What Is It?
Under Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act, federal agencies must make their electronic and information technology accessible to people with disabilities. The purpose of Section 508 is to reduce barriers in information technology and encourage people to develop technologies that create new opportunities for people with disabilities. With Section 508 in mind, the Information Technology Industry Council (ITIC) created a template called the Voluntary Product Accessibility Template or VPAT. Vendors use a VPAT to report the extent any digital material or technology product meets the Section 508 accessibility compliance. The VPAT intention is to provide a self-report to vendors. The VPAT explains how software, hardware, electronic content, and support documentation meet the information outlined in the Section 508 Standards for information technology accessibility. The template looks at each Section 508 standard and aligns it with how the product supports each criterion. A VPAT also includes information on the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 Success Criteria and Conformance Requirements (Levels A, AA, AAA).
How Is It used?
VPAT is a very valuable tool for anyone or vendor who is a provider of electronic and information technology. As a vendor this is especially important because they could be losing out on business opportunities by not being Section 508 compliant or by not providing a VPAT that outlines their compliance. A VPAT helps federal agencies, contracting officials, and government specific buyers to assess information and communication technology for accessibility. Organizations outside of the federal government are also starting to request a VPAT in their procurement process. These organizations include K-12 schools as well as higher education institutions. Both of these education systems should be complying with the American with Disabilities Act as well as the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. The VPAT can be a valuable tool when conducting market research and evaluating proposals. To get easier access to a vendor’s product, a purchaser may specify the language used in the VPAT. Including this language in a VPAT can help show the purchaser that the vendor is paying attention to the purchasers’ requirements. This helps ensure communication and better business practices.
With the current COVID-19 response, many schools are switching to an online learning model. As a vendor, using a VPAT is important to show awareness of accessibility standards and promote best practices with developers. It is important to keep in mind that the expertise of the person completing the VPAT limits quality. Their knowledge should be specific to accessibility, including the use of adaptive technology. When a vendor produces a VPAT for a product it does not mean that the product follows accessibility standards.
Additional Information About VPAT
The Information Technology Industry Council is an advocacy organization that represents companies in the information and communication technology industry. They exist to influence policy issues surrounding innovation and competitiveness. Many organizations use the Information Technology Industry Council default VPAT document. The document is available for download on the Information Technology Industry Council’s website. This version is a Word document by default. The Information Technology Industry Council recommends looking at an organization’s guidance for completing a VPAT to determine if there are any modifications or if there is any more information requested that may be specific to an organization’s needs. A VPAT should reflect the current level of Section 508 compliance for a product. The VPAT provides a standard reporting format. This helps make a preliminary assessment of a product and its conformance to accessibility standards. Different technologies offer different levels of accessibility including the ease of access for adaptive technology users. A VPAT is as step in creating more accessible electronic and information technology.