New report deemed ‘wake-up call’ ahead of new EU law being enforced
Three-quarters of the country’s top 100 websites are technically inaccessible to 600,000 people with disabilities, according to new research from the National Council for the Blind of Ireland (NCBI).
The new report, prepared by the NCBI’s IA Labs, also shows that the vast majority of schools and universities have inaccessible websites, as do 17 of Ireland’s top 20 public and private hospitals.
“Inaccessible” means that the website cannot be used in a normal way by some people with a disability such as restricted eyesight or motor functions.
The report also found that 80pc of real estate and housing association websites are not accessible, while only three of eight political parties audited by the NCBI – Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and Sinn Féin – have accessible websites.
The NCBI says the results should act as a wake-up call for Irish organisations. There are just 18 months to go until the European Accessibility Act requires all websites, digital assets and applications of private-sector bodies to be fully digitally accessible.
While this includes services such as banking and education, it also includes electronic devices such as ATM, ticket check-in machines, certain self-service terminals and smartphones.
Under the EU law, Ireland is given latitude to decide what fines or penalties might be appropriate, which must be “effective, proportionate, and dissuasive”.
“While people with disabilities are promised equal access to employment, education, healthcare, e-commerce, and digital leisure and entertainment, the individual websites who offer these services often fail to fully facilitate this access,” said Chris White, CEO of the NCBI.
“Simple tasks like participating in online classes, staying connected with loved ones through social media, and accessing vital information about health or finances become challenging, or outright impossible.”
The report, ‘The Digital Accessibility Index 2023’, audited the accessibility of websites using a standardised testing process across healthcare, retail, technology, government, education and professional services.
If a website passed, it means any user living with a disability can access every part of the website section being tested.
The report stated: “While accessibility adoption has been sluggish across a number of sectors, notably education, healthcare and housing, there has been some positive movement, with 27pc of the top 100 Irish companies having taken steps to improve website accessibility.”
Currently, 73pc of the websites of Ireland’s top 100 companies are inaccessible, the report found.
“Even minor modifications to websites, apps, and digital experiences can make a monumental impact for users with disabilities,” it stated.
“As a leading figure in the global technology arena, Ireland has both the responsibility and opportunity to set a precedent in ensuring digital equality.
“By raising awareness of the status of digital accessibility in the public sector, we make further progress in our endeavour to guarantee that every individual with disabilities has equal access and opportunities, mirroring the advantages that technology offers to society as a whole.”