The VPAT 508, or a Voluntary Product Accessibility Template, is an important document that explains how information and communication (ICT) products conform to the Revised Section 508 standards for IT accessibility. ICT products include but are not limited to software, hardware, electronic content, and even support documentation.
It is an important document that allows companies and organizations in the United States to provide a comprehensive analysis of their conformance to accessibility standards set in Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act. In this short article, we will discuss what a VPAT is, how it’s used, and its importance for compliance to Section 508.
What is a VPAT 508?
VPATs help federal agency contracting officials and government buyers to access ICT products for accessibility when doing market research and evaluating proposals before purchasing.
U.S. government solicitations which include ICT will specify accessibility requirements, indicating which provisions are required to ensure the deliverable is accessible. The VPAT is very important because it is a good way to address the accessibility requirements defined in the solicitation.
Developers or vendors should prepare VPATs for their ICT. This is essential because the VPAT 508 describes how well the ICT product conforms to the accessibility standards of section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act.
What is Section 508?
Before we go into how a VPAT is used, we will first discuss what Section 508 is.
Section 508 is a portion of the Rehabilitation Act, outlining standards to address accessibility to ICT. With that, Section 508 requires access to ICT developed, procured, maintained, or used by federal agencies across the United States. Examples of ICT include computers, telecommunications equipment, multifunction office machines (such as printers, software, websites, information kiosks, transaction machines), and electronic documents.
These Section 508 Standards ensure access for people with physical, sensory, or cognitive disabilities.
How is a VPAT 508 used?
The purpose of a VPAT is to help ICT buyers make an informed decision before purchasing a product. These include:
- Understand a product’s level of accessibility compliance
- Compare compliance of similar products
- Choose a product that best meets accessibility standards and the organization’s functional and legal requirements
- Plan ahead for equally effective access when an accessible ICT product is not available
It is then highly recommended that vendors procure a VPAT for any ICT that is intended to be marketed to the U.S. federal government. There is a VPAT template from the Information Technology Industry Council (ITI) website.
How does one get a VPAT?
VPATs are prepared through accessing the current VPAT template from the ITI website. Vendors should generate a VPAT for any ICT. They should also make it easy to find each ICT product’s VPAT on their website, such as by linking it on the product description page. This way it will be much easier for interested buyers and clients to assess the product’s accessibility and compliance to the revised Section 508 Standards. Otherwise, the VPAT is only provided once requested from their sales or support contact.
Keep in mind that VPATs developed before 2017 may be out of date if the product has been updated since then. (Make sure to get the VPAT 2.0 or higher).
The VPAT is highly relevant to anyone who is a provider of ICT or even electronic and information technology (EIT) that can or will be used by federal workers. Since Section 508 mandates that any product or technology used by federal employees must be accessible, it is a good business practice to be Section 508 compliant. Otherwise, providers are losing business opportunities by not being compliant or even by not providing a VPAT that properly outlines the compliance.