What’s a VPAT & Why Your Vendors Should Have One

By: Verbit Editorial

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While Verbit’s team works daily with professionals at companies, universities and government agencies to help them provide greater access and inclusion to their communities, we’re also on our own accessibility journey. As part of our effort to improve access to our site, products and solutions, we’ve been documenting and identifying the areas that need attention.

We also believe that it’s vital for partners and vendors today to be transparent about their accessibility practices. A Voluntary Product Accessibility Template (VPAT) can help you understand how your partners are approaching accessibility.

We’re pleased to share that Verbit completed VPATs for the Verbit portal, the AST portal (acquired by Verbit) and the widely used Verbit Smart Player. Our current VPATs demonstrate our progress toward meeting the standards of WCAG2.1 AA.

“I am proud to be part of a team that puts accessibility at the forefront of our product development process. We believe that making our platform accessible to everyone is not only the right thing to do, but also leads to better user experiences for all. We look forward to continuing to build on this foundation and delivering exceptional transcription and captioning services to our users,” said Adi Reiss, Director of Product Management, Customer Experience at Verbit. 

For our own VPAT, Verbit worked with the respected professional accessibility service provider TPGi. Here is some useful information about what a VPAT is and why it’s important to review this document any time you consider working with a new vendor. 

What is the role of VPAT in accessibility? 

The information in a VPAT is useful for vetting a company’s accessibility standards. Companies and other entities that face strict legal accessibility requirements can look to VPATs to feel confident that they’re not hiring a vendor that puts their compliance at risk.  

A VPAT is a document that explains how well an information and communications technology (ICT) provider meets current accessibility standards. In the US, such considerations are especially important for government agencies, or any other organizations covered by Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973

Section 508 includes an amendment that creates online accessibility requirements for government entities. Vendors that serve government agencies also need to pay attention to VPATs. These companies must demonstrate that their ICT meets the requisite standards to qualify for government contracts. In addition, many non-government organizations, including educational institutions, require VPATs from their vendors as part of their procurement processes. 

The requirements in Section 508 rely on the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). The WCAG is an international, highly respected set of standards that many countries incorporate into their own accessibility laws. There are several levels and versions of WCAG.  

The Biden Administration stated a commitment to meeting WCAG 2.1 AA standards. That statement presents a step up from the requirements of Section 508, which included WCAG version 2.0. There are additional standards at the AAA level, and future versions of WCAG will include additional expectations. However, today, meeting WCAG 2.1 AA puts an agency or business in good standing.  

In the US, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which applies to private businesses, doesn’t include online accessibility requirements. This exclusion doesn’t mean that courts won’t find private companies in violation of that law for inaccessible online content. 

Also, VPATs will work for the European accessibility standards in EN 301 549. VPAT information is, therefore, useful for companies that operate internationally.  

Why to vet partners and vendors by viewing a VPAT 

Accessibility is complex. There are many considerations related to online access, including color contrast for people with colorblindness, captions for audience members who are Deaf or hard of hearing, screen reader compatibility for people who are blind and much more.  

A VPAT takes all this information and consolidates it into one place to give an understanding of overall accessibility. Without this standard format, it would be possible for ICT vendors to highlight only the areas that they are doing well while downplaying the issues they’ve overlooked. A VPAT puts the information out into the open so it’s clear and easy to compare. 

VPATs are particularly useful when government agencies are involved in a contract. If, for instance, the company is responding to a request for proposal (RFP) or another form of solicitation, a VPAT can address the related accessibility requirements. With an up-to-date VPAT, it’s possible to check whether an ICT vendor’s deliverables will be accessible.  

Ultimately, a VPAT is a good way to decide whether a company is trustworthy and proactive about its accessibility practices. Additionally, when a company is proactive about access, it’s likely making its products and services more accessible for everyone. One of the positive outcomes of investing in accessibility is better, more user-friendly experiences for all. 

Keep in mind that accessibility work is never ‘done’ 

While Verbit completed these VPATs, we’re continuing to look for ways to improve our accessibility and inclusivity offerings and practices. At the same time, we’re working to provide solutions that help businesses and other organizations improve access to their offerings. When it comes to accessibility, there will always be more steps to take. New technology will continue to create novel accessibility barriers. At the same time, the development of innovative solutions will help to make old and new technologies more accessible. As a result, the accessibility landscape is always changing, but our team is dedicated to keeping up with it. 

For more information about Verbit’s VPATs and accessibility standards, reach out today.