In 2001, the Voluntary Product Accessibility Template (VPAT) was created by the Information Technology Industry Council (ITI) and the General Services Administration (GSA). The VPAT is a self-disclosing document used for accessibility evaluation according to Section 508 standards. It outlines the level of accessibility conformance an entity has achieved and establishes each technical requirement of web content accessibility standards, such as Section 508, WCAG 2.0, and WCAG 2.1. The typical completed VPAT can range from 50 to over many thousands of pages.
As the digital landscape continues to expand, the ITI has updated the VPAT format, known as the “Section 508 Refresh.” The VPAT is available in four editions: WCAG, Section 508 and Revised Section 508, EN 301 549, and International. The International VPAT® Edition includes all these standard requirements:
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), it must be fully accessible to federal employees and members of the public who have disabilities.
WCAG 2.0 (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines)
WCAG 2.0 acts as a voluntary consensus standard for web content accessibility. It is a universal guideline that ensures web content is Perceivable, Operable, Understandable, and Robust (POUR). The POUR model reflects the high-level principles on which the fundamental structure of information technology accessibility is based.
WCAG 2.1 (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines)
WCAG 2.1 is an updated and extended version of WCAG 2.0. The updated guidelines address responsive variations of web pages, mobile device use, and related barriers faced by users with low vision, motor impairment, and cognitive 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.
International Voluntary Product Accessibility Template (VPAT)
The International edition of the VPAT includes the following standards/guidelines:
- Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0
- Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.1; use is optional; included for reference purposes
- Revised Section 508 standards published January 18, 2017, and corrected January 22, 2018
- EN 301 549 Accessibility requirements suitable for public procurement of ICT products and services in Europe, – V2.1.2 (2018-08)
Why Do You Need a VPAT?
Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act calls for Information and Communications Technology (ICT) products, services, and vendors to document their conformance with accessibility standards. The VPAT is often a critical part of RFPs that focuses on accessibility and ADA compliance.
If any federally funded entity uses your business, either directly or indirectly, you are, by extension, also federally funded, and these regulations may apply to you. Buyers in the federal and governmental space often use service providers’ VPATs to compare their options and choose the most appropriate vendor. By not providing a VPAT, you may be dramatically limiting your business opportunities.
How Do You Get a VPAT?
An incomplete or inaccurate VPAT may cost you a successful bid if it fails to meet the proposal’s requirements. To avoid this, ensure your VPAT has all the necessary elements by choosing a trusted digital accessibility vendor.
Steps You Will Need to Take:
- Perform an Accessibility Audit. A comprehensive audit will give you a checklist of remediations to improve your digital assets’ accessibility and compliance.
- Complete the Voluntary Product Accessibility Template. The VPAT is a complex document and requires a technical and specific evaluation. Delegate this critical task to an expert in accessibility laws and standards. Some completed VPATs can be nearly 10,000 pages long.
- Maintain Integrity. Keep your documents up-to-date, accurate, and honest. Establish a standardized process for changes, improvements, and accuracy testing.
- Publish Your VPAT. Post your VPAT on your website or ensure it is made available upon request.
- Best Practices for VPAT Authors:
- Include branding
- Report date changes and revision explanations
- Share evaluation methods used
- Provide a legal disclaimer
- Table WCAG criteria
- Post the final document
The VPAT default document is available on the ITI website in Microsoft Word format. Our accessibility experts have helped create thousands of VPATs. Connect with our committed accessibility experts today to start the VPAT process.
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The ADA prohibits any private businesses that provide goods or services to the public, referred to as “public accommodations,” from discriminating against those with disabilities. Federal courts have ruled that the ADA includes websites in the definition of public accommodation. As such, websites must offer auxiliary aids and services to low-vision, hearing-impaired, and physically disabled persons, in the same way a business facility must offer wheelchair ramps, braille signage, and sign language interpreters, among other forms of assistance.
All websites must be properly coded for use by electronic screen readers that read aloud to sight-impaired users the visual elements of a webpage. Additionally, all live and pre-recorded audio content must have synchronous captioning for hearing-impaired users.
Websites must accommodate hundreds of keyboard combinations, such as Ctrl + P to print, that people with disabilities depend on to navigate the Internet.
Litigation continues to increase substantially. All business and governmental entities are potential targets for lawsuits and demand letters. Recent actions by the Department of Justice targeting businesses with inaccessible websites will likely create a dramatic increase of litigation risk.
Big box retailer Target Corp. was ordered to pay $6 million – plus $3.7 million more in legal costs – to settle a landmark class action suit brought by the National Federation of the Blind. Other recent defendants in these cases have included McDonald’s, Carnival Cruise Lines, Netflix, Harvard University, Foot Locker, and the National Basketball Association (NBA). Along with these large companies, thousands of small businesses have been subject to ADA website litigation.
Defendants in ADA lawsuits typically pay plaintiff's legal fees, their own legal fees for defending the litigation, and potential additional costs. In all, the average cost can range from tens of thousands of dollars, to above six figures. There are also high intangible costs, such as added stress, time and human capital, as well as reputational damage. Furthermore, if the remediation is incomplete, copycat suits and serial filers can follow, meaning double or triple the outlay. It's vital to implement a long-term strategy for ensuring your website is accessible and legally compliant.