The Voluntary Product Accessibility Template (VPAT) is a document which evaluates how accessible a particular product is according to the Section 508 Standards. It is a self-disclosing document produced by the vendor which details each aspect of the Section 508 requirements and how the product supports each criteria.
VPATs are used by buyers to determine how accessible a product is and where any potential deficiencies are. They are required by some buyers before a purchase is made.
The official VPAT forms are hosted by the Information Technology Industrial Council and are available in the Microsoft Word format.
The VPAT contains documentation on Section 508 (2017 Refresh), Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 Success Criteria & Conformance Requirements (Levels A, AA, AAA) as well as the European Accessibility standards EN 301.
The Truth About VPATs
VPATs are a complex issue to deal with and provide many challenges on both the vendor’s part and on the purchaser’s. On one hand, the vendor does not want to be too detailed about their product’s deficiencies, even if the problems are quite small and they are working on them. On the other hand the purchaser doesn’t want to have to do a full-blown accessibility evaluation of a product and wants to simply take the VPAT at face value.
Oftentimes the procurement officer who receives a VPAT doesn’t have the skill to know how to interpret it. One company can be quite honest and list numerous problems even if they are minor, and another company could be dishonest in their product appraisal and not list many details so their deficiencies seem to be fewer. If the procurement officer doesn’t actually validate and clarify what the VPAT states, the one with fewer apparent problems might get selected. There is a natural business inclination in this case to make it so your VPAT doesn’t get in the way of sale.
There might be contractual language that states your VPAT has to be accurate or a legal recourse could be taken, but in the end the damage is already done. A system may have been purchased that is not accessible, and users cannot interact with it and fixing the problem will be costly.
There are some companies that have been quite truthful in their VPATs, but those can often seem like the exception rather than the rule. What we need is a commitment from both sides – the vendors agree to be truthful and the purchasers agree to do their due diligence in assessing a product for its accessibility so good companies don’t get penalized.