Welcome to the updated and newly titled Customer Communications Toolkit for Services to the Public — A Universal Design Approach. This Toolkit replaces the 2019 version. It now reflects feedback from users and changes in legislation and terminology.

The guidance in this Toolkit complements the Plain English Style Guide for the Public Service developed by the Department of Public Expenditure, National Development Plan Delivery and Reform in partnership with the National Adult Literacy Agency (NALA).

This Toolkit has design guidance on communication under three areas:

  1. written
  2. spoken and signed
  3. digital

Who is this Toolkit for?

This Toolkit is for organisations who provide services to the public. It is for communications managers, content writers, editors, people who work in customer services, trainers and suppliers (including designers) who are committed to applying a Universal Design Approach.

What is a Universal Design Approach?

Universal Design is about creating an environment that can be accessed, understood and used to the greatest extent possible by all people, regardless of their age, size, ability or disability. A Universal Design Approach can improve the outcomes of any design process by prioritising the user needs of people with more diverse characteristics, capabilities and preferences. Design process guidance relevant to communication design on engaging with disabled people and on prioritising diverse needs can be found in the guidance Participation Matters and in Designing our Public Services.

Why is this Toolkit important?

The public expects to receive the best possible customer experience when they contact the Public Service, no matter what form that communication takes. That is why it is important for organisations to provide communications in more than one format where possible and be prepared to offer alternate formats on request. Statutory obligations also require that communications do not exclude or discriminate. At the end of this introduction, you can find a list of statutory obligations related to communications.

The goal of this Toolkit is to help you ensure that the communications you create, procure (buy) or provide can be accessed, understood and used by everyone. A Universal Design Approach helps organisations address their obligations.

What are the benefits of using a Universal Design Approach?

By applying a Universal Design Approach to customer communications, you can:

  • make information accessible to everyone
  • improve trust in your organisation
  • reduce miscommunications and misunderstandings
  • reduce repeat requests for information
  • improve customer satisfaction
  • save time and money

How do I use this Toolkit?

You can read this Toolkit from beginning to end or you can dip in and out of it for specific guidance. The Toolkit has a glossary, hyperlink functions to aid navigation, checklists for quick self-assessment and Tools, Tips and Learn more boxes that link out to additional information.

The Toolkit has been designed and prepared to help you:

  • plan your communications
  • train your staff and inform your suppliers
  • procure (buy) communication products and services that are accessible to everyone

Public bodies are required to specify accessibility as a mandatory requirement when procuring communications products and services. They can do this by including accessibility criteria as part of the technical specifications or in the award criteria, or both. Where accessibility standards exist, public bodies are expected to use these as the basis of the accessibility criteria.

The Public Sector Equality and Human Rights Duty

Public bodies must also adhere to the Public Sector Equality and Human Rights Duty in Section 42 of The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission Act 2014. It places a statutory obligation on public bodies to eliminate discrimination, promote equality of opportunity and treatment for staff and persons to whom it provides services. It also protects the human rights of staff and service users. This Act also requires public bodies to assess, address and report on human rights and equality issues in their strategic plans and annual report. Inclusive communication is key to meeting these obligations.

Learn more

Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission have developed an introductory eLearning module on Equality and Human Rights in the Public Service.

Some statutory obligations related to communications

Directive 2014/24/EU (Procurement)

Directive 201425/EU (Procurement)

Equal Status Act, 2000-2018

European Accessibility Act 2019

EU Web Accessibility Directive 2016

Irish Sign Language Act 2017

National Disability Authority Code of Practice on Accessibility of Public Services and Information provided by Public Bodies 2006

Official Languages (Amendment) Act 2021

Public Sector Equality and Human Rights Duty 2019

United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities 2006

Some standards and guidance related to communications


EN 17161:2019 Design for All — Accessibility following a Design for all approach — Extending the range of users

I.S. 374:2019 Customer Communications for Utilities — A Universal Design Approach

EN 17478:2021 Transport Services - Customer communications for passenger transport services — A Universal Design Approach

ISO 21902 Tourism and related services — Accessible tourism for all — Requirements and recommendations


Appropriate Terms to Use about Disability

Guiding Principles of Quality Customer Services

Participation Matters

Plain English Style Guide for the Public Service

Connecting Government 2030: A Digital and ICT Strategy for Irela