The Republic of Ireland requires public and private organizations to maintain accessible digital resources for people with disabilities. In 2005, the nation passed the Disability Act, which complemented the Equal Status Acts of 2000 to 2004, as well as the Employment Equality Acts of 1998 and 2004.
Together, these laws prohibit discrimination against individuals on the basis of disability. Those requirements extend to places of public accommodation — including websites. Below, we’ll explain how Ireland requires website accessibility and provide tips for ensuring compliance.
Ireland’s Disability Act of 2005 and Digital Accessibility
In many nations, disability laws require businesses and government agencies to provide accessible digital content. Many of these laws lack clear legal frameworks for defining accessibility. Fortunately, Ireland has declared technical specifications to help businesses understand their requirements under the Disability Act.
Ireland’s National Disability Authority (NDA) publishes a Code of Practice to provide guidance for meeting legal obligations under the Disability Act. The code recommends Level AA conformance with the latest version of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). At the time of writing, the current version of the guidelines is WCAG 2.1, with WCAG 2.2 expected for official publication in 2022.
If you’re researching accessibility compliance, here’s the important takeaway: Websites can comply with Irish disability laws by following the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), the international standard for digital accessibility.
Why WCAG Conformance is Important for Digital Accessibility
The World Wide Web Consortium publishes WCAG, and the guidelines are built around four design principles: Content should be perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust. By using this principle-oriented approach, WCAG helps webmasters create content that works for a wide variety of users — including those with conditions that affect vision, hearing, memory, and other abilities.
WCAG is organized into three levels of conformance: Level A (least strict), Level AA, and Level AAA (most strict). Generally, sites that earn Level AA conformance are considered reasonably accessible for most users.
Websites that operate in Ireland should seek Level AA conformance with WCAG 2.1. Here are a few common accessibility barriers that WCAG 2.1 Level AA addresses:
- Missing text alternatives for visual content. Images need appropriate text alternatives (or alt tags) that describe their function and purpose. Unfortunately, many websites fail to properly tag their images, which makes content less useful for people who use screen readers and other assistive technologies.
- Poor keyboard accessibility. Many people with disabilities use a keyboard or keyboard emulator — without a mouse — to browse the internet. Websites should be structured so that pressing the “tab" key moves the visual focus in a logical way. Additionally, forms and other interactive elements should be designed so that users can complete the interaction with a keyboard alone.
- Improper use of semantic HTML. Many assistive technologies rely on accurate semantic HTML, which identifies the purpose of on-page elements. Misusing subheadings, lists, and other semantic HTML elements can create a frustrating experience for some users.
In total, WCAG 2.1 contains 78 success criteria, which address dozens of barriers that could affect real internet users.
By earning WCAG conformance, you can demonstrate compliance with Ireland’s Disability Act of 2005, along with other laws including the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the European Accessibility Act (EAA).
Demonstrating Compliance with Ireland’s Disability Act of 2005
About 13.5% of Ireland’s population lives with at least one disability, per the NDA’s 2016 Census factsheet (PDF). Brands that ignore digital accessibility ignore a large portion of their audiences — and WCAG provides a framework for creating content that works better for everyone.
Ideally, every organization should focus on accessibility from the first stages of development. Prioritizing people with disabilities can help to limit the costs of website or app development, reducing remediation costs and opening up more of the benefits of accessible design.
However, there’s no “wrong time" to begin an accessibility initiative — by following WCAG, your organization can show a good-faith effort to comply with the Disability Act of 2005 and other relevant laws. More importantly, you’ll show your real-life users that you care about their experiences.
To earn conformance with WCAG 2.1 Level AA, you’ll need to meet all Level A and Level AA success criteria. You’ll also need to publish an accessibility statement and create a long-term plan for monitoring your content and fixing issues. An experienced accessibility partner can help you take appropriate steps to develop a long-term strategy.
For more guidance, visit our Compliance Roadmap for educational resources and free self-evaluation tools. To determine whether your website conforms with WCAG, start with a free, confidential website accessibility report.