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VPAT 2 Essentials for Conformance Reporting

taught by: Mary Jo Mueller

Session Summary:

Worldwide accessibility standards have been on the move with new ICT requirements and government procurement regulations. This session provides some background in the origins of ICT accessibility conformance reporting and presents the thinking and rational about the VPAT, the latest iteration in accessibility conformance reporting for the US Revised 508, WCAG 2.0 and European EN 301 549 standards. You’ll also learn the latest developments and changes published in 2019, as well as a preview of what’s to come. The target audience is anyone that creates and consumes these reports.

Description:

An often misused term, “VPAT” spelled out is ‚”Voluntary Product Accessibility Template.” It represents the proper format for a manufacturer to report their product’s conformance to an ICT-related accessibility standard. Over the years it has become synonymous with a completed Section 508 product conformance report, and requested as in ‚”Can I have your VPAT?” In addition, a common misunderstanding is the meaning of “voluntary” this context. It’s voluntary for a manufacturer to create one because it’s not required by law or regulation. However, it is a customer requirement to meet the standard, and for them, the report is not voluntary - the manufacturer must do the evaluation and provide the report as a precursor to doing business.

The VPAT has its origins in addressing a procurement need for the US Federal Government to comply with the 1998 Section 508 amendment to the US Rehabilitation Act and a new ICT standard developed by the US Access Board, that we all commonly refer to as Section 508. A group of folks from the Federal Government and ICT companies, through the Information Technology Industry Council (ITI), developed the VPAT for providing market information to US Government procurers. The ITI became the owner and maintains the template to this day, including use of a service mark for the name and the acronym to be used in a manufacturer’s conformance report. Over time it has become the universally accepted way for documenting a products conformance to an ICT accessibility standard and now used by anyone interested in this information before making a purchase.

As a result of requests for change from consumers of the report, and the advent of the Revised Section 508 standard and European EN301549 Standard, an ITI project to revise the VPAT was born—now referred to as VPAT 2. The project began in early 2013 and the latest version was published in February 2019. Again, the latest version incorporates updated standards - WCAG 2.1 and the V2.1.2 of the EN 301549 as well as additional user feedback. We aim to make this the preferred tool for reporting product conformances to accessibility standards worldwide.

So, what changed? Perhaps the most obvious change is in the contents of the template now include support for three different standards ‚ the Revised Section 508, EN301549 and WCAG 2.0. The first two have grown substantially in the quantity of requirements and now more directly include WCAG 2.0 and 2.1. This combination now provides the ability for a manufacturer to report accessibility conformance in a universally accepted format to one, two or all three standards in one report. The primary reasons for this change are to 1) provide a consistent approach for reporting against various standards and 2) help lower costs for manufacturers.

The second change to highlight is in establishing essential requirements for manufacturers and report authors. If someone does not follow the essential requirements then they should not call the report a VPAT, use the VPAT® service mark or reference the Voluntary Product Accessibility Template by name. The report might still be considered or treated as an accessibility conformance report without the VPAT designation, but the buyer should beware. The reason for this change is to drive consistency and quality in order to aid customers in comparing and choosing the best accessible ICT products for their needs.

A third change to highlight is in the inclusion of more pertinent information about the product and the self-assessment at the top of the report. This now includes:

  • Product version
  • Product description
  • Contact information
  • Notes to explain any other details
  • Evaluation methods used The reason for these additions is to directly address feedback we received from consumers of these reports.

The last change to highlight is in providing more detailed instructions and best practices. While this information is included in the template, it is not intended to remain as part of the completed evaluation. The new instructions and best practices are there to aid manufacturers and report authors in completing the template based on their self-evaluation, and to address past problems and concerns with the level and quality of information provided in the resulting report.

So, what does VPAT 2.0 not do?

  • Is not prescriptive in look and document type. As long as it meets the essential requirements stipulated in format and content, it can be a manufacturer’s own document and be provided in any file format that meets the customers’ needs.
  • Does not cover test methods or test tools.
  • Does not guarantee proper or accurate results reported.

This session will also talk about how to provide feedback and where to find the latest VPAT for reporting product conformance.

With the advent of newer and more robust standards for ICT accessibility, it was our purpose and is our hope that the new VPAT 2.0 format and instructions will promote better and more accessible ICT products in the market place.

Practical Skills:

Learn the essential requirements and rationale behind the format and the contents of the VPAT 2 conformance reporting template from someone who contributed to its development.