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VPAT® (Voluntary Product Accessibility Template)

Published on May 14, 2019 in VPAT category

VPAT 508 Compliant text inside of a circle

VPAT®, alongside the WCAG and ARIA, is one of the most common 4-letter abbreviations out there in the accessibility field. It stands for Voluntary Product Accessibility Template or, in other words, a document which describes to which level a particular product is accessible according to various guidelines (Revised Section 508, WCAG, EN 301 549).

Because VPAT® is a registered service mark of the Information Technology Industry Council (ITI) it usually comes with the ® and there are recommendations and guidelines on how to fill in the VPAT template. That being said, it’s up to a product vendor to make sure that the report is clear, complete, useful and truthful. The buyers usually don’t have the resources to check if your VPAT is truthful, but the contract can state that you guarantee the truthfulness of the report and therefore can be sued if proved untruthful.

Guidelines

Before VPAT 2.0 was introduced in October 2017, its template covered only Section 508 of the U.S. Rehabilitation Act. With VPAT 2.0 that changed so that now there are multiple versions of the VPAT template - depending on whether you need the Revised Section 508, WCAG, EN 301 549 or any combination of those.

That being said, VPAT is still mainly associated with Section 508 and US government procurement requirements in preliminary assessments (your product needs to be accessible in order to be purchased by the government).

Although Pragmatic Access is focused on web & mobile accessibility, do note that VPAT is meant to be used for hardware, authoring tools, and other software as well.

Section 508 vs Revised Section 508

There are two (2) types of Section 508 - old and new version. Original Section 508 from the early 2000s was superseded by Revised Section 508 from January 18, 2018. The new version includes and references WCAG 2.0 guidelines and is harmonized with European Commission ICT Standards which makes for easier and more streamlined accessibility audit. More information about the revision you can find on United States Access Board - Update of the Section 508 standards.

You can spot the difference between the two because the original one has sections 1194.21, 1194.22 etc., and a new one has sections 301.1, 401.1 etc. Essentially, Subpart A-D in an old one became Chapter 3-7 in a new one.

Majority of VPATs out in the wild still use the old Section 508 Standards - as only anything published after January 18, 2018, must use the new, Revised Section 508 Standards.

Template

All template variations are available at ITI - Resources - VPAT, latest revision being April 2019 as of writing this article.

Excerpt from the VPAT referring to WCAG Level A requirements

Essentially, VPAT is a bunch of tables with Criteria, Conformance Level and Remarks and Explanations columns which need to be filled-in with conformance level being one of the following:

  • 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: Some functionality of the product does not meet the criterion.
  • Does Not Support: The majority of product functionality does not meet the criterion.
  • Not Applicable: The criterion is not relevant to the product.
  • Not Evaluated: The product has not been evaluated against the criterion. This can only be used in WCAG 2.x Level AAA.

Do not that WCAG says if there is no content to which a success criterion applies, the success criterion is satisfied (and not Not Applicable!).

Web-based VPAT examples

Although the official VPAT is in Word document, there are instances where web variant can be used such as GitHub Government Accessibility or VPAT® for Tenon.io page. Do note that both sites use the old Section 508 standards as the audit was performed before January 2018.

Excerpt from GitHub web VPAT

Newer VPAT version from October 2018 can be found at Appian accessibility conformance report.

Pragmatic Access VPAT

To get the hang of it, I created the VPAT for Pragmatic Access website. It was quite straightforward, mainly because of Part 1 and Part 3 of accessibility audit where all the WCAG Level AA criteria were already inspected.

VPAT is available at Pragmatic Access - VPAT.

I’ve had quite a bit of questions on the way, but I’ll save that for later posts - including how to provide audio description playback which is not supported by embedded YouTube player, are documentation and support services required or can be left out, what is exactly “Preservation of captioning” or “Preservation of audio description” etc.

IBM Accessibility Research was quite helpful with Revised Section 508 and EN 301 549.

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Sven Kapuđija
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