Policy and legislation

There is significant legislation and public policy relevant to Universal Design in Ireland. The following is an introduction to the legal and policy framework in this area, not a legal reference. It should not be interpreted as guidance or direction on legal matters.

Many European Union Member States, including Ireland, have estimated that approximately half of their legislation is derived from European Union membership, so policy and legislation at both an international and national level is relevant. Key policy areas include Human Rights and Equality, Disability Rights, Social Inclusion, and Sustainable Development.


Ireland is a member state of the United Nations, the European Union and the Council of Europe (including the Partial Agreement in the Social and Public Health Field). Irish legislation is therefore directly influenced by recommendations and legislation at the international level.

The Disability Act 2005

The Disability Act 2005 is a positive action measure designed to advance and underpin the participation of people with disabilities in everyday life. It establishes a statutory basis for:

  • An independent assessment of individual health needs and educational services for persons with disabilities over age 18 years;
  • Access to mainstream public services and actions to support access to public buildings, services and information;
  • Sectoral plans to be prepared and published in six key sectors outlining positive actions measures to be implemented;
  • Obligations on public bodies to be proactive in employing people with disabilities and the monitoring of compliance with those obligations;
  • The establishment of a Centre for Excellence in Universal Design in the National Disability Authority.

The Act defines Universal Design, stating it:

  1. The design and composition of an Environment so that it may be accessed, understood and used
    1. To the greatest possible extent,
    2. In the most independent and natural manner possible,
    3. In the widest possible range of situations, and
    4. Without the need for adaptation, modification, assistive devices or specialised solutions, by any persons of any age or size or having any particular physical, sensory, mental health or intellectual ability or disability, and
  2. Means, in relation to electronic systems, any electronics-based process of creating products, services or systems so that they may be used by any person.

 Code of Practice

The National Disability Authority has produced a Code of Practice on Accessibility of Public Services and Information Provided by Public Bodies. This further expands on the obligations of public sector organisations in the provision of accessible services. It is designed to guide public bodies in meeting their statutory obligations by providing practical advice and examples. The Code is a statutory instrument and, as such, has legal effect: Compliance by a public body with an approved code of practice shall be deemed to be compliance with the relevant provision of this Act.

Accessible procurement

Accessible procurement is a legal requirement for all public sector bodies. Section 27 of the Act requires that, where reasonable, the goods and services that are supplied to a public body should also be accessible to people with disabilities. The Code of Practice states that procurers should highlight accessibility as a criterion to be considered throughout the entire tendering process (from drawing up and running tender competitions through tender evaluation and placing the contract to final debriefing).

The CEUD Accessible ICT Procurement Toolkit provides guidance in identifying clear and measurable user requirements for tender documents.

Accessible ICT

The Disability Act contains a specific accessibility requirement for public sector organisations. It states in Section 28:

Where a public body communicates in electronic form with one or more persons, the head of the body shall ensure, that as far as practicable, the contents of the communication are accessible to persons with a visual impairment to whom adaptive technology is available.

The most common electronic form or channel for communication used by public sector organisations is the web.

In relation to Section 26 of the Act, the NDA Code of Practice sets out that expert advice should be sought to ensure the organisation's services are accessible. Section 26 also sets out that an "Access Officer" should be in place to arrange for and co-ordinate assistance and guidance to persons with disabilities accessing the organisation's services. In relation to Section 28 of the Act, the Code sets out that public websites should be reviewed to ensure they achieve Double-A conformance rating with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines.

Procurement Regulations 2006

The Minister for Finance has issued Public Sector Procurement Regulations implementing the EU procurement Directive 2004/18/EC. These state the requirement to integrate accessibility considerations in the technical specifications of the contract documentation for public bids:

23(2). In awarding a public contract, a contracting authority shall, as far as practicable, ensure that the technical specifications for the contract take account of the need to prescribe accessibility criteria for all persons who are likely to use the relevant works, products or service, particularly those who have disabilities.

The Employment Equality Act 1998

The Employment Equality Act covers employment of people with disabilities and provision of accessible technologies to employees.

The Equal Status Acts 2000 & 2004

The Equal Status Act covers various forms of discrimination, including discrimination on the basis of a disability. Under the Act, anyone selling goods or providing services must do all that is reasonable to accommodate the needs of a person with a disability. This involves providing special treatment or facilities in circumstances where, without these, it would be impossible or unduly difficult to avail of the goods or services.

Planning and Development Act 2000

Under the Planning and Development Act, each Local Authority has a responsibility to determine policy in its area through the making of a Development Plan and for applying that policy, through planning control, in deciding on planning applications and enforcing planning decisions. Both the process of drawing up Development Plans and of development control are open and allow for the involvement of third parties.

Section 106 of the Act states, under the establishment of An Bord Pleanala, that

(1) The Minister shall appoint 7 ordinary members of the Board as follows: (f) one member shall be appointed from among persons nominated by such voluntary bodies, bodies having charitable objects and bodies that, in the opinion of the Minister, have a special interest or expertise in matters relating to the promotion of the Irish language, the promotion of the arts and culture or that are representative of people with disability, as may be prescribed.

Part M of the Building Regulations 2000

Part M of the Building Regulations (2000) is an amendment to the original Building Regulations (1997) which covers access for people with disabilities, including ensuring that new dwellings (houses, flats and apartments) and extensions are visitable by people with disabilities. TGD M (the Technical Guidance Document for Part M) deals with 'Access and Use' for the built Environment. These regulations are currently being revised by the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government.

Building Control Act 2007

The Building Control Act 2007 establishes a standard for professional conduct and workmanship. Under this act the Building Regulations address access for people with disabilities. It applies to new buildings, extensions, material alterations and changes of use of buildings.

This Act also introduces a new Disability Access Certificate (DAC) required for new public buildings to ensure compliance to the Building Regulations Technical Guidance Document M at the planning stage.

United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities 2006 recognises that every person must be empowered to participate in society and to live life to his or her fullest potential. This universal, legally binding standard ensures that the rights of persons with disabilities are guaranteed. Ireland has signed but not yet ratified the Convention. In other words, Ireland has demonstrated agreement with what the Convention represents, but is not yet legally obliged to comply with all articles in the Convention. With respect to Universal Design, signatory countries are instructed:

To undertake or promote research and development of universally designed goods, services, equipment and facilities, which should require the minimum possible adaptation and the least cost to meet the specific needs of a person with disabilities, to promote their availability and use, and to promote universal design in the development of standards and guidelines

European policy and legislation

European Commission

The Barcelona Declaration (1995), which resulted from the European Congress "The City and the Disabled", was a commitment at local government level to promote inclusion of people with disabilities in Europe. In signing, local authorities and municipalities agreed to develop a plan of action for implementation, including consulting people with disabilities and their advocates. The Declaration stated that "the undersigning cities assume that the limits between "normality" and disability are ill-defined, and therefore it is necessary to consider the differences between citizens as a part of the diversity of which society is made up, designing services and structures so that they can be used by everyone, and making unnecessary, in most cases, the existence of specific elements for disabled persons." The Declaration was signed by over 400 municipalities between 1995 and 2004, 101 of which were Irish local authorities.

This considerable achievement was facilitated by a Government funded project (Barcelona Project 2001-2004), which promoted the adoption of the non-binding Barcelona Declaration. This project was coordinated and delivered by the Institute for Design and Disability (IDD), which is the Irish branch of the European Institute for Design and Disability (EIDD). Its impressive uptake by Irish local authorities was also influenced by the piloting of seven local authority social inclusion units under the Programme for Prosperity and Fairness ; Ireland's growing suite of equality legislation; and the administrative and financial support of the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform.

The European Concept of Accessibility (European Commission, 1996) was produced to inspire political action and the development of regulations and standards. The technical assistance manual, updated in 2003, was based on the Seven Universal Design Principles (Story, 2001), focusing primarily on the built Environment.

In 1999, the European Commission's eEurope initiative was launched, aiming to develop Information and Communication Technology (ICT) that promoted social inclusion. Adopting a Universal Design approach, a series of action plans (eEurope 2002, eEurope 2005, and currently i2010) have steered the member states towards the three key objectives:

  • Bringing every citizen, home and school, every business and administration, online and into the digital age.
  • Creating a digitally literate Europe, supported by an entrepreneurial culture ready to finance and develop new ideas.
  • Ensuring that the whole process is socially inclusive, builds consumer trust and strengthens social cohesion.

European Union

Article 13 of the Treaty of Amsterdam

Article 13 of the Treaty of Amsterdam (1997), the first Treaty to mention disability in the European Union, provides a strong legal basis for action against discrimination on the grounds of disability.

European Union anti-discrimination Directives

European Union anti-discrimination Directives (such as the Council Directive 2000/78/EC) ensure that all member states introduce relevant legislation on a National basis.

The Council of Europe

The Council of Europe is an independent international organisation which aims to strengthen democracy, human rights, and the rule of law throughout its 47 member states (which includes all members of the European Union).

Disability Action Plan 2006-2015

The Council of Europe Disability Action Plan 2006-2015 suggests that the principles of Universal Design are vital to the implementation of the listed actions. Specifically, member states are recommended to implement Universal Design principles into new developments in the following areas: ICT, transport, the built Environment and product research. Member States are also urged to establish centres that promote the concept of Universal Design.

Partial Agreement in the Social and Public Health Field

Eighteen of the Council of Europe member states, including Ireland, are members of the Partial Agreement in the Social and Public Health Field, a subgroup of the Council of Europe which is of particular relevance here. This body has been proactive in tackling the issue of universal design and its place in society.

The Council of Europe Partial Agreement recommendations (called "resolutions") are not legally binding, but aim to inspire political action at a national level.

The Tomar Resolution (ResAP (2001)1)

The Resolution "on the introduction of the principles of universal design into the curricula of all occupations working on the built Environment" (The Tomar Resolution) aims to improve the accessibility of the built Environment by recommending the inclusion of the principles of Universal Design into the curricula and training of all vocations working on the built Environment, in particular architects, engineers and town planners.

ResAP (2001)3

Resolution ResAP (2001)3 "Towards full citizenship for people with disabilities through inclusive new technologies" recommends drawing up national strategies to ensure that people with disabilities benefit from the opportunities of new technologies, rather than being excluded due to newly created barriers caused by inappropriate technology design or provision.

ResAP (2007)1

Resolution "On achieving full participation through Universal Design" recommends a more general implementation of Universal Design into "all aspects of society", including the built Environment, ICT networks, transport, services, tourism, products and goods, information, employment and education