The majority of product functionality 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-full conformance on one or more 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,” or “Does Not Support” the standards.
In cases in which your product “Partially Supports,” a third-party expert, like Level Access, will provide an explanation of exceptions and examples from the product as appropriate. Where your product “Does Not Support” the criteria, your VPAT partner will explain the limitations of functionality. This level of detail helps the purchaser clearly understand the capabilities of the product, demonstrates your commitment to digital accessibility, and the transparency may help customers evaluate your product positively.
What is ACR certification and does it prove compliance?
Although it may be referred by some to as ACR certification, an ACR document is not a certification of compliance, nor is it intended to serve as a pass/fail document. The intention of the ACR is to provide greater insight into the degree to which a product meets specific accessibility standards and guidelines. It enables vendors and purchasers to have more purposeful and direct discussions during the procurement process.
Is an ACR (a completed VPAT) required for a website or web app?
A VPAT only comes into play for websites and/or web-based content that are part of a product offering. If you are contracting with a U.S. government entity, a completed VPAT (or an ACR) is required. If you are doing business with private-sector companies, a VPAT can be a valuable tool for demonstrating the level of accessibility compliance of your product offering, and it’s better to have one prepared and ready instead of rushing to create one last minute. An accessibility statement can be used to address a non-product website’s accessibility.
Is a VPAT or an ACR required for a mobile app?
Mobile apps may or may not need an ACR depending on the use-case and go-to-market strategy for the app. Completing an ACR 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.
The Level Access approach to VPATs
Level Access experts are experienced in assessing accessibility and completing VPATs. Our approach extends beyond simply populating the VPAT document. We take a comprehensive testing and analysis approach to:
- Understand your most critical user flows
- Test those flows using a assistive technologies (AT)
- Deliver audit results inclusive of accessibility barriers revealed and guidance to fix those errors
- Support your team to help resolve the more complex errors
- Deliver an objective, unbiased, ACR
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