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VPATs: A “Starting Point for Determining the Accessibility of a Product”

VPAT, a commonly used term in accessibility, stands for “Voluntary Product Accessibility Template.” An article in the Spring 2023 issue of the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) publication, AccessWorld, explains how VPATs can be “a starting point for determining the accessibility of a product.” In evaluating a vendor or product, one of the requirements that must be met is its accessibility for users of assistive technology. This template helps to determine whether a product is accessible and is generally provided as proof of accessibility by the developer. It has been used as part of Section 508 Standards of the Rehabilitation Act regarding the requirement that vendors and products contracting with the U.S. government meet certain accessibility standards, with VPAT documenting how well the product conforms to those requirements. VPATs are mostly used for software, like computer applications, websites, and mobile apps. While generally not offered to the public, potential users can request them. Since 2017, this template has been based on Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), which are maintained by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), with input of accessibility experts worldwide. VPAT contains a list of WCAG criteria for success and “allows authors to document whether their product meets each of the success criteria.” Because VPATs are voluntary, and can be written by anyone, “they should not be used as proof of the product being accessible.” They can be helpful as a first step in determining accessibility. For anyone receiving a VPAT from a vendor, it is important to check when it was created. If more than a year ago, ask the date of the last major code update, since the VPAT may no longer be accurate if more recent product changes have occurred. In reading a VPAT, if the vendor is honest, it will include what WCAG success criteria are met fully, partially, not at all, or if the specific criterion is not applicable or has not been evaluated. Criteria include such features as non-text content, audio-only, and video-only. If they are marked as “partially supports” or “does not support,” that does not mean the product is inaccessible. Most products are not 100 percent accessible. If these ratings are included, it’s advisable to check with the vendor why they are marked that way and when issues will be corrected. For more details, read the article featuring “A Novice’s Guide to VPATs.”