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What’s New in the VPAT 2.5 and Why It Matters

  • 7 December, 2023
  • Reading Time: 6 mins

Ensuring accessibility in technology isn’t simply an added feature; it’s a necessity that dictates equal opportunities for all individuals. The impact of technology spans various facets of our lives, yet its true effect is realized only when it’s accessible to everyone, regardless of their abilities or disabilities.

In striving for inclusivity, the significance of accessibility reports, such as Voluntary Product Accessibility Templates (VPATs), cannot be overstated. These reports serve as comprehensive guides, detailing the level of accessibility a product or service offers for individuals with diverse needs. They highlight areas of compliance and provide insights into how well a product caters to various disabilities, paving the way for informed decisions in selecting inclusive tools.

These accessibility reports aren’t just a matter of meeting standards; it’s about fostering an environment where every user can fully participate. As technology advances, so do the standards for inclusivity. The evolution of guidelines like the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) reflects the commitment to accommodating the diverse requirements of individuals with disabilities within the changing technological environment.

In this blog, we’ll delve deeper into the significance of VPATs, unpack the key enhancements the new version 2.5  brings, and discuss why its advancements matter in creating a more inclusive learning environment for all.

Image of a woman working on a laptop.

 

What are VPATs?

The Voluntary Product Accessibility Template (VPAT) is a pivotal tool in evaluating the accessibility of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) products such as software, hardware, applications, and digital platforms. Developed by the Information Technology Industry Council (ITI), VPATs provide a standardized reporting format that assesses how well a technology product conforms to accessibility standards and guidelines.

At its core, a VPAT offers a structured way for vendors to communicate the level of accessibility their products offer. This reporting format outlines how a product aligns with various accessibility criteria, such as the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) and other recognized standards. It categorizes product features and functionalities, indicating areas of compliance and non-compliance with accessibility requirements.

Building upon its predecessors, VPAT version 2.5 released in September 2023 continues its legacy as a standardized reporting format while introducing crucial refinements that enhance the evaluation process.

 

What’s New in Version 2.5?

The new version 2.5 aims to provide a more comprehensive assessment while refining the reporting structure, offering stakeholders a deeper understanding of product accessibility.

It brings forth several notable enhancements across different editions, aimed at refining the evaluation and reporting of accessibility compliance. To ensure consistency and clarity, updates have been implemented across all editions, marking the revision in the header as 2.5. A crucial change involves making the definition language uniform for the term “Not Evaluated,” refining its usage in the assessments.

Within the WCAG Edition and INT Edition, significant strides have been made to align with evolving standards. The update includes comprehensive support for WCAG 2.2, involving adjustments in instructions, applicable standards/guidelines tables, and the incorporation of nine new criteria into the WCAG tables. Additionally, there’s a notable mention of the removal of 4.1.1 Parsing for WCAG 2.2, marking it as obsolete. Interestingly, it has been indicated that 4.1.1 Parsing automatically “Supports” for WCAG 2.0 and 2.1, streamlining the assessment process for these criteria.

The EU Edition has undergone specific updates aimed at enhancing completeness. This version now incorporates previously missing criteria in Table 3: Success Criteria, Level AAA, including 3.1.5, 3.1.6, 3.2.5, 3.3.5, and 3.3.6. Furthermore, the update rectifies a typo in the instructions, ensuring greater accuracy in the assessment process.

Dedicated to 508 compliance, the edition highlights the automatic “Supports” status for 4.1.1 Parsing concerning WCAG 2.0, reflecting the alignment with these guidelines.

Overall, the release of VPAT 2.5 templates is a concerted effort to adapt to evolving accessibility standards and enhance the assessment process across different editions. These updates aim to offer more comprehensive and accurate evaluations while ensuring alignment with the latest guidelines and criteria.

 

What Are the Editions of VPAT 2.5?

The VPAT version 2.5 offers four distinct editions that enable ICT manufacturers and vendors to create Accessibility Conformance Reports (ACR) catering to specific market standards and contractual requirements. Each edition focuses on different accessibility standards, aligning with specific regions or compliance frameworks:

  • VPAT 2.5 508 Edition: This edition centers around the revised Section 508 standards, serving as the U.S. Federal accessibility standard. Section 508 sets guidelines for ICT accessibility in the United States, outlining requirements for federal agencies to procure accessible technology that accommodates individuals with disabilities.
  • VPAT 2.5 EU Edition: Designed in adherence to EN 301 549, the European Union’s Accessibility requirements suitable for ICT products and services in Europe, this edition caters to accessibility criteria specific to the EU market. It assists ICT vendors in meeting the procurement requirements laid out by EU member states concerning the accessibility of ICT products and services.
  • VPAT 2.5 WCAG Edition: Focused on the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), this edition incorporates different versions of WCAG based on specific standards. It includes WCAG 2.2 or ISO/IEC 40500 (equivalent to WCAG 2.0), WCAG 2.1, and WCAG 2.2, covering the most recently updated W3C/WAI guidelines. WCAG serves as an international standard, outlining best practices for web accessibility.
  • VPAT 2.5 INT Edition: As an inclusive edition, VPAT 2.5 INT incorporates all three above-mentioned standards: 508, EU, and WCAG. This comprehensive edition is designed to accommodate varying compliance requirements across different markets and regions, offering a holistic view of product accessibility based on multiple accessibility standards.

Each edition of VPAT 2.5 comprises essential components such as instructions, a product description field, evaluation methods used, and notes for comprehensive reporting. These elements ensure consistency, uniformity, and thoroughness in reporting accessibility features and conformance to standards, facilitating better decision-making for buyers.

Impact of the Update on Developers and Users

The new update brings benefits for manufacturers, vendors, and end-users as these advancements will improve the assessment and reporting of ICT products and services. For ICT manufacturers and vendors, VPAT Version 2.5 offers a streamlined and standardized reporting format that enables the creation of Accessibility Conformance Reports tailored to specific market standards and contractual requirements. With four distinct editions focusing on standards like Section 508 (U.S.), EN 301 549 (EU), and WCAG 2.2 (W3C/WAI’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines), manufacturers can accurately showcase the accessibility features of their products, catering to diverse global markets.

The structured reporting format within VPAT 2.5, featuring columns for detailed conformance assessment and explanation, fosters clearer and more comprehensive reporting. This empowers vendors to transparently demonstrate their products’ adherence to accessibility standards, aiding buyers in making informed decisions that prioritize inclusivity.

Simultaneously, it also benefits end-users by promoting the availability of products and services with enhanced accessibility features. Standardized reporting enables purchasers to confidently identify technology solutions that align with diverse accessibility requirements. This leads to the procurement of products that cater to a wide range of needs, ensuring a more inclusive environment for all.

This report does not focus on only compliance but it also acknowledges the nuances of accessibility, recognizing that even products that may not fully conform to technical requirements could still offer meaningful accessibility to certain users. It highlights the importance of usability and functionality for individuals with varying disabilities, promoting the understanding that accessibility goes beyond technical conformance.

Whether you’re a software developer, technology vendor, service provider, or institution seeking guidance on enhancing accessibility in your products or services, we’re here to help. Reach out to us today so we can support you in your accessibility journey.

WRITTEN BY

Tarveen Kaur

Tarveen Kaur has over 15 years of experience. She is actively engaged in building new-age digital accessibility solutions for education.

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