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What is a VPAT Certificate?

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VPAT certification is essential for vendors that provide information and communication technology (ICT) to federal agencies in the United States. 

A Voluntary Product Accessibility Template (VPAT) is a document that explains how ICT products conform to the Revised Section 508 standards for IT accessibility. These ICT products include, but are not limited to, software, hardware, electronic content, and support documentation. 

Why is a VPAT certification important? 

Presenting a VPAT is essential for providers of ICT. Buyers will take the VPAT at face value rather than perform a full evaluation of your product to get the information they need. If you do not provide the adequate details and remarks for something, the buyer will most likely not purchase from you. 

Details such as features that exist, how they support accessibility standards, or which features are missing and need to be addressed – all of these contribute to the decision-making process of each buyer. VPAT certification should be complete enough to provide a quick initial assessment. Buyers want to read the concise information on its accessibility features and compliance to Section 508 in order to make an assessment if they will purchase from you or not.

What is Section 508? 

Section 508 refers to a section in the United States Rehabilitation Act. In 1990, the signing into law of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) laid out the foundation for accessibility for U.S. citizens with disabilities. The ADA even served as a model for other countries in terms of providing accessibility and reducing discrimination. 

Similarly, Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and its subsequent amendments serve as another major milestone for accessibility by defining the scope of responsibilities for accessibility in the United States Federal Government. Section 508 prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in federal programs, or even programs receiving federal aid or employment. The Rehabilitation Act has been amended a couple of times and it was in 1998 when Section 508 was approved to incorporate the digital side of accessibility. 

Section 508 Standards apply to the accessibility of ICT. Anything having to do with ICT such as websites, electronic documents, mobile software, and office machines (like printers) should be accessible to people despite any physical, sensory, or learning disability they may have.

With that, Section 508 standards only apply to the federal government businesses – including their contractors or subcontractors. If you are an ICT provider, keep in mind that many organizations you do business with may adhere to Section 508 standards. Affiliations like this have an effect on how your products and services compare to other providers in the market. Furthermore, if you sell to any organization receiving funding from the federal government, you are indirectly required to meet Section 508 requirements.

It is also good practice to improve accessibility for ICT in general. What comes as an easy task to a person without a disability may become difficult to someone who is disabled or injured. As a business provider, it is in your best interest to be inclusive towards all sorts of customers and buyers. 

We highly suggest improving accessibility for all your ICT products and services, and creating a VPAT that has a detailed description of this. 

How is the VPAT certification used?

The Voluntary Product Accessibility Template or VPAT is a document prepared by the product developer or vendor. It should describe how well the product conforms to the accessibility standards in Section 508. 

A VPAT should be written well enough for ICT buyers to make an informed decision before purchasing. They should be able to do the following:

  • Understand the product’s level of accessibility compliance to Section 508 Standards.
  • Compare compliance among similar products from different vendors.
  • Choose a product that best meets accessibility standards, as well as the organization’s functional and legal requirements as a federal agency.
  • Plan for equally effective access when an accessible product is not available. 
  • Make changes to products that fall short of accessibility standards.

Vendors usually publish VPATs on their website, while others only provide it when the buyer makes a request from their sales or support contact. However, it is highly recommended to make the VPAT available from the get-go, such as linking it on the product’s description page on the website or offering it in-person as early as day one. 

This way, buyers can easily assess the ICT products they are interested in and see how well it fares with Section 508 Standards for accessibility.