Schools now legally obliged to make their websites more accessible. Here’s why it matters

Opinion: School website is usually first port of call to learn more about policies, calendars and activities

The Web Accessibility Directive (Directive (EU) 2016/2102) has been in force since December 2016 and provides people with disabilities with better access to websites and mobile apps of public services.

This directive was transposed into Irish law in September 2020. Public bodies in Ireland must ensure their websites and mobile apps are accessible to all people, including people with disabilities. (The full name of the 2020 Regulations is “S.I. No. 358/2020 — European Union (Accessibility of websites and Mobile Applications of Public Sector Bodies) Regulations 2020″.)

One aspect of the directive is that all public sector websites must have a “web accessibility statement”.

This statement demonstrates a commitment to provide a positive online experience for all users of the website and is important as it provides users with information about the accessibility of the website content.


Creating an accessibility statement also allows organisations to critically look at what content is available on their website and how it is presented. The creation of an accessibility statement within the digital policy would provide schools with an opportunity to carry out this kind of content and design audit. Universities have these statements on their websites and they may provide a useful template for schools to model their own statements on.

There is a lot of work going on at an international level to raise awareness of accessibility and the web. One such project is Lead-Me, which aims to help European stakeholders in the field of media accessibility to meet legal milestones requested by European legislation.

Researchers, engineers and academics are working together to collect, create, and disseminate innovative technologies and solutions, best practices and guidelines. Currently, the vast majority of Irish school websites do not have a web accessibility statement.

Many school principals may not be aware of the legal requirement to have an accessibility statement on their school website. The only proactive way to both inform schools of this legal obligation and to make it happen is through a campaign led by the Department of Education.

As part of ongoing work with the Lead-Me initiative, the Minister for Education was recently asked in a parliamentary question if schools were considered to be public sector websites. The Minister responded with a very clear statement: the Department of Education will work with National Disability Authority as required to ensure appropriate guidance is in place for schools to assist them in the implementation of and compliance with this regulation.

It would be of benefit to all if the PDST was also recognised as having expertise in this area and included in the process.

It has been acknowledged in the literature that the adoption of best practice in terms of accessibility principles and Universal Design for Learning (UDL) can improve the experience for all users of online services.

When it comes to educational digital content. accessibility is not something that is easily “bolted on” afterwards.

—  Ann Marcus Quinn

People with disabilities can obviously benefit greatly when online services are designed with a more diverse audience in mind. Greco has written about accessibility as a human right in terms of accessibility in media. There are web content accessibility guidelines (WCAG 2.1) and these are a useful reference point when building websites or preparing digital resources but many are not aware of the guidelines or simply do not use them.

Content should be perceivable, operable, understandable and robust. When it comes to educational digital content. accessibility is not something that is easily “bolted on” afterwards. For school leaders accessibility must also be considered across the broad variety of communications content typically associated with a school community.

Communication with parents generally occurs through the school website and a school app. This communication usually starts with a parent visiting a school website to find out about how to apply for a school place or to enrol their child. The school website is also usually the first port of call in order to learn more with regard to school policies, extracurricular activities, and various curricula on offer in the school. Once children are enrolled in a school, the school app becomes an important tool with regard to notifying parents on various issues including accessing school reports and paying for various school-related activities.

Given the spotlight on web accessibility it is only a matter of time before there is more scrutiny on all digital content. Ideally, the digital policy that each school is obliged to create should now include accessibility of all digital content. School leaders must understand the complexity and cost (human and financial) of providing quality digital content. Given the level of autonomy that schools have in Ireland no two schools are alike. It is important to establish a collaborative structure of consultation with teachers and stakeholders in order to optimise the integration of digital content.

This needs to be an ongoing process of reflection in order to avoid the pitfalls that can associated with an over-reliance on technology. There must be a top-down and a bottom-up approach. Strong school leadership must have vision combined with a sense of what is realistic for each individual school community.

Providing an accessibility statement is a great start in terms of creating an awareness of accessible content online. If the Department of Education is able to support all schools in publishing an Accessibility Statement in a timely manner then Ireland can offer a template for other countries to follow in terms of online accessibility.

Dr Ann Marcus-Quinn is a lecturer in technical communication and instructional design at the University of Limerick and Dr Triona Hourigan is a secondary teacher at Laurel Hill secondary school.