State failing to provide digital equality for students who are blind or vision impaired in education

A young man who is wearing headphones while using accessible technology to read the screen on his smartphone

Wednesday 11th May 2022, NCBI is calling on the Department of Education and the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science to immediately take action to ensure students who are blind or vision impaired across all levels of education no longer face barriers when accessing online information due to inaccessible websites and applications.

Despite robust legislation put in place by this Government to ensure digital inclusion and accessibility for people with disabilities, the IA Labs Digital Accessibility Index, which was commission by NCBI, audited 28 websites from Ireland’s leading universities, private and public secondary schools and each failed the IA Labs digital accessibility tests with an average of 32.8 issues on each website.

Chris White, NCBI CEO said “It is extremely disappointing to read the results of the IA Labs Digital Accessibility Index as it clearly demonstrates that students who are blind or vision impaired are being prevented from accessing information that is readily available to their peers. Significant strides have been made to make buildings accessible to people with disabilities, but this has not been matched in the digital space resulting in students unable to make fully informed decisions about their learning.”

Digital inclusion is a fundamental right and making websites accessible includes ensuring menus are navigable for people who use screen readers, fully usable for people who only use keyboards due to having reduced motor skills and adjustable colour contrast for people with low vision.

Mr White added “This Government introduced legislation in Ireland in 2020 which requires all state and public bodies to ensure their websites and applications are fully accessible for people with disabilities. Yet two years later and not one of the education sector websites audited by IA Labs, including those funded by the state, are compliant with the legislation.”

NCBI is calling on Government to take immediate action to ensure all education providers in receipt of public funding are fully compliant with the accessibility standards as set under Irish and European Law. To achieve this, NCBI believes there must be mandatory auditing and training in accessibility standards coupled with ringfenced funding for each school and education provider to develop and maintain digitally accessible platforms.

Mr White concluded “Both Ministers were questioned about the levels of compliance for the schools and education providers within their remits recently. Both Ministers placed the onus on the Schools Boards of Management and Institutions themselves to comply with the legislation rather than proactively engaging with them to ensure they were compliant. We need to see leadership from both Ministers now to ensure that people who are blind or vision impaired or with other disabilities no longer face barriers when trying to access information about their education.”