Voluntary Product Accessibility Template (VPAT)
What is this resource about? This resource provides a description of the Voluntary Product Accessibility Template (VPAT) and its major components. A VPAT is a document prepared by vendors that describes the extent to which a particular product is accessible. The relevance of VPATs for postsecondary institutions is discussed and why it is important for postsecondary institutions to verify that each VPAT is up to date and provides an accurate description of its product's accessibility. Resources are also provided.
Why is this important for higher education? Postsecondary institutions are required to comply with two federal disability civil rights statutes: Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Accessibility is legally mandated and is also a foundational component of UDL to create educational environments responsive to the widest possible range of learners.
Provide multiple means of engagement: When students do not face barriers to accessing materials their engagement increases.
Provide multiple means of action and expression: Allow use of multiple tools and modes for all students to communicate their knowledge.
Provide multiple means of representation: When planning a UDL curriculum faculty and staff need to ensure that technology and materials are accessible to all students.
Postsecondary institutions are required to comply with two federal disability civil rights statutes—namely, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Under these statutes, postsecondary institutions must provide qualified students with disabilities with equally effective educational benefits and equal educational opportunities. In addition, Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act requires federal departments and agencies to ensure that their electronic and information technology (E&IT)—both hardware and software—is accessible to individuals with disabilities.
The Voluntary Product Accessibility Template (VPAT) was created as a part of the Section 508 initiative to assist both vendors and consumers in identifying the ways in which hardware and software products conform to Section 508 accessibility standards. The VPAT provides a standard format for vendors to use in reporting on the accessibility of their products. It has been approved by the Government Services Administration and is available online. In general, university staff and faculty as well as the vendors with whom they contract are not aware of this document.
In the past few years, there has been an increase in the number of complaints filed with the U.S. departments of Education and Justice as well as additional legal challenges brought by the National Federation for the Blind (NFB) and other disability advocacy organizations. As a result, it has become even more important for institutions to make their E&IT resources and services accessible. For a discussion of these legal challenges, see Legal Obligations for Accessibility.
The selection of products that have a clear and accurate VPAT documenting their conformance to Section 508 accessibility guidelines provides some assurance of their usability by the widest possible range of individuals. Therefore, a VPAT can assist university staff and faculty in making a preliminary assessment of whether products and services purchased or being considered for purchase have features that support accessibility. While no E&IT (hardware or software) product or service will be 100% accessible, understanding accessibility issues will help ensure enhanced access and participation for individuals with disabilities.
Description of a VPAT
A VPAT consists of eight sections, each designed to ensure that hardware and software products are usable by individuals with disabilities regardless of their ability to see, hear, manipulate a mouse or keyboard, or perform other tasks associated with the use of E&IT. A vendor fills out the sections of the template that are relevant to their product. The VPAT sections are as follows:
- Section 1194.21 Software Applications and Operating Systems
- Section 1194.22 Web-Based Internet Information and Applications
- Section 1194.23 Telecommunications Products
- Section 1194.24 Video and Multimedia Products
- Section 1194.25 Self-Contained, Closed Products
- Section 1194.26 Desktop and Portable Computers
- Section 1194.31 Functional Performance Criteria
- Section 1194.41 Information, Documentation, and Support
Completing a VPAT
Within each of the templates sections, there are criteria that must be met by the product or service in order for it to be considered Section 508 compliant. Once these criteria are checked (tested), the vendor rates the products support of each criterion, choosing from among the following supporting features categories:
- Supports with Exceptions
- Supports through Equivalent Facilitation
- Does Not Support
- Not Applicable
An additional information section asks for remarks or explanations as to why the specific criterion was rated in the manner indicated (supports, supports with exceptions, etc.). In completing this part of the VPAT, a vendor should also detail exactly which feature is or is not supported.
Because not all sections will apply to all products or services, a VPAT review should focus on a product's or a service's characteristics, features, and uses while keeping the needs of students with disabilities and those of the institution in mind.
The following presents an example of VPAT® Section 1194.22 (Web-based Internet information and applications) with sample criteria:
Section 1194.22 Web-based Internet information and applications
(a) A text equivalent for every non-text element shall be provided (e.g., via alt, longdesc, or in element content).
Remarks and Explanations
The product is designed to provide text equivalence for all images, using the alt attribute.
(b) Equivalent alternatives for any multimedia presentation shall be synchronized with the presentation
Supports with exceptions
Remarks and Explanations
The product does not provide embedded multimedia presentations. Users provide their own content, which may include multimedia presentations.
For a comprehensive review of VPATs for technologies typically used in K–12 online education, see this resource from the Center on Online Learning and Students with Disabilities.
Why a VPAT is important
As noted above in the Relevance section, legal challenges related to accessibility have been increasing. Therefore, establishing policies and procedures to be followed by all members of an institution will help to document due diligence in ensuring that students with disabilities have access to equally effective benefits. Accessibility is also a foundational component of Universal Design for Learning (UDL), an approach to creating educational environments responsive to the widest possible range of learners.
Understanding and creating an accurate VPAT can be a complex process unfamiliar to many vendors. Knowledgeable staff at a postsecondary institution can work with vendors to support them through the process. Thus, while vendors can bring questions to an institution's technical team, to its office of disability services, and/or to those purchasing hardware and software, the awareness and expertise that an institution develops can help guide the creation of more accessible products.
It is important to ensure that a product's or service's VPAT is accurate, both for the institution and for the vendor. There may be instances where inaccurate information will be provided inadvertently, and vendors should be informed quickly if this is the case.
Once a VPAT's information has been verified, if areas in which the product or service may not meet accessibility requirements are identified, an institution can work with the vendor to ensure that a plan is in place to fix the deficiency. The vendor should be contractually required to correct any deficiencies within a stipulated time period.
New product versions or releases, changes, or upgrades should require the submission of an updated VPAT in order to document the product's current accessibility feature set.
This resource has addressed the following:
- What a VPAT is and why is it important
- How to work with vendors to ensure accessibility of products and services
- Why it is important to work closely with faculty and staff that are in charge of purchasing to ensure that VPATs are being collected and their information verified
The Voluntary Product Accessibility Template (VPAT) is a tool that vendors can use to describe the ways in which their hardware and software products meet accessibility standards.
Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 is a disability civil rights law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in programs and activities that receive federal funding.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a wide-ranging civil rights law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in a variety of contexts, including public and private colleges and universities.
UDL is an educational approach based on the learning sciences with three primary principles—multiple means of representation of information, multiple means of student action and expression, and multiple means of student engagement.
Section 508 is a part of the Rehabilitation Act that requires all federal agencies to make their electronic and information technology accessible to individuals with disabilities.
Assessment is the process of gathering information about a learner’s performance using a variety of methods and materials in order to determine learners’ knowledge, skills, and motivation for the purpose of making informed educational decisions.
Video is the recording, reproducing, or broadcasting of moving visual images.
Multimedia refers to the combination of several media (e.g., text, graphics, audio clips, video) to represent content concepts.