Legislation and public policy

There is significant legislation and public policy relating to IT accessibility 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.

The accessibility of services delivered through websites and other types of Information and Communication Technology are covered under three pieces of Irish legislation:

  • The Disability Act (2005);
  • The Employment Equality Act (1998); and
  • The Equal Status Act (2000, 2004).

The Disability Act (2005)

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.

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."

In relation to Section 26 of the Act, the Code 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 WCAG.

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)". This toolkit is designed to provide guidance and help for this process.

The Employment Equality Act

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.

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.

European Policy

The EU Commission has advocated web accessibility for some time and has, through a number of policy statements, recommended conformance rating Double-A with WCAG for public websites. The latest EU Commission policy summary on IT is branded i2010 , dealing with the years from 2005 to 2010. A major strand of i2010 is inclusion, ensuring that ITs benefit all citizens and improve access to, and the use of, public services.

The Riga Ministerial Declaration , which was signed on 12 June 2006 by Ministers from 34 European countries, cites that only around 3% of public websites comply fully with these web accessibility standards. The declaration sets out the following objectives for member states:

  • Ensure that all public websites are accessible by 2010;
  • By 2007, make recommendations on accessibility standards and common approaches, which could become mandatory in public procurement by 2010; and
  • Assess the necessity for legislative measures in the field of e-Accessibility and take account of accessibility requirements in the review of the electronic communications regulatory framework beginning in June 2006.

Previous policy initiatives on accessibility for websites and other communications technology include the eEurope 2002 Action Plan . The European Commission launched the eEurope initiative in December 1999 to bring the benefits of the Information Society to all Europeans. This was followed in June 2000 by the eEurope 2002 Action Plan, agreed by heads of state and government, setting out a roadmap to achieve eEurope's targets.

This recommends adoption of the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) guidelines for public websites of the European Commission and member states by the end of 2001. It states:

Public sector websites and their content in Member States and in the European Institutions must be designed to be accessible to ensure that citizens with disabilities can access information and take full advantage of the potential for e-government.

Accessibility continues as one of the basic objectives of the eEurope 2005 action plan. The plan states:

By end 2004, Member States should have ensured that basic public services are interactive, where relevant, accessible for all, and exploit both the potential of broadband networks and of multi-platform access.

Irish government policy

Irish government policy has been shaped by the Information Society Commission (which has now been dispanded), the Programme for Prosperity and Fairness, and the Inter-Departmental Implementation Group on the Information Society.

Section 6.3.2. Of the third report of the Information Society Commission (Dec 2000) recommended that:

  • Websites should comply with WCAG Double-A by the end of 2001;
  • Accessibility be included as a requirement in all tenders for government website design with immediate effect;
  • All public service tenders should specify compliance with universal design principles for IT projects with immediate effect.

In October 1999, the report of the Inter-Departmental Implementation Group on the Information Society emphasised user-centred website design and consists of a number of recommendations with explanations. Recommendation 1.1 states the guiding principle that "websites should be designed and operated in accordance with the needs of users".

Section 7 deals with accessibility:

The key principle underlining accessibility is that websites should be easy for everyone to use, including people with a disability."

In 2002, the government restated its commitment to accessibility online in the document New Connections: A strategy to realise the potential of the Information Society .

Local government

In 1995 the city of Barcelona hosted a conference on the City and the Disabled. It was at this conference that the Barcelona Declaration was launched. This declaration is a manifesto aimed at Local Government in creating a more inclusive society for people with disabilities and included such measures as The Municipal Governments will ensure the access of disabled persons to information generated by the Community.

In 2001 the NDA launched the Barcelona Declaration project here in Ireland and between 2001 and 2004 pilot initiatives were undertaken by Local Authorities were initiated; disability proofing guidelines were provided to local authorities. To date 107 councils have adopted it in Ireland.