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VPATs for ADA Compliance Reporting

We typically look at ADA compliance through a binary lens. Especially trolling plaintiff firms looking for "ADA compliance violations". Under scrutiny very few websites can expect not to be violating the ADA under a binary lens.

In reality, ADA website compliance is on a spectrum. The upcoming WCAG 3.0 “Silver” will address this through a scoring and rating system that will equate to Bronze, Silver, or Gold levels. More on WCAG 3.0 to come (2024).

First some quick context to Section 508, ADA, WCAG, VPAT and ACR for newcomers. 

In the US, nearly all websites, web apps, digital content, and mobile apps are subject to either Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act or the Americans With Disabilities Act. Government agencies and entities that take federal dollars are directly subject to Sect. 508. Private, non-profit and commercial entities are subject to the ADA. In practice, Sect. 508 and ADA rely on the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines for gauging digital accessibility. Government agencies purchasing digital products and content developed the Volunteer Product Accessibility Template for vendors to report whether such products meet WCAG standards and to what degree. After filling out the VPAT, the subsequent report is the Accessibility Conformance Report (ACR). 

Measuring The Degree of Accessibility

The question of degree is important. Currently we rate websites by WCAG’s levels of A, AA, and AAA. A being the most basic, and AAA the more complex and categorized as “best practices”. 508 and ADA compliance today calls for WCAG 2.0/2.1 A, AA. But these measurements are crude. There are automated monitoring systems that will rate your website’s accessibility, but since even the best automated tools cannot detect more than 30% of WCAG issues, these are wholly incomplete. 

The only way to accurately measure an app or website’s accessibility is to augment the limitations of automated testing with human testing. Human testing that includes UX review, code review, keyboard only, and assistive technology testing by a credentialed tester. The results of such an audit are what inform the VPAT, which then does reflect the degree of compliance in a holistic manner.

Use of VPATs to Gauge Degree of Accessibility

The use of VPATs is rapidly shifting from the 508/Gov space into the ADA/Commercial space. The range of scenarios expands every day:

  • Providers selling third party elements or web-based applications and systems 
  • Website owners who want to gauge their own website/app’s level of accessibility and subsequent legal/brand exposure
  • Website owners purchasing third party elements for critical functions of their website
  • Companies purchasing any web-based application or system

What About Third Party Elements?

This is very important. Any website owner that uses third party plugins or widgets should definitely understand the degree of accessibility of every element. This is because, once it’s placed on a website, the website owner takes on its liability. So knowing how good, or how bad, is important when balancing cost, utility and potential legal risk.

Take your basic hotel website. It will use a number of third party widgets and systems on its website for 

  • Room booking 
  • Chat
  • Secure forms
  • Email signup / lead generation forms

If any of these elements fails to meet WCAG A, AA, that element will be a legal liability that only the website owner will shoulder.

Therefore, any website manager or system procurement manager should ask for an ACR and any provider of a third party system, element or widget should be prepared to provide the VPAT’s resulting Accessibility Compliance Report.

What’s Next for ADA Compliance Measurement and Reporting?

WCAG 3.0 promises to include a holistic testing procedure that will require human testing. It also promises to introduce a rating scoring system to provide a scale of degree of conformance. This will provide a valuable new tool that should replace the VPAT for commercial use. The big question will only be when. The W3C is a bit of a mess right now. 

Our team of experienced web accessibility experts are well qualified to author your VPAT for you. More information about VPAT services.