Accessibility and inclusion is an on-going battle that needs to be won for persons with disabilities. In the U.S. alone, one in four adults have some sort of disability. In the world, almost 10 percent of the population live with a disability. This means that giving access to these persons is of utmost importance. With the signing of the Americans with Disabilities act 30 years ago in 1990, there was a significant step forward. But as times change and developments to the way we live, so does accessibility. With Information and Communication Technologies (or ICT from here on out) being a driver of consumption, socialization, and more daily activities, there is a clear need for there to be a place for disabled people in this conversation as well. This is where the VPAT and the VPAT template come into place.
Assistive Technology and Accessibility in ICT
Technology is something that people with disabilities heavily rely on. From the development of braille and text telephones, the major shift to digital has made improvements in accessibility by leaps and bounds. With disabilities not only restricted to inherited or in-born ones, a person may find themselves with the need of assistive technology later on in life. This kind of technology falls under three categories:
- Assistive Technology: technology which improves a disabled person’s existing functional capabilities.
- Adaptive Technology: this kind of technology provides mechanisms which allows disabled persons to access technology they otherwise would not be able to.
- Accessible Technology: this kind of technology is broad and helps take down barriers and makes the world more accessible for the disabled.
What is a VPAT?
Aside from technology that has been specifically designed for disabled persons, they have also come to use and rely on technology that has been designed for non-disabled people. The Rehabilitation Act, specifically section 508, has come around to improve this. Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act simply put, wants to ensure that ICT products or services meet their accessibility standards. This is thus why the Voluntary Product Accessibility Template was introduced. This template has been the World Wide Web Consortium’s existing standard for documenting the accessibility of something considered as a “digital property.”
Why is a VPAT Necessary?
“Plenty of organizations want or need any product they use to be accessible to everyone.”
From the consumer’s point of view, the use for a VPAT is quite simple. It is an easy way to distinguish if a product will be accessible to them. The VPAT is particularly important for those who are marketing their product to the federal government. Consumers will be able to answer these questions: Will they be able to use this with ease? Is this a product that they can use in conjunction with existing assistive technology that they already utilize? Additionally, this VPAT will then be able to tell them whether or not your product is more or less accessible than another product with similar offerings.
Benefits of a VPAT For Your Product
“On one hand, the vendor does not want to be too detailed about their product’s deficiencies.” Being truthful about what your product may be lacking is somewhat of a bitter pill that needs to be taken. But this is a necessary step to firstly, completing a VTAP, and as well as improving your product. Being attuned to part of your product that needs fine-tuning to be greenlighted as an “accessible” product, may also be the key to improving it and making it an overall better product — not merely an accessible one. In the experience of deque.com, “the accessibility audit is itself so eye-opening that it almost inevitably leads to a better product.”