VPAT 202: Frequently Asked Questions

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Process, Tech
Taoti has completed countless compliance reports in a VPAT format - take a look at some of the questions / hurdles we've come across over the years.

So you’ve done your homework and you’re ready to sit down and start dropping data into your VPAT (Voluntary Product Accessibility Template), now what? As a firm that has completed countless compliance reports in a VPAT format, take a look at some of the questions/hurdles we’ve come across over the years.

WCAG, 508, VPAT, oh my! As a beginner to accessibility, where do I even begin?

The answer here is pretty simple – perform an audit! Whether you do your accessibility compliance audit in-house or get help from a third party, you need to begin with a thorough review of your site/software and figure out where the pain points are. Going line by line in the VPAT document reviewing criteria, auditing your site based on that individual criteria, filling in data in the VPAT, and repeating until completion will cause you a lot of repeated work/heartburn. Get the thorough audit done, then come back and fill in your VPAT. 

I’ve heard of VPAT but I’ve also heard of an Accessibility Conformance Report – how are they different?

This is just a classic case of potato, potawto really. In short, a VPAT is just a blank template with the scaffolding to drop the necessary data in around the VPAT structure. An Accessibility Conformance Report (or Product Accessibility Conformance Report) is simply the filled in VPAT template – an output of the data you’ve put into the VPAT that is specific to your product with any section that doesn’t necessarily apply removed from the document (i.e.,. European standards removed if your organization only operates in/otherwise serves the U.S.).

Alright, VPAT done! Now what?

There’s no silver bullet here – although the VPAT is a necessary and important first step, it is only one piece of the equation. In order to make use of the results from the VPAT, your organization should develop a roadmap to remediation to bring your site into compliance. The important points of this plan include:

  • Itemized issues that require attention
  • Time-boxing the remediation period
  • Release plan / schedule (all at once vs. phased approach, etc.)

The roadmap part scares me…how do I make a plan when there’s so much we can potentially do?

Take it slow – although the pressure can sometimes be mounting quickly during accessible builds, it’s more important to plan and deploy a strategy that makes sense than it is to do a fast scramble to fix everything just for compliance’s sake. At the end of the day, accessibility bugs are just bugs – although identifying them requires experience and knowledge, bug squashing is generally pretty straightforward for 80% of the issues. Most importantly, be honest with your client and educate them – for most, this type of work is uncharted territory. I start each engagement out with a mini-training exercise – walking them through what WCAG is, why it’s a thing, where it needs to be considered, and then circling back to talk realistically about your goals /plan of attack will help set you up for success in this effort and do you a lot of favors for client trust.

Alright VPAT and roadmap to remediation plan complete, do I just file it away in a folder and hope I never have to look at it again until I have to do another?

Heck no – in most cases, we typically recommend that this document, along with the roadmap and any other supplemental material be posted on the public-facing site itself. A great place for it would be somewhere in the accessibility statement page or a more general compliance/policy/terms of use landing page. 

Does my VPAT need to have passing grades for all success criteria in order to be posted publicly or shared with my client?

Nope – common misconception. The VPAT / Accessibility Conformance Report does not and often will not be perfect before being ready for publishing. The report is used as a metric of where you and where you’re heading, and not necessarily a way to boast to the world that you’re 100% 508/WCAG 2.0AA compliant (although that’s certainly great if you are, it’s not necessary).

Wait a second…this VPAT is basically a roadmap for someone to come and find my product’s weaknesses and then take me to court over them…why would I publicize this document if some areas are not completely accessible?

IMPORTANT: I am not a lawyer. The following is Taoti’s accessibility team’s expert opinion, which should not be considered legal advice of any kind and cannot be considered in a court of law.

Again, I am not a lawyer, but I’ll say this: If you are currently in the process of remediating your site, have general usability issues solved or actively in flight, have a VPAT completed, and most importantly, have a roadmap for remediation planned out thoroughly (and publicly available), you would have all the tools you need to present an extremely solid case if you are accused of violation of the ADA.