VPAT vs. WCAG
Discussions about the vpat vs wcag help vendors and buyers of electronic and information technology (EIT) products and services understand how these tools are useful in the accessibility ecosystem as well as in enhancing compliance with the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
The discussions are particularly valuable for businesses that use the web as a medium for making their products and services available to users. Some of these products and services may not be ICT-related, but the fact that they’re accessed through the web, which is a place of public accommodations, means that ADA compliance is expected of them.
Indeed, the web is for everyone, regardless of their geographical location, language, and nationality, among others. The ADA requirements that are common for places of public accommodation like the web include having reasonable accommodations for people with disabilities, accessibility, effective communication with people who have disabilities, and accessible alterations.
The VPAT vs. WCAG in ADA compliance
ADA compliance refers to conformity with the ADA standards for accessible design. That means ensuring that all electronic information and technology, including websites, are accessible to people with disabilities.
ADA compliance is often confused with Section 508 VPAT compliance. While ADA compliance refers to following the civil law that guarantees equal opportunity for people with disabilities in the public spheres of accommodation, Section 508 VPAT compliance refers to the use of a Section 508 VPAT form to clearly document how an ICT product or service conforms to each of the Section 508 fundamental accessibility requirements.
According to ADACP, Section 508 vpat compliance helps make ICT products and services compliant with the ADA. That is because an ADA VPAT provides as much detail and specificity as possible to illuminate the many nuances of an ICT product or service that contribute to its overall level of accessibility compliance.
For example, the ADA requires websites and digital content to be accessible and provides broader guidelines that cover all disabilities and environments. ADA compliance applies to virtually all businesses and web developers. Examples of these businesses include:
- Private organizations with 15 employees or more
- State and local government organizations
- Places of business considered by Title III of the ADA to be places of public accommodation, like websites
- Public benefit organizations like public transportation, schools, bakeries, grocery stores, restaurants, hotels, banks, law offices, gyms, etc.
Using the WCAG to attain ADA compliance
What distinguishes WCAG and ADA is that the WCAG is required to comply with the ADA, not the other way around.Across the accessibility board, the first recommendation you’ll get regarding being ADA compliant is to go by the WCAG 2.0 standard, which has a three-tiered grading system: level A, AA, and AAA.
A Level A grading system means that a website is only accessible by some users. Level AA means that a website is accessible to almost all users, while level AAA means that a website is accessible to all users.
Unlike the ADA, which has not set principles to guide ADA compliance, WCAG is underpinned by four principles: perceiveability, operability, understandability, and robustness.
The principle of perceivability requires all users of a website to be able to perceive any and all information that appears on the website, including text, images, videos, and so on. It means offering alternatives to ensure accessibility.
The operability principle requires all users of a website to be able to navigate the website with ease. Users should be able to utilize any feature provided on the website.
The understandability principle requires users to be able to understand what they are reading on a website. One way of achieving this is by providing instructions that come with the site tools, navigation menu, forms, or any other features the website is able to offer.
The robustness principle means that no matter how a website is delivered, it should be universal. It should not have shortened descriptions, directions, explanations, and so on. All users should be treated equally by providing them with the full user experience.
Distinguishing factors between WCAG and the ADA
The key distinguishing factor of WCAG and the ADA lies in how they prioritize the different aspects of web operations to achieve compliance and a more accessible digital space. In some aspects, the WCAG is more stringent than the ADA, while in other aspects, the ADA is more stringent than the WCAG.
Another distinguishing factor is that the WCAG was developed through the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) processes in cooperation with individuals and organizations around the world, whereas the ADA was developed by the U.S. Senate after introduction by Senators Tom Harkin, Ted Kennedy, and David Durenberger, with former Senator Lowell Weicker providing testimony as a parent of a child with a disability.
Other factors that distinguish WCAG from the ADA include the following:
- WCAG is a set of formal guidelines for developing accessible digital content, while the ADA is a civil law that prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in everyday activities.
- The ADA focuses on ensuring the same level of access to people with disabilities as is the case for people without disabilities, and to that effect, it provides guidelines for state governments, local governments, non-profit organizations, businesses, ICT, digital media, and websites to adhere to. On the other hand, WCAG provides guiding principles for making websites accessible to all users.
- WCAG is not a regulatory or statutory mechanism, which means that there is no need to have a compliance plan for it. Nonetheless, its guidelines for the different tiers of accessibility can serve as a cornerstone for compliance with the ADA.
- Non-adherence to WCAG does not result in any penalties or punitive measures; however, missing out on these guidelines could put you in violation of the ADA and result in lawsuits and hefty fines.
Need help with WCAG and ADA compliance?
You can find out whether your website is WCAG and ADA compliant by using this free WCAG compliance checker. If you require a manual audit of your website or want to make any other WCAG or ADA consultation, contact ADACP at (626) 486-220 to arrange for a free consultation.