The role of a VPAT in your buying of EIT products and services
A voluntary product accessibility template (VPAT) is a document that outlines how information and communication technology (ICT) products and services, including software, hardware, electronic content, and support documentation, adhere to established standards for accessibility of ICT products and services.
A completed VPAT is very important to buyers of ICT products and services, especially contracting officials and procurement officers obliged to only purchase ICT products and services with VPAT security, as is the case with federal government buyers. VPAT security helps them demonstrate compliance with the law and the attendant accessibility standards.
The buyers use the duly completed VPAT statement or report for a particular ICT product or service to assess the product’s or service’s accessibility when doing market research for accessible products and services, as well as during evaluation or bid proposals.
Understanding how a vendor filled out the VPAT
Never buy any ICT product or service until you’ve read and understood the product’s or service’s completed VPAT statement.
To understand the VPAT statement, you need extra care and a detailed review so as to avoid situations where a vendor provides answers that may create legal, reputational, or security risks to your business or organization.
A detailed VPAT review enables you to uncover any red flags that may indicate the VPAT report you have been provided with is not accurate.
What is VPAT detailed review?
A detailed VPAT review involves checking to ensure the VPAT tables are properly filled out. If the product or service meets a requirement, there must be a description of how this is achieved. If a product or service does not meet a requirement or only partially meets a requirement, then this must be described in detail as well.
You also need to be thorough when it comes to the terminology used in the VPAT statement. Note that the standard terminology for a VPAT report should be “supports,” “partially supports,” “does not support,” and “not applicable.” If you find that the VPAT you are reviewing does not use this terminology, then you can rest assured that the author was not an accessibility specialist and the VPAT testing that should have been carried out prior to filling out the VPAT statement could have trust issues.
If, in your detailed study of the VPAT statement, you find all requirements indicated as “Supports,” that should be a red flag of either an inaccurate VPAT report or one filled out without proper VPAT testing of the product or service. That is because it is very unlikely that the product or service is completely accessible.
If you find that the VPAT report mixes up the accessibility documentation for multiple products, then take caution with that product or service. This is because having a single VPAT accessibility conformance report (ACR) for multiple products and services makes tracking the accessibility requirements that are not supported very difficult.
Check carefully how the product or service has been described as well. If you find the product or service not accurately described, it means that the VPAT ACR and the product do not relate. This should indicate to you that any accessibility assessment that was carried out, if at all, was flawed.
Be cautious about a VPAT report that is dated more than twelve months ago. A VPAT ACR that is more than twelve months old will not be adequately representative of the current version of the product or service, unless the product or service has not been updated in the last year, which suggests that accessibility is not a priority to the business.
If the VPAT report does not provide the evaluation methods used to test the accessibility of the product or service, then treat it with suspicion. Section 508 Refresh added the evaluation methods used to the VPAT, which means that any VPAT Section 508 compliance statement without the details of the testing methods used to evaluate the product or service has flaws. The testing methods can tell you whether the author of the ACR has expertise in accessibility as well as whether an accessibility audit was undertaken or not.
Also be wary of ACRs that use only automated testing methods to check the accessibility of a product or service. This is because automated testing tools can only test approximately 30% of accessibility errors. Such VPAT ACRs cannot be relied upon as accurate.
VPAT ACRs that have inaccurate or missing contact information should also be treated with suspicion. Inaccurate or missing contact information often suggests that accessibility is not a priority with the vendor.
What is VPAT compliance for a buyer?
If you are a buyer of an EIT product or service, VPAT compliance means not rushing to make a purchase until you have ascertained that the product or service you want to buy has the desired level of VPAT security. Only proceed with a purchase after fully understanding a vendor’s VPAT statement. Deciphering a VPAT report can be difficult for buyers who lack knowledge about accessibility, which is why we’re here to help. You can give us a call at your convenience at (626) 486-2201 to schedule a consultation. Our consultations are always free!