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What is a VPAT?
In purchasing EIT (Electronic and Information Technology), the university assesses how a product or service conforms to Section 508 Accessibility Standards. The VPAT (Voluntary Product Accessibility Template), is the current tool the university uses to communicate with vendors about accessibility.
The VPAT is completed by the vendor to assist in the procurement process and can vary in format. It is used to outline a product’s conformance with an accessibility standard–WCAG 2.0, for example. The VPAT might say that the product conforms to WCAG 2.0 standard 1.1 “Text Equivalent (Level A)” requiring that “images, audio, video, animations, mathematical formulas and other non-text content that convey information must have equivalent alternative text...”
It is the responsibility of the individual/department purchasing the EIT to request a VPAT from the vendor when buying a product.
What is VPAT used for?
The University of Cincinnati relies on vendors to complete a VPAT for transparent communication of EIT accessibility. Since this data relies on self-reported findings supplied by the vendor, VPATs have to be interpreted by the purchaser. The vendor may lack the technical expertise to accurately assess a products’ accessibility or the significance of an accessibility barrier may be trivialized. It is recommended that the purchaser always read through and verify the VPAT, and in some cases, consult with an accessibility expert from the Accessibility Network.
Are all VPATs the same?
Each vendor is likely to approach the VPAT a little differently. Their responses can vary in standards (e.g., Section 508, WCAG 2.0 A, WCAG 2.0 AA, WCAG 2.0 AAA, or EN 301 549), conformance level (e.g., supports, supports with exceptions, does not support, not applicable, not evaluated), and depth of explanation.
The University of Cincinnati requires all EIT to be evaluated using the WCAG 2.0 AA standard. When purchasing a product, it is important to keep this standard in mind when evaluating a vendor supplied VPAT to maintain consistency. If you need assistance with interpreting your VPAT, feel free to ask a team member from the Accessibility Network.
What do I do first?
It all starts with a conversation with your software vendor. Don’t be afraid to ask your vendor about their position on accessibility.
Great questions to get started are:
- Do you have a current VPAT for this EIT?
- By what standard are you assessing your EIT?
- Do you know of any components of your EIT that are not currently accessible? If yes, is there a plan to improve them and when?
- Can we contact a member of your team who handles accessibility to answer questions about your EIT and VPAT?
- Are you willing to assert accessibility as a functional component of your EIT in your terms of service with us?
You can always find help from an accessibility expert in the Accessibility Network.
Written for the Accessibility Network by an Accessibility Resources Assistive Technology Specialist.