Web Accessibility Policy Making:
An International Perspective
This document is an excerpt from the G3ict White Paper “Web Accessibility Policy Making: An International Perspective,” (Revised Edition 2012) researched and edited by Nirmita Narasimhan of Centre for Internet & Society, India, in collaboration with accessibility and disability policy experts from around the world. The paper seeks to identify some of the initiatives and best practices which have been adopted by 14 countries and the European Union as a first step towards policy formulation for countries.
While Ireland has formulated several policies and programmes dealing with web accessibility for the disabled, there is no specific legislation that directly covers this area. Ireland has national guidelines on accessibility of IT products and services, which, in the specific case of web accessibility, essentially adopted or incorporated W3C WCAG 1.0 without substantive change. Applicability of guidelines is primarily to the public sector and is again not mandatory. The mechanism for monitoring is more recognition–based, with awards for excellence in ensuring accessibility certified by a third party audit. Ireland is a signatory to the UNCRPD but has not ratified it yet.
There is currently no Irish law that specifically covers the area of web accessibility, though accessibility is partly addressed by The Equal Status Act, Employment Equality Act and the Disability Act. In addition to disability discrimination legislation, various policies and programmes have been initiated over the years, such as “New Connections - A Strategy to realise the potential of the Information Society” and the “National Programme for Prosperity and Fairness” that deal directly with web accessibility for the disabled. Some of the Discrimination Legislations are as follows:
• The Employment Equality Act (1998):
The Act includes disability as one of the grounds of discrimination.
• The Equal Status Act (2000, 2004):
Subsection 4 of the Act defines discrimination affecting persons with disabilities in terms of access to services and includes “a refusal or failure by the provider of a service to do all that is reasonable to accommodate the needs of a person with a disability by providing special treatment or facilities, if without such special treatment or facilities it would be impossible or unduly difficult for the person to avail himself or herself of the service.” Thus, prima facie, the Act would appear to cover discrimination in the provision of online and web based services.
• The Disability Act (2005):
Sections 27 and 28 of the Act provides for services as well as communication being provided to a public body being accessible to persons with disabilities.
• NDA Code of Practice:
This directs public bodies to aim at achieving “Double-A level conformance with the Web Accessibility Initiative’s (WAI) Web Content Accessibility Guidelines” and advises public bodies to “build accessibility into the procurement process as a criterion” in order to meet the requirements of the Disability Act. The NDA has also issued the Public Sector Procurement Regulations 2006, which implement the EU Procurement Directive 2004/18/EC.
2. Compliance with WCAG
The document “New Connections - A Strategy to realize the potential of the Information Society” recommended the adoption of WAI Level II Guidelines. The Code of Practice also directs public bodies to aim at achieving “Double-A level conformance with the Web Accessibility Initiative’s (WAI) Web Content Accessibility Guidelines”.
The National Disability Authority has published national guidelines on accessibility of IT products and services. In the specific case of web accessibility, they essentially adopted or incorporated W3C WCAG 1.0 without substantive changes. The guidelines, based on WCAG 1.0, were provided to help make web sites easy to understand and use.
The policies and documents refer to public sector websites. In addition, these are only recommendations and are not mandatory.
4. Protocol for Evaluating and monitoring:
Complaints under laws on “Employment Equality” and “Equal Status” are dealt with (in the first instance) by the Equality Tribunal. The National Disability Authority has developed an Excellence Through Accessibility award that can be given to public sector organizations on successful completion of a third party audit. The criteria for the award cover three areas – building access, quality customer services and accessibility of ICT, which includes websites. The NDA has a role in monitoring complaints with the Disability Act and Code of Practice. However, this is currently done through public bodies filling out a survey. The section dealing with web accessibility is essentially a self declaration of conformance with WCAG. The Disability Act requires each public body to have an “Enquiry Officer” through whom any complaints under the Act are dealt with in the first instance. Complainants not satisfied with the outcome are entitled to bring a complaint to the office of the Ombudsman.5. Links:
“New Connections - A Strategy to realize the potential of the Information Society"
IT Accessibility Guidelines
Web Accessibility in Ireland