Skip to main content

By Rachel Opperman

Understanding the VPAT: What It Is and How to Make One for Your Website

In web accessibility, there are many standards that web developers aim to meet.

These standards are typically based on the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), but there are other standards available, and all of them help us to ensure that our websites, web apps, etc., can be used by the widest possible audience.

But how do we let users know how accessible our product is?

A Voluntary Product Accessibility Template (VPAT) is used to create an Accessibility Conformance Report (ACR). An ACR, in simple terms, is used to state which accessibility standards are (or are not) met by a digital product.

We know that this alphabet soup can seem overwhelming. So if you’re someone who’s been told to create a VPAT or ACR and have no idea what that means, or you just want to know how you can display the accessibility of your product to potential customers, this is the blog post for you.

Read on to learn more about what a VPAT is, who needs one, and how to make one for your website.

What is a VPAT?

In simple terms, a VPAT is a guide that’s used to create an ACR. It’s worth noting that the term “VPAT” is typically used to refer to the template itself as well as the ACR that was created from it. To reduce the number of acronyms, we’ll use VPAT for both items throughout the rest of this post.

A VPAT is used to provide potential customers with comprehensive information about how accessible your product is. It lists the accessibility standards that are met and also includes information about standards that are not met.

But why is it helpful to provide this information?

Who needs a VPAT?

Creating a VPAT is a good way to show how your website conforms to accessibility standards, which is helpful for two reasons:

  1. It can identify areas in which the accessibility of your website can be improved. For example, when making a VPAT for the WCAG standards, you may get to criterion 1.4.1 Use of Color and realize that there are some areas of your site where color is used as the only means of conveying information. You then have the opportunity to make updates to those areas so that the criterion is fully supported, thus enhancing your site’s accessibility.

  2. It allows organizations to compare the accessibility of your product to similar products and determine which product is the best fit for them. This can be very important, because numerous organizations are required to use digital products that meet accessibility standards. For example, Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 requires federal agencies (in the United States) to make their electronic and information technology accessible to people with disabilities.

Even if Section 508 doesn’t apply, there are other laws that do. Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 prohibits discrimination based on disability by federal agencies and recipients of federal assistance. This means that any organization that receives federal funding or assistance must use accessible digital products.

So, if you’re hoping to sell your product to, or create a website for, any of these agencies or organizations, it must meet accessibility standards. A VPAT is a great way to show such potential customers that said standards are being met.

Now that we know why we need a VPAT, let’s discuss how to make one.

How to make a VPAT for your website

It’s important to note that if there’s no one in your organization that has the requisite accessibility knowledge and accessibility testing skills, a VPAT should be created by a third party in order to avoid liabilities and provide the most accurate assessment of your site’s accessibility.

Assuming you can make one on your own, here’s how.

The first thing you’ll need to do is determine which standards to include in your VPAT. For web-based services in the United States, WCAG 2.1 Levels A and AA are the best place to start. Level AAA criteria are often the most difficult to achieve, but you can include them in your VPAT if your site is attempting to conform to them.

Much like the United States has Section 508 (which is based on WCAG), the European Union (EU) has the EN 301 549 standard of accessibility requirements. All semi-public and public sector websites must meet this standard. Websites and digital products for certain private sectors, such as e-commerce, banking, e-books, and electronics, must adhere to EU Directive 2019/882, also known as the European Accessibility Act.

Once you know which standard(s) you’ll be including, the VPAT itself will be a group of tables, with columns for the criteria, conformance level, and remarks and explanations. The rows are typically grouped into sections that match the organization of the standard. For example, a VPAT for WCAG 2.1 will have one table for Level A criteria and another table for Level AA criteria.

This description may sound abstract, so let’s take a look at some VPAT examples.

VPAT examples

Here are two great examples of a VPAT:

Both examples are prefaced with the following:

  • A name and description of the product

  • The date of the report

  • Contact information

  • Notes

  • Evaluation methods that were used

  • Applicable standards/guidelines

  • Terms used for the conformance level

Each example then has a table for each section of the applicable standards. The remarks and explanations column is used to point out areas of non-conformance for partially supported criteria or to explain why a particular criterion is not applicable.

Finally, each report ends with a legal disclaimer section. (Your organization should consult with a lawyer when drafting this section.)

When making your own VPAT, you can follow the structure of either example, since every VPAT will use the same template that these examples utilize.

Closing thoughts

A VPAT is a great addition to your website, and it has the potential to bring in more customers by showing how accessible your site is. It can also shed light on areas of your site that could use some enhancements to provide a more accessible experience. However, a VPAT alone isn’t enough to ensure accessibility.

In order to make sure that your site is accessible, a thorough accessibility audit is needed. If you’d like to do that yourself but don’t know where to start, we have a post that will guide you through the accessibility audit process. There are also companies and services that will audit your site for you.

We hope this post gives you a better understanding of the VPAT, and we’d love to see any that you create. Feel free to share your VPATs with us on Twitter.

Want to read more tips and insights on working with a website development team that wants to help your organization grow for good? Sign up for our bimonthly newsletter.

By Rachel Opperman


What happens when you cross years of study in biology and medicine with a degree in computer science? You get someone like Rachel.