Irish company websites fail to meet accessibility guidelines

New audit shows sites do not meet EU guidelines for people with disabilities

Almost three quarters of leading Irish companies do not have an accessible website, a study has found.

That could be preventing up to 600,000 people from accessing services and information online, a report compiled by Inclusion and Accessibility Labs (IA Labs) has found.

The audit looked at public and private sector companies and organisations, including schools and universities.

IA Labs’ Digital Accessibility Index analyses websites against a range of requirements set out by an EU Directive on digital accessibility that was introduced for public sector bodies in 2020. Private companies are not required by law to be digitally accessible . Among the criteria are ensuring that websites are navigable for people who use screen readers, fully usable for people who only use keyboards, and have adjustable colour contrast for people with low vision.

Not one sector achieved a greater than 50 per cent accessibility pass rate, the index showed, with the top grocery retailers in Ireland classified as inaccessible, as well as all 10 leading online housing and rental platforms.

Only one of the 20 private hospitals in Ireland had their websites up to the standard to pass the accessibility check, and of 28 websites for Irish universities, private and public sector schools sampled, not one passed.

“Education is a challenging thing for everyone, but if you’ve got a disability, not even been able to read the information on the website means that you have an even greater challenge,” Kyran O’Mahoney, chief executive of IA Labs said.

In contrast, the majority of Government department sites are accessible, but the websites for the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment and the Department of Foreign Affairs are not.

Digital accessibility

Mr O'Mahoney said the index showed more needed to be done to bring Ireland to the forefront of digital accessibility, with data from the Central Statistics Office indicating there are approximately 600,000 people in Ireland with a disability.

“So many people rely on technology as a key enabler,” he said. “Through Covid-19 that reliance on technology for people with sight loss was so much more because everyone lived a fundamentally digital life.”

IA Labs was founded by Mr O’Mahoney in 2021, as a spin-out from NCBI, Ireland’s national sight loss agency. The company aims to create a voice for people excluded from the digital revolution, offering consultancy and auditing services to public and private sector companies on digital accessibility.

"This is a really important piece of work and provides a benchmark for evaluating digital accessibility and inclusion for all citizens in this country," Minister of State for Disability, Anne Rabbitte said. "The findings clearly highlight where compliance with the EU Directive is falling short and, importantly, demonstrates how both public and private companies need to be proactive in ensuring their websites are usable by everyone."

Ciara O'Brien

Ciara O'Brien

Ciara O'Brien is an Irish Times business and technology journalist