The Shocking Reality of the Section 508 VPAT

5 min read

What is the Section 508 VPAT?


The Section 508 VPAT is a voluntary product accessibility template that evaluates how accessible a particular information and communication technology (ICT) product or service is according to the Section 508 Standards.


The template is a self-disclosing document produced by VPAT vendors who seek to have their ICT products or services procurable by the U.S. federal government, its departments, and its agencies, as well as the organizations that receive funding from the federal government. It details each aspect of the Section 508 compliance requirements and how a given product or service supports each of the provided accessibility criteria.


The Shocking Reality of the Section 508 VPAT


Realities of the VPAT 508

The VPAT 508 has very interesting realities that shock anyone who encounters them or is made aware of them. The facts are as follows:


  • It was the first tool for reporting accessibility issues

Section 508 compliance VPAT is the pioneer edition of the VPAT template. It was mooted by the Information Technology Industry Council (ITI) to deepen accessibility about two years after Congress amended Section 508 of the U.S. Rehabilitation Act to require all federal agencies to create, buy, maintain, and use ICT that is accessible to people with disabilities, regardless of whether they work for the federal government or not.


ITI collaborated with the General Services Administration to develop the VPAT 508, which, though voluntary, has become a common factor for companies wishing to do business with federal organizations as well as those that are funded by the federal government.


  • Widely regarded as best practice in deepening accessibility

Whereas some ICT vendors and manufacturers initially viewed the VPAT 508 as a burden, the businesses that embraced it leapfrogged their peers in terms of business growth and penetration into the disability market.


The success of Section 508 compliance certification in driving ICT businesses toward refining their products and services to integrate accessibility made the European Union and other global public authorities embrace VPAT certification.

  • No VPAT 508, no federal contract

When the federal government embraced the Section 508 compliance VPAT as a tool to help their procurement officials undertake effective market research for accessible ICT products and services to procure, some businesses viewed the tool as optional.


They were shocked that though the template’s name indicated that it was voluntary, it wasn’t after all. That is because no business could succeed in placing bids to supply ICT products or services without the Section 508 compliance certification. This shocking reality still persists to date, with the underlying accessibility requirements becoming tighter and tighter.


  • No waivers

The Section 508 VPAT anchors the accessibility requirements provided in Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act. Given that Section 508 does not provide for waivers, the VPAT 508 will not provide you with any.


The reprieve that you might get with the Section 508 VPAT is that there are some exceptions provided with the Section 508 law that the federal agencies and departments may claim based on how the product or service they procure will be used. These exceptions, however, cannot be claimed by the ICT industry.


  • WCAG 2.0 requirements are used instead of WCAG 2.1 requirements

While the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1 was unveiled as an extension of the WCAG 2.0, the VPAT 508 continues to have the WCAG 2.0 technical specifications and accessibility criteria as part of its components instead of upgrading to the updated WCAG 2.1.


While WCAG 2.1 is not a replacement for WCAG 2.0, it has additional success criteria to cater to the needs of different user groups. In fact, it brings in 17 new success criteria spread across all three-conformance levels.


  • Helps to ward off ADA lawsuits

While Section 508 compliance certification aids in deepening accessibility via the commercial pathway and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) via the legal pathway, commercial entities seeking to be ADA compliant frequently use the VPAT 508.Undertaking 508-compliance certification helps businesses achieve ADA compliance.


Despite these shocking realities about the Section 508 VPAT, it is what is rocking the ICT space in the United States. Businesses are increasingly relying on it to improve the quality of their products and services so as to have wider and deeper market penetration. Businesses that have embraced the VPAT 508 are reporting phenomenal growth and profits due to their products and services being purchased by people in the disability market.


Need help with Section 508 compliance certification?


Call Our VPAT 508 Consultant Today to learn more about how we can assist you with Section 508 compliance certification, including sharing with you our Section 508 VPAT example. Our VPAT consultations are always absolutely free. 

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