Documenting Product Accessibility

Accessibility documentation shows users, employees, and shareholders you’re taking usability seriously. A VPAT or Accessibility Statement can head off legal challenges and open new lines of business.

Regulatory Background

ADA Title III, AODA, US Section 508, and EN 301 549 provide their own requirements for conformance, but all of them fall under the umbrella of WCAG 2.0 or 2.1.

Published by the W3C in 2008, the WCAG serves as the de facto standard for accessibility industry-wide. Governments worldwide have codified WCAG 2.0 (or derivatives thereof like 2.1) into their legal requirements for accessibility.

Standard Documentation Types

An Accessibility Statement, VPAT, or ACR isn't just about legal compliance. It's a way to show your users, employees, and shareholders you’re taking usability seriously. Accessibility is not just altruism. Accessible organizations have lower churn (both customers and employees), better morale, and higher customer satisfaction scores.

Accessibility Statement

An accessibility statement is a simple explanation of a product or webpage from an accessibility standpoint, with a primary audience being your users. It should be written in plain language, avoiding "legalese". At it's simplest it is a basic overview of platform or website functionality and limitations in human terms.

Your Accessibility Statement Should Include

  • A statement of commitment to accessibility for people with disabilities
  • The target accessibility conformance standard (like WCAG AA 2.1)
  • An acknowledgement of any areas of a product or website where accessibility conformance is not supported
  • Supported technologies (like browsers or mobile devices)
  • Methods used to achieve and test the target accessibility standard
  • Environments to test the accessibility standard
  • References to the applicable laws a regulations governing your target conformance level.
You may also include:
  • A roadmap or timeline for conformance efforts
  • Contact information (or support integration) for anyone reporting accessibility issues

Accessibility Conformance Report (ACR) / Voluntary Product Accessibility Template (VPAT®)

An accessibility conformance report is a comprehensive, criteria specific report on your accessibility standards conformance.

Often, government procurement, large institutions, and other clients ask for this in VPAT (formerly GPAT) format. A VPAT is a standard report template suitable to share with potential customers, government procurement officers, or users that summarizes your current level of conformance standard-by-standard.

A well put together ACR/VPAT, reflecting WCAG 2.1, Section 508, and/or EN 301 549 is a must for any organization looking to do an RFP with a large institution or government agency. It should serve as a kind of living document reflecting your current level of conformance.

For the US (Specifically §508), a VPAT should cover:

  • Section 1194.21: Software Applications and Operating Systems
  • Section 1194.22: Web-based Internet Information and Applications
  • Section 1194.23: Telecommunications Products
  • Section 1194.24: Video and Multi-media Products
  • Section 1194.25: Self-Contained, Closed Products
  • Section 1194.26: Desktop and Portable Computers
  • Section 1194.31: Functional Performance Criteria
  • Section 1194.41: Information, Documentation and Support