VPAT 101: A Guide for Federal Contractors and Subcontractors

If you’ve tried to sell products and services to a government agency, chances are you’ve heard of the VPAT. VPAT stands for Voluntary Product Accessibility Template and is used to document compliance with federal accessibility standards.

In this post, we’ll provide all the VPAT basics, as well as tips on how to save time and ensure accuracy on this complex document.

What is the Voluntary Product Accessibility Template?

The Voluntary Product Accessibility Template (VPAT) is a document that allows vendors to show through documentation how their software, hardware, web applications, and other digital products comply with the federal government’s Section 508 accessibility guidelines. The VPAT is used by federal agencies to assess the accessibility of products and services when they are doing market research and evaluating proposals.

When a government agency solicits services that will include electronic and IT products, it will include specific accessibility requirements, including required provisions that ensure the product is accessible. Filling out a VPAT is a standardized way for companies to demonstrate how it will address these accessibility requirements.

Want to learn more about a VPAT? Access the on-demand recording for our VPAT 101 webinar.

The VPAT and Section 508

To understand the relevance of the VPAT, it helps to know a bit about Section 508. This federal accessibility law requires that all federal agencies and their vendors make electronic and information technology accessible to people with disabilities. Part of the larger Rehabilitation Act of 1973, Section 508 also established the Electronic and Information Technology Accessibility Standards, which define the minimum requirements for ensuring that electronic and IT products and services purchased or developed by the federal government are accessible to people with disabilities.

Wondering if Section 508 applies to your business? If your organization wants to conduct business with the federal government or any vendor they use, then yes, Section 508 applies to you and you will likely need a VPAT.

What’s in the VPAT?

Besides providing basic information about your business and the products it provides, you will also need to document conformance to Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 guidelines.

This is done on a three-column worksheet:

  • Column 1: Lists “Criteria,” referring to the criteria–or area of focus–to be covered.
  • Column 2: Documents “Conformance Level,” which includes the categories supports, partially supports, does not support, and not applicable.
  • Column 3: Reserved for “Remarks and Explanations,” which are required if the product either partially supports or does not support the guideline, to provide more context as to why the product falls short of requirements. While filling in this section if the product supports the guideline is not required, it is encouraged.

Column 2 Conformance Levels are based on specific criteria. We list each here, paraphrasing the definition. Let’s explore more closely what each of these mean.

  • Supports: The product’s functionality meets the criterion in at least one way without known defects or does so with a comparable level of ease.
  • Partially Supports: Some of the product’s functionality does not meet the criterion.
  • Does Not Support: The majority of the functionality does not meet the criterion.
  • Not Applicable: The criterion is not relevant/does not apply to the product.

Want to know more about how to fill out your VPAT? Read the Section508.gov guidelines.

How does the VPAT template help my company?

Beyond opportunities for federal government contracts, there are additional benefits to completing the VPAT accessibility review process.

  • Clarity on accessibility compliance – If your company has been addressing digital accessibility in-house, you may not have comprehensive documentation across all departments on how products meet WCAG requirements. Completing a VPAT template offers clear documentation on how your digital product conforms to WCAG criteria.
  • Meeting global requirements – The international VPAT has a section for European compliance (EN 301 549) for companies looking to sell to the public sector. Therefore, having clear documentation of how your products meet accessibility will help you in these markets. In addition, the European Accessibility Act (EAA) will require products and services covered by the act, including digital assets, to be accessible by 2025 for companies selling to the private sector. It’s expected that EN 301 549 will be updated to reflect this regulation as well.
  • Increases business opportunities – Commitments to diversity, equity, and inclusion have put increased emphasis on accessibility. In turn, buyers and managers both in the private sector and within government agencies will rely on VPATs when choosing a vendor to ensure they’re “buying accessible.”
  • Addresses unknown issues – Often when undergoing the VPAT process, companies will discover accessibility issues they were not aware of or that have gone unaddressed. Fixing these issues during the VPAT process also strengthens the company’s overall accessibility.

Is there VPAT testing?

While there are no tests directly related to the VPAT, companies must include truthful information, which will require you to confirm internally whether your digital assets meet accessibility requirements. This could include Assistive Technology (AT) User Flow Testing, accessibility audits, and other tests and reviews.

The results of these tests can ensure you’ve addressed any lingering accessibility issues. It also lets you be confident the VPAT contains accurate information.

Does completing a VPAT prove accessibility?

Not exactly. A VPAT provides a clearly defined standard against which any organization can measure its accessibility. Because Section 508 requirements are aligned with WCAG standards and are part of the federal government’s vendor review process, the VPAT is seen as more credible documentation that a company is accessible.

There’s no one life-long stamp of approval for accessibility, so continued monitoring and testing are required to ensure your digital assets remain in compliance.

Should I hire a VPAT consultant?

The VPAT can be complicated and can be time-consuming for companies to do with only in-house help. Most organizations do not have the accessibility knowledge required, which is why many companies opt to hire a third-party accessibility consultant to lead the VPAT process.

Hiring an accessibility consultant to create your VPAT can help you:

  • Save time
  • Ensure accuracy
  • Discover unknown issues
  • Provide ongoing support

Investing in a VPAT consultant to ensure the document is right can lend credibility to your accessibility and increase your long-term ROI. Speak with a TPGi accessibility expert about your VPAT today.

Categories: Accessibility Strategy, Business
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