VPAT - What is it? Do you need one? How do you get one?

Published on June 14, 2023


VPATs are document outlining accessibility of a site or product at a point in time.

Many organizations approach me asking about how they can get a VPAT. I’ve been finding that most organizations don’t fully understand what a VPAT actually is or how it’s used. And that getting a VPAT for the sake of getting a VPAT is an expensive exercise that’s rather fruitless.

A person holding pencil near laptop computer.
Photo by Scott Graham on Unsplash

VPAT - The heck is it anyway?

Basically a VPAT document outlines the accessibility health and conformance of your website or application. VPAT stands for “Voluntary Product Accessibility Template”. It is a document that outlines accessibility success criteria, and how your site or application meets these criteria. You can download the blank VPAT forms from the ITI. A VPAT can be completed against several standards, such as WCAG, US s508, or EU 301 549. There are 4 different status that can be used:

  • Supports
  • Partially support
  • Does not support
  • Not applicable.

VPAT - Why would you need one?

Many of your clients or potential clients have legal requirements to be accessible. When they search for a vendor, they will use a VPAT as one of the procurement documents to assess which vendor they will hire.

This document can also be used if your client gets in legal trouble. They can hold up the VPAT and say “we did due diligence, our vendor said they were accessible, and this is the document they provided”. The quality of the VPAT will often greatly influence how liable your company is in a case like this.

Who creates the VPAT?

An organization can complete their own VPAT. But typically an organization will hire a reputable accessibility firm or experts because they lack the knowledge to do it internally.

Because too many VPAT documents have been filled out improperly, potential clients prefer a VPAT prepared by an outside firm.

VPAT - Clean or dirty?

Accessibility pros often talk about a “clean” VPAT. When we say “Clean VPAT”, we mean a VPAT that has no, or few, items at “Does not support” or “Partially supports”. A “Clean VPAT” is a reflection that your website or application conforms to the standard, and by extension, that the website or application will be usable by disabled end-users.

A VPAT for the sake of a VPAT typically leads to bad outcomes for your organization.

Sometimes being able to produce a VPAT that represents poor accessibility (Lots of “Does no support” and “Partially supports”) is enough because your client just wants to have the document in their procurement file. Sometimes it can come and bite you in the behind when you least expect it, maybe years after you started providing your product to clients.

How do you “clean” a VPAT then?

You (or a consultant) need(s) to do an audit before being able to fill out a VPAT. It can be done with a high level audit with notations of pass/fails. The outcome of this exercise is likely to be a bad VPAT if you haven’t specifically done accessibility work during design, development, and QA work of your product.

If accessibility isn't part of your processes, chances are your product won't be accessible! And your VPAT won't be clean…

In order to get a clean VPAT, you need to get an in-depth audit completed. Then your teams need to remediate all the items identified during this in-depth audit. Then the auditor needs to validate the remediation. And THEN they can complete the VPAT.

You are more likely to get a clean VPAT when the accessibility issues have all been fixed.

The role of team training in the VPAT process

Must you get your teams trained on accessibility to get a VPAT? No, the audit/VPAT process can be done entirely by a consultant or accessibility firm.

I always like to offer training to my clients. The concept of “teach you to fish rather than give you a fish” is powerful. Trained teams will make fewer mistakes when building new features. Trained teams will be faster fixing accessibility defects found during auditing.

If you need a VPAT

I’ll be happy to help if you or your organization need a VPAT. I do this kind of work a lot, and have been doing it for a long time! Do book a quick call with me and let’s discuss your needs.