VPAT 2.5: 2024 WCAG 508 ADA Compliance Reporting
I’m often asked about WCAG or 508 or ADA compliance certification. Fact is, there isn’t an official body that provides web accessibility certification. But what we do have is the Volunteer Product Accessibility Template - the VPAT and its subsequent Accessibility Conformance Report (ACR). And the VPAT was recently updated to version VPAT 2.5, so let’s dive into everything you need to know about VPATs and the current VPAT version 2.5 for 2024.
What is A VPAT and what is the Current VPAT Version?
A VPAT is a key tool for evaluating the level of accessibility of a digital product or service. It serves as the primary method for evaluating how a digital product or service adheres to accessibility standards, particularly in line with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act, plus standards in the EU and internationally.
It was originally used by US government agencies and institutions that take federal dollars, such as higher ed, to evaluate the level of accessibility and 508 compliance with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). The commercial space has since adopted its use as a way to demonstrate ADA compliance in the US.
Over the years, its utility has broadened for other applications internationally. It has also adapted to updates to the WCAG. The current version of the VPAT version for 2024 is VAPT 2.5. This update was published in September 2023 to better align with WCAG 2.2 primarily.
VPAT 2.5: The Current Version of VPAT
VPAT 2.5 still offers four “editions”, each tailored to meet specific standards and market requirements:
- VPAT 2.5 508 Edition (download): Catering to U.S. Federal accessibility procurement standards and Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act, this edition is required for businesses aiming to sell to not only federal agencies, but also entities that receive federal dollars, such as educational institutions.
- VPAT 2.5 EU Edition (download):Aligns with the European Union’s EN 301 549, focusing on accessibility requirements for public procurement in Europe – a must for businesses with a global footprint.
- VPAT 2.5 WCAG Edition (download): This edition addresses the latest Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.2, 2.1, or 2.0) or ISO/IEC 40500, essential for web and digital content creators in the US.
- VPAT 2.5 INT Edition (download): A comprehensive edition that incorporates the standards of all the above editions, ideal for businesses looking for a universal approach to accessibility.
Differences Between VPAT 2.4 and 2.5
One of the primary updates in VPAT 2.5 is to realign standards across its four editions.
- 508 Edition continues to reflect Section 508 requirements.
- EU Edition now includes the latest version of EN 301 549.
- WCAG Edition now encompasses the newly updated WCAG 2.2, in addition to the earlier 2.1 and 2.0 versions.
- INT Edition is adjusted to accommodate the updates to each.
Another critical update common to each edition of VPAT 2.5 is the enhancement of the reporting structure. The new version replaces the "supports with exceptions" category with "partially supports". Yes, not a big change.
Additionally, VPAT 2.5 introduces a dedicated column for detailed explanations of each conformance level reported. This enables the author to explain the nuances common to the unique nature of specific elements of a digital property for each criteria. This is key.
Why Most Outsource VPAT Authoring to Accessibility Consultants
Authoring a VPAT is a nuanced process that requires a deep understanding of not only the accessibility standards for each VPAT edition but also the code-level technical understanding of websites, SaaS, mobile apps. This requires a higher level VPAT consultant. .
Given the unique nature of VPAT authoring, many companies opt to outsource this task. Outsourcing VPAT authoring to specialized consultants ensures that your reports are in line with the latest standards and reflect a true commitment to accessibility. A VPAT authored by an objective third party also holds a higher degree of credibility.
VPAT & ACR Process
Before you or a VPAT consultant can author a VPAT, one must first have the results of a comprehensive audit to base the VPAT on. It is best to have the author of the VPAT conduct the audit. This ensures the author has the most thorough understanding of the digital property and the nuances of the results.
Once the VPAT is completed, the resulting Accessibility Conformance Report (ACR) is what is provided as evidence of the product’s level of WCAG compliance.
When to Switch to VPAT 2.5 and Why
The shift from VPAT 2.4 to 2.5 is a bit more than a routine update. Companies using VPAT 2.4 should consider upgrading to 2.5 if they wish to demonstrate compliance with the latest accessibility standards like WCAG 2.2. The transition is crucial for businesses seeking to expand their market reach- especially into the .gov or .edu spaces.
However, the decision to transition should be informed and strategic. Factors such as the specific market, audience, and regional compliance requirements will influence the timing and approach. For some, continuing with VPAT 2.4 may suffice in the short term, especially if their current digital offerings align with the standards detailed in this version. Yet, for long-term planning and to stay ahead in an evolving digital landscape, moving to VPAT 2.5 is advisable.
The timing of when to transition to VPAT 2.5 will largely depend on market requirements as we shift to adoption of WCAG 2.2. This will take some time. However, if you’re in the process of creating new digital products or remediating existing digital properties, there’s little reason not to adhere to WCAG 2.2 and subsequently report using VPAT 2.5. It adds very little extra effort or cost, and demonstrates your organization’s commitment to digital accessibility and conformance with the latest standards.
Needless to say, outsourcing both auditing and remediation are strongly encouraged - not just by accessibility consultants like us. Do your research and you’ll find this point universally echoed.
If you want a highly qualified team of accessibility experts to assist, please get in touch with us.